What Is DevOps and How to Make It Work in an Organization

Akash Kilaru
Published 05/07/2024
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DevOps and How to Make It WorkDevOps methodology is commonly applied to software development and enables more rapid and efficient delivery of software and software updates. It is an umbrella concept that describes a specialized approach to shortening and optimizing the software development lifecycle. The primary goal of DevOps is to maximize the predictability, efficiency, security, and sustainability of operational processes.

To accomplish this, DevOps encourages teams to collaborate, learn, and innovate. As a result, DevOps can catalyze vital cultural shifts, such as fostering unity and trust between systems administrators and developers and coordinating technology initiatives with business needs. In addition to optimizing software delivery chains, DevOps can have a positive impact on services, employee roles, IT tools, and best practices. Other benefits include enhanced workflow efficiency and productivity, increased product quality, faster speed to market, and improved customer satisfaction. In one study, 99 percent of respondents said DevOps positively impacted their organization, and 61 percent said it helped produce higher-quality deliverables. As such, DevOps practices can be applied in numerous areas beyond software development.

When leaders adopt five key DevOps pillars throughout their organizations, businesses can reap the benefits of DevOps methodologies.


Pillar 1: Automation is key

At its core, DevOps focuses on automation. The automation of repetitive tasks reduces errors, improves efficiency, and accelerates product delivery. By automating as many processes as possible, companies can free up employees for more strategic tasks, such as developing new products and features. Processes that are good candidates for automation include testing, application and log monitoring, network provisioning, incident triage, version control, and data backup.

Netflix is recognized as the gold standard for DevOps practices, including automation. With nearly 214 million subscribers across 190 countries, Netflix relies on its DevOps culture to innovate, quickly meet user demands, and enhance customer experience. By migrating to the cloud in 2008, the company reduced the risk of service outages. To increase the safety, security, and reliability of its cloud infrastructure, Netflix implanted the DevOps pillar of automation. Netflix conducts continual automated tests of various devices to ensure that software releases meet the company’s standards for availability and quality. The company demonstrates how automation “can be used as a business differentiator, and when done right, it is a huge advantage,” said Neal Ford, a jury member for the JAX Industry Awards. “Netflix showed the power of internalizing DevOps into their architecture; all architectures will do this in the future.”


Pillar 2: Culture is fundamental

While DevOps is centered around tools and technologies, without nurturing the human factor of its approach, the methodologies are doomed to failure. This requires fostering a culture of communication, transparency, and collaboration. The key to success with creating a DevOps culture is to eliminate silos between development and operations teams. When teams communicate regularly, share ideas, and problem-solve together, the direct result is an alignment across the entire development and deployment process. Another cultural shift requires a mindset of shared responsibility in which people, processes, and tools are aligned, unified, and customer-centric.

Target is an example of an organization that has transformed its culture by implementing DevOps methodology. The change began from within—members of various teams were proponents of agile and DevOps methodologies and advocated for their implementation. To encourage employees to understand and embrace the culture change, Target initiated “an immersive, six-week session” called “The Dojo,” in which teams performed their regular work with coaches on site to support them and provide guidance from a DevOps point of view. Implementing DevOps helped to decrease the onboarding timeframe for new teams and projects from 30 days down to five. Once Target employees saw how well DevOps worked, its practices were widely accepted.


Pillar 3: Continuous improvement is essential

Continuous improvement is a critical pillar of DevOps, helping organizations to optimize performance, minimize costs, accelerate speed to market, and update products efficiently. While continuous improvement methods are deeply rooted in software, they can be applied to improve all aspects of an organization. When companies embrace a continuous improvement culture, every employee is empowered to contribute to the organization’s advancement and improvement.

Continuous improvement is deeply connected to the DevOps pillar of automation. By automating testing, organizations can identify mistakes quickly. Continuous improvement promotes shorter development cycles, allowing new iterations of code to be developed, tested, and deployed continuously. To accomplish this, constant feedback is essential. In turn, constant feedback fosters a culture of learning and experimentation.

In a culture of continuous improvement, failure is not seen as a negative, but rather as an opportunity to improve. This happened at Netflix, when software engineers realized that failure was inevitable due to the complex nature of the content delivery system. Rather than waiting to respond to system failures, they turned the probability of failure into a success by developing Chaos Monkey, a tool that tested the network’s resiliency and created random system outages to see how the rest of the systems responded. Through this, developers learned how to keep things running from the very start.

The continuous improvement pillar can be applied in numerous industries and areas. For example, lean manufacturing focuses on continuously improving processes, reducing waste, and enhancing product quality. In healthcare, organizations adopt methodologies to enhance patient outcomes, operational efficiencies, and data security.


Pillar 4: Monitoring and feedback loops are essential to product improvement

Continuous improvement requires continuous monitoring in real time. The insights gained through monitoring help organizations better understand how customers use the software and quickly identify and resolve issues. Monitoring data is essential input for feedback loops in the DevOps process, enabling teams to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of products, services, and systems.

In DevOps, continuous feedback loops are part of every stage of product development. Feedback gathered at all points of the development process will allow teams to be agile and make adjustments quickly. But the concept isn’t limited to software development. Marketing, operations, financial, and customer service teams also benefit from valuable input. For example, employee satisfaction surveys and reviews create opportunities for leaders to evaluate the effectiveness of onboarding programs, levels of employee engagement, and other critical metrics. When changes are implemented as a result of this feedback, companies can enhance reliability, performance, and scalability while more efficiently delivering value to their customers.


Pillar 5: Security is everyone’s responsibility

With the increasing frequency of cyber threats, it’s imperative for companies to overcome the belief that a specific team “owns” security. Instead, security needs to be integrated into every stage of the DevOps development and deployment process and the culture it creates. This helps organizations recognize security as a collective responsibility that extends beyond the IT department. Because DevOps focuses on automation to streamline development and deployment, automation can also be designed to test security tools, detect problems, and fix security issues more efficiently. While DevOps is geared to make processes faster, security should not be compromised in the pursuit of speed. To enforce the shared responsibility of security, organizations can implement training programs, implement guardrails against common risks, and monitor all systems for gaps.


Effectively implementing DevOps

DevOps methodology is being adopted rapidly across industries. According to Cisco, among the trends fueling this accelerated adoption are “enterprise investments in software-driven innovation, adoption of microservices-based architectures and associated development methodologies, and increased investment by CTOs and CEOs in collaborative and automated application development and operational processes.” While DevOps is rooted in software development, embracing DevOps pillars throughout an organization helps forward-thinking enterprises thrive in a digital marketplace. By fostering a shared understanding, transparency, and collaboration between team members, operations, and leadership, companies create a shared responsibility for the products and services they create. The key to adopting this mindset centers around leadership’s commitment to DevOps and digital transformation. When the C-suite leads by example, encouraging experimentation, communication, and collaboration, it sets the stage for meaningful change and enterprise-wide innovation. Embracing DevOps as a mindset and a culture from the top down can propel unparalleled growth and success.


About the Author

Akash Kilaru headshotAkash Kilaru is a vice president of a leading bank and has more than a decade of experience in all phases of technical project lifecycle management. A highly skilled Salesforce release manager, he specializes in the integration of financial systems, data migration and cleansing, automation and workflow optimization, and compliance and security enhancements within the financial services sector. Akash holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Systems from New England College, New Hampshire, and holds multiple certifications in Salesforce and DevOps areas. For more information, contact akashkilaru8@gmail.com.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.