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Interview with Helen Beal, Head of DevOps at Ranger4

Tell us about yourself?

I’m the Head of DevOps at Ranger4 – a DevOps transformation and tooling specialist based in Surrey working with clients across a variety of industries including insurance, retail, finance, banking, transportation and software.

Why DevOps?

Because digital transformation is absolutely critical to organisations’ survival in today’s marketplace and this means delivering better software, faster in order to delight end users.

What’s different about DevOps?

Three things I think:

1) The strategic nature of IT as I described in the last question means that businesses are putting more pressure than ever before on development to deliver innovation, whilst many organisations have IT infrastructures that have evolved to be very sophisticated and, as a consequence, fragile. This makes IT Operations’ focus stability and they see the change that development are pushing through as risk. Add to this that many organisations have treated these two disciplines as quite separate to date and have created silos or organisational divides and we end up with a number of conflicts: things like development complaining it takes Ops too long to provide environments, Ops complaining that Dev are asking for access to production systems, system outages that result in war rooms and staff being asked to work weekends to handle a release.

2) The uptake of Agile methodologies and ITIL has made organisations theoretically ready to deliver iteratively, but Ops controls may not be set up to receive and support these iterations. We see DevOps (very simply!) as an extension of Agile into Operations – i.e. taking the concept that making smaller changes, faster is a more efficient way of delivering software, and we see DevOps approaches, and in particular tooling, as a way of supporting ITIL and proving compliance.

3) As I alluded to in my last point, tooling plays a big part of DevOps – and a great deal of new tooling has become available in the last few years that make DevOps possible – i.e. makes it easier for the teams to collaborate across the lifecycle, supporting the elimination of constraints around environment provision, testing services, reporting on business transaction value whilst providing a complete audit trail.

Why does DevOps tooling transform environments and culture?

Once the right people are in place, with the right organisational structure, we can start looking at interactions and flow (see the Three Ways). When we identify and eliminate constraints we can automate (sometimes it’s automation itself that eliminates the constraint rather than just supporting a streamlined process). Automation is a key principle of DevOps and can only be achieved by tooling.

What are your thoughts on the biggest impacts or benefits teams can gain from adopting DevOps practices?

Our customer report a variety – here are some examples:

  • Reduction in release/deployment time
  • Increase in volume of releases (ideally on demand)
  • Increase in software quality
  • Less time spent testing
  • Reduction in time spent resolving defects
  • Reduction in number of outages (ideally pre-empted)
  • Improved Mean Time To Recovery (ideally zero)
  • Reduction in technical debt
  • Delighted end users
  • Improvement in staff morale and associated productivity boost
  • Applications monetizing earlier increasing income
  • A thriving business

When people ‘do’ DevOps, what’s the most common mistake you see them make?

This is a question we asked people last year as part of our DevOpsFriday5 initiative – you can see a summary of the answers here.

Could you give us the best example you have seen of DevOps benefiting a business?

One of our favourite case stories is our customer, Hiscox, who recently won an award for their DevOps success and the Continuous Delivery pipeline they built. You can read more about this, here.

What is the best advice you would give to a business who are thinking about implementing DevOps?

Start by measuring your current position. I mentioned Automation earlier as a key principle of DevOps – this is one of the 4 areas of DevOps identified by John Willis in his CAMS definition. The ‘M’ is for metrics and we firmly believe this is the right place to start – you can measure culture (even if you can’t write a business httpss:// for cultural improvement). Without metrics you cannot quantify your bottlenecks, you can’t form an investment justification and you can’t report on success or failure and making continuous improvement.

What are the essential skills and qualities companies should be looking for when hiring/ building a DevOps team?

DevOps is about having a ‘can do’ mindset and the ability to embrace change at its very core. I think it’s less about specific technical skills and more about approach – we hear a lot that change is hard, but it’s also constant. People that can do DevOps are people that are energetic, tenacious, ideas driven (and supported) – the best thing an organisation can do is build a culture that embraces autonomy, mastery and purpose – DevOps people will thrive in this type of organisation.

Where do you see the future of DevOps?

I think if organisations don’t do DevOps (whether they call it that or not!) their ability to survive, let alone thrive, in an increasingly digitised marketplace will be extremely compromised over the next 4-5 years. The likelihood is that they won’t be here because someone quicker and faster will have eaten their lunch.