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DevOps software engineering culture Slalom

DevOps: the new prerequisite to innovation

You can’t be a digital innovator without a culture embedded in DevOps. Slalom can help.

July 9, 2016

It’s a digital jungle out there. With the proliferation of digital experiences on the market, there’s an unprecedented demand for companies to innovate, iterate, and get products into consumers’ hands faster. Increasing velocity isn’t just an aspiration—it’s a necessity for survival.

“For companies that have made large investments in Agile and are in extremely competitive market spaces, moving at a higher velocity is a requirement to not only cash in on that investment, but to stay relevant,” says Bradley Clerkin, practice area lead at Slalom.*

Software used to be built in an assembly line: developers wrote the code, and then tossed it over the wall to operations engineers to be built and deployed. In this model, development is clearly delineated from operations, each department functioning independently with its own discrete roles, tools, and processes. Software release could take days or weeks, and acquiring additional infrastructure could take weeks or months.

It’s different now. Cloud service providers, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, make it easy to get servers with the click of a button, and automation tools, like Puppet and Chef, radically reduce the time and complexity of configuring and managing software.

But what’s truly driving the need for faster software delivery is consumers’ insatiable appetite for the next digital thing.

To break the mold, companies need to find a more creative, collaborative, and efficient approach to software delivery—one that removes the barriers and embraces the dependencies between development and operations to release great software.

Enter DevOps

That approach is known as DevOps: the marriage of development and operations. DevOps integrates engineering, QA, release, and production, using version control and automated delivery to optimize the entire product lifecycle.

It’s a self-explanatory term, but a nuanced concept. Depending who you ask, DevOps is a tool, a process, a practice, a mindset, or a role. From Slalom’s perspective, it’s all of the above. More important, we believe it’s not optional: You can’t be a digital innovator without it.

We’re proud to have earned the Amazon Partner Network DevOps Competency and Microsoft Application Development Competency for our demonstrated experience helping clients leverage these platforms—as well as DevOps best practices—to build and ship great software.

Amazon Partner Network DevOps Competency
Microsoft Application Development Competency

Slalom’s DevOps philosophy

Technology isn’t enough

There’s an abundance of technology feeding the DevOps machine: cloud platforms, automation tools, continuous integration and deployment tools, documentation systems, and decentralized source code managers.

But great technology can only take companies so far.

“Too often the focus is purely on technology and tools. Slalom helps customers address both cultural and technical challenges through tactical change programs,” says Clerkin.

“You can throw as many technical doodads at the problem as you want, but it will never serve the root problem, which is cultural. The human component is what really makes this vigorous. This is hard, and the tools don’t do it for you,” says Ian Cook, managing director at Slalom.

Joel Forman, practice area director at Slalom, agrees. “It’s not a tool problem, it’s a people and process problem. We’re not just going to pick a tool and implement it—we’re going to look at the way your people work and make recommendations about how you can change to help evangelize DevOps in your organization,” says Forman.

Faster feedback means better products

Continuous delivery—the act of building and deploying software in short, iterative sprints—helps shorten feedback loops and fosters an environment of constant learning and experimentation.

“A lot of companies have gotten great at Agile, but their operations teams weren’t part of their Agile transformation. So we help companies figure out how to make operations a part of that process, focusing on the last mile—how fast you get software into production and into your customers’ hands,” explains Forman.

Long lead times to get software into production make it difficult to stay in tune with the market. Companies need quick customer feedback to understand how to pivot their products.

“The quicker that companies can get their software to customers to get real feedback on it, adjust on that feedback, and improve—that’s really what DevOps is about,” Forman says.

There's no place like home

Some still view software development as a manufacturing process that can be outsourced. We believe you need to be close to a problem to solve it.

“Solving complicated digital problems that really move the needle for our clients requires proximity. The team has to work together to solve it,” says Cook.

Real-time collaboration fosters communication, builds trust, improves response times, and empowers teams to do their best work.

That’s why we designed our delivery network: a collection of regional delivery centers staffed with seasoned software architects and bright, junior-level engineers. The model leverages the best of our local talent and cross-market scale to help clients build and ship custom solutions quickly and cost-effectively.

Small is beautiful

Wholesale transformations are rarely successful—especially when it comes to something as technical and complex as writing and building software. The path to change is paved with small, incremental changes and quick wins.

“Small is beautiful,” Cook says. “To pervasively inject this [DevOps] and have it virally take hold of your organization, you need to start small.”

“We want to move away from really large, functional-based teams, like a 300-person operations team managing 30 applications,” says Clerkin. “Instead, we want to build teams that are purpose-built to take on an activity from conception to production to long-term modifications and maintenance. It’s a very dynamic and difficult shift to make for an organization that takes planning and work.”

*Since this article was originally published, Bradley Clerkin has left Slalom.

Our approach

Experience

We’ve been helping companies adopt DevOps principles to build better software since our inception. In 2014 alone, Slalom delivered over 700 software engineering projects.

Best-practice tools

We’re well versed in DevOps tools across technology stacks.

Change expertise

DevOps is complicated, and change is hard. We’ll bring seasoned organizational change experts to help instill and evangelize DevOps best practices throughout your organization.

Proximity

We’re in your neighborhood and ready to get to work. Our regional delivery centers combine the best of our local market resources with our cross-market scale.