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DevOps With A Purpose — It’s About Your Applications

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock these days you have no doubt heard about DevOps and the groundswell building around it. Today DevOps is being defined, promoted, touted and discussed as the next game changer in IT. Rather than argue about the best way to define DevOps in a general sense, this article will focus on something hopefully more useful – how do you determine what DevOps means for your organization?

A common goal cited for DevOps is to enable faster release and deployment cycles by taking advantage of agile development methodologies; improved collaboration between business stakeholders, application development and operations teams; and automation tools. Beyond these elements, DevOps also requires a cultural acceptance of the need to focus on the flow of work across teams vs. simply optimizing individual teams and their specific units of work.

By contrast, defining DevOps with a purpose means ensuring how you do DevOps is grounded in the realities of your specific organization. There is no “one-size-fits-all” DevOps, no matter what pundits, consultants, and vendors might tell you. Start by actually taking a step back. Ensure you are clearly taking into account your industry, your applications, your culture, and your people when developing your DevOps strategy; then apply DevOps principles against that foundation. Because every organization’s purpose will be different, your way of doing DevOps will not be the same as anyone else, even among your industry peers.

There are, however, some general guidelines you can start with and then apply them to your specific situation. For example, I recommend analyzing your business goals and application portfolio using the pace-layering method, which focuses on three categories of applications – systems of record, systems of differentiation, and systems of innovation.

Systems of record are usually quite stable with infrequent updates. This is often due to regulatory requirements and internal policies for these systems, and they tend to have a high degree of consistency within an industry and even across industries. Systems of record are often good candidates for waterfall development methodologies and longer release timelines. Your general ledger or payroll systems are good examples of systems of record.

Systems of differentiation are those applications that are likely common to your industry but where you have an opportunity to differentiate your company from the competition based on functionality and the pace with which you update them. For example, if you are a financial services firm that provides retirement investment programs, you might make changes to your customer portal and how clients select new investment options on a quarterly or monthly basis in order to enhance customer experience and remain competitive and differentiate. If you are an airline, this might be your crew scheduling application, which ensures you have the right flight crews available when needed and can improve your on-time departure percentages to differentiate from the competition. In healthcare, your systems of differentiation might be the applications that health professionals use to store patient information and correlate test results to aid in diagnosis and treatment. In manufacturing it may be your supply chain management, process control, or shop floor applications.

Systems of innovation are those truly groundbreaking applications that help you create new markets and revenue streams. In financial services, that might be a new kind of application that gives day traders a market advantage. For an airline that might be a whole new way of providing inflight entertainment, such as when Wifi and inflight entertainment first became available to passengers. In healthcare, it might be a new customer portal that promotes wellness services and reduces office co-pays by uploading fitness tracker data. For a retailer, it might be applications that support a new type of customer loyalty program, such as when Amazon introduced their Amazon Prime service a few years ago.

Both systems of differentiation and systems of innovation are excellent candidates for agile development and DevOps principles. This is because they require high degrees of collaboration between business stakeholders, developers, and operations personnel to ensure the applications are in line with requirements, developed and tested quickly, and then made available in the market to drive differentiation and innovation. They are excellent candidates for the continuous delivery concept in DevOps where small releases are deployed quickly (and can be rolled back just as quickly if there are issues). In this manner, a large number of small deployments moves the competitive needle faster and provides greater value to customers over traditional waterfall development and disconnected development and operations practices.

Defining DevOps with a purpose starts with an understanding of your industry and your applications. In the next article in this series, we’ll turn to the topic of organizational culture and its impact on DevOps transformation.

Matthew Selheimer
Chief Technical Evangelist and SVP of Marketing


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