How to get C-suite buy-in for DevOps
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How to get C-suite buy-in for DevOps

Maxine Laurie-Marshall – November 2016
Building a business case for DevOps can be daunting for senior IT management. Angela Yochem, CIO of US office equipment provider Rent-A-Center, offers advice for getting the business on board.

Many of IT’s core processes have been out of step with the demands of modern business, and, according to CIOs such as Angela Yochem at US office equipment provider Rent-A-Center (RAC), change has been both necessary and inevitable. “Operating like a classic IT function — like a utility business — does not support the rapid delivery of functionality that customers now expect,” she says.

For her and many across the IT industry, DevOps (the fusion of software development and IT operations teams and their processes) is the answer to demands for fast, more fluid and frequent application delivery. But the approach is notoriously tricky to implement, not least of all because of the challenge of securing buy-in from both IT teams and business management to this agile way of working.

Angela_Yochem,Rent-A-Center
    Angela Yochem, Rent-A-Center

Yochem highlights the sheer volume of demand on IT today as an indication of why traditional approaches are no longer an option. At RAC, the portfolio spans traditional POS systems, ecommerce, self-service kiosks, service center technologies, warehouse and fleet management systems, data management technologies covering customer, product and location data, sales enablement solutions, and systems focused on regulatory requirements — among others. “You name it we probably have it or are planning to have it. As our customer needs and market opportunities continue to evolve, we have to be ready to adjust and build our IT capabilities accordingly.

And, in her view, if IT organizations are going to be able to keep up with such demands they need to embrace DevOps — and that means overcoming some of the challenges associated with the approach’s adoption.

Myth buster

Yochem highlights two common myths holding IT and business leaders back from DevOps success. The first is that DevOps can only be part of high-speed, new application delivery. Most businesses inevitably find themselves operating in hybrid IT environments, she observes, but this shouldn’t hinder progress towards working in an agile way via DevOps. As she says: “I prefer to think of an IT shop as running at multiple speeds. The world isn’t binary — fast or slow — it changes and varies as a result of external factors and events. And DevOps culture enables multi-speed responses and deliveries. Our ability to meaningfully absorb change and deliver accordingly is a key success factor for IT.”

The second myth is that DevOps is only applicable in new development efforts. “Most of IT estates are a mix of old and new, bought, built, found, on-premise, off-premise and in the field. So it’s important to know that building a strong DevOps capability in support of an agile culture is applicable across the board to any updates or enhancements, regardless of the age or type of systems involved.”
Getting buy-in

Such common misconceptions exposed, one of the biggest challenges for those adopting DevOps still involves getting internal buy-in. As its name implies, DevOps brings two disparate teams together — often reluctantly at first — and requires business executives to be on board with new ways of working. Yochem recommends framing the argument in a familiar way. “One of the easiest ways to gain business support for DevOps is to leverage the goodwill associated with agile methods,” she says. “Agile has been in fairly broad use for about 15 years and most business communities have some appreciation for how agile methods promote deeper business engagement and allow for more flexibility. So exploit the fact that your senior business users appreciate the fluidity agile development methods provide to their business units.”

Having initiated the DevOps conversation in a way business leaders can relate to, the key is to continue ‘speaking their language.’ While Yochem asserts it’s great to highlight productivity gains, the argument will be more convincing if IT executives focus on potential revenue gains. She cites a study commissioned by CA Technologies that showed companies who adopted DevOps capabilities across the board have experienced a 19% gain in revenues on average as a result. She attributes that to DevOps enabling different parts of the business to get to market faster with their products and services. But DevOps also makes IT itself more productive, with demonstrable increases in the number of projects the technology organization is able to take on and deliver.

For CIOs to solidify the business case, Yochem suggests they generate their own figures for potential revenue gain. “Take a look at your own IT portfolio backlog and find the projects that are high-value but not yet started due to limited resources. Use the ROI estimates from those projects and move those into this year or quarter. That’s your potential revenue gain and it can help you demonstrate the potential upside of DevOps in terms that the business can respond to.”

• See also Building the apps factory: The CIO’s guide to DevOps
First published November 2016
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