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DevOps, Digital Transformation Go Together

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Posted September 2, 2016 By Ann All     Feedback

DevOps is a big part of digital transformation strategies for some companies, research finds.

DevOps, which Wikipedia defines as "a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other IT professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes," will play a key role in digital transformation strategies for many companies, according to Everest Group's annual report on application services.

The report's title gives it away: "No DevOps, No Digital." DevOps adoption, as part of organizations' digital strategies, is "the biggest trend impacting both the applications and operations landscape" in 2016, according to the report. Three-quarters of surveyed companies are leveraging digital technologies such as cloud computing and automation to improve their time-to-market, Everest Group found.

"Anything that allows enterprises to become faster and nimbler and to better compete in the market is an enabler of digital transformation. DevOps is one of those things," said Yugal Joshi, who leads Everest Group's digital, cloud, and application services research practices.

Though it is possible to undertake a digital transformation strategy without DevOps, "that looks far-fetched to me," Joshi said. "You can be healthy without exercise, but it is not nearly as likely."

DevOps typically builds on Agile development principles and methodologies, Joshi said, then adds a healthy dose of automation to ensure that software code gets into production quickly and cost-effectively. "You want to automate as many tasks as possible to reduce friction."

To maximize the benefits of automation and other technologies, organizations must also make cultural changes, he said. Team structures across application development, testing and IT operations will likely need to be reorganized. In addition, organizations must tweak both their internal and customer-facing processes to provide more seamless communication among different functions.

"A lot of ground-level change is needed," he said. "You cannot just say 'IT and developers, beginning tomorrow you will work together and we are DevOps.' You have to have the right alignment, change management, executive sponsorship and incentive structure."

DevOps and digital transformation both emphasize collaboration among cross-functional teams to achieve business goals and objectives, he added.

DevOps can complement digital transformation initiatives by adding transparency, Joshi said. "Everyone in the enterprise needs to understand the role of technology in the day-to-day activities they undertake to better serve their customers. DevOps can be an enabler to better understand each other's roles."

Customer Central to Digital Transformation Strategies

While cross-organizational transparency and communication is important, successful digital transformation begins with a focus on customers, said Faris Sweis, chief transformation officer for Progress.

"Digital transformation is about applying digital technologies in order to help you move faster and help you to serve your customers faster," Sweis said. "So the place to start is with your customers. Look at what they are trying to do and understand their needs. Understand what markets they are operating in and what pressures they are experiencing so you can help them. Then you can start applying the latest and greatest technologies and the data to really solve those problems."

Progress recently introduced three software solutions -- for website management, mobile development and customer engagement -- that aim to help its customers with their digital transformation initiatives, Sweis sad

"Our DigitalFactory solution started with understanding our customers' transformation efforts," he said. "For example, some of our customers are multi-national, multi-brand consumer products and they are challenged at how to govern their brand and message, how to quickly build apps that are aligned with a customer campaign, and how to meet the needs of customers in different geographies. We applied our cloud, mobile and connectivity expertise to offer them a solution that really meets their needs."

Progress took a similar approach with its own transformation effort, he said.

"We are also a global multi-brand company; we are solving problems for our customers that we have ourselves.  Like them, we want to provide a great experience for our customers, from when they come into our website to downloading our software to coming to us for support. So we asked: What systems support that experience? How are they working together? What can we automate?" he said. "Looking at it from that perspective, you can define what needs to change in more specific terms."

Digital Transformation an Ongoing Effort

For many companies, the biggest challenge is defining the problems they want to address with digital strategies, Sweis said. "You do not need to use digital for everything. You need to have a deep understanding of how you operate as a business and where your bottlenecks are. Once you have that picture, you can start deriving a strategy around what needs to happen and where digital fits in."

Organizations in the midst of digital transformation efforts appear to be satisfied with their efforts to date, based on the results of two recent surveys. Three-quarters of 280 global companies recently surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit said they met their digital transformation objectives in 2015, and 69 percent also expect to meet their objectives in 2016.

Similarly, 80 percent of 300 senior managers surveyed by QuickBase, a provider of low-code application development software, reported their digital transformation is well under way or complete.

However, it is a mistake to think of digital transformation as a project with a clear conclusion, Sweis said. "Transformation is getting to a path where you are able to constantly change, and quickly; that is going to become the new norm."

Partners in Digital Transformation

The QuickBase survey also found that a central IT organization is leading digital transformation initiatives at 47 percent of companies, followed by a central operations team at 30 percent of companies and a business IT unit at 21 percent of companies.

Who leads the effort is less important than whether all parties are in tight partnership, said John Carione, Product and Corporate Marketing Leader, QuickBase. And overall business objectives and key performance indicators, rather than technology goals, must drive digital transformation priorities.

"Line-of-business employees must take part in digital transformation efforts as they typically understand and develop innovative ways to better solve the challenges they face," Carione said. "Abstracting powerful tools and technology down to a level where they can participate more deeply than just a requestor. While IT can play an important role in vetting solutions and setting business users up for success, they are better served adding strategic value such as application architecture, compliance or governance controls rather than being expected to know all of the intricacies of business processes and workflows."

"Citizen developers," or non-IT staff who develop applications using products that abstract much of the development logic, can be a "powerful component" in digital transformation, Carione said. However, he cautioned, that does not mean giving business users free rein to develop all of their own apps.

"We advise that organizations think of their initiatives with a spectrum-focused mindset. There are going to be some transformation efforts that require a high degree of governance and organizational oversight, and others where putting the solutions in the hands of the people who are experiencing the problem firsthand is ideal," he said. "It all depends on what the organization is trying to accomplish and how mission critical the application or use case is."

In some cases, he said, IT develops the majority of an app but then lets citizen developers make small maintenance alterations such as changing field names or spinning up custom dashboard views. In other cases, citizen developers and IT work to develop an app together based on each other's strengths.

While many companies are making cultural changes to facilitate digital transformation, technology also plays a key role. According to the EIU study, which was conducted on behalf of Pegasystems, the biggest planned technology investment for digital transformation in 2016 is Big Data and analytics, cited by 58 percent of respondents. This is followed by mobile computing (36 percent) and SaaS (29 percent).

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.

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