DOES 2018: How data underpins high-performance IT

When it comes to business productivity, the term “high-performance” has often been used. This corresponds to the notion that organisational teams can only distinguish themselves from others by achieving an extraordinary set of goals and business results. On a daily basis, their aim should be to outperform all given expectations and competition.

In recent times, high-performance IT has been used to describe technology companies that are constantly pushing boundaries and providing an unparalleled user experience. DevOps, which is all about breaking down the barrier between development and operations, is viewed as the lynchpin of this process.

However, high-performance IT is a relatively new concept within the technology world;  it’s always evolving and not everyone is clear on what it actually means. At the 2018 DevOps Enterprise Summit, Dr Nicole Forsgren – CEO and chief scientist of DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) – broke down the phenomenon and explained how organisations can become high performers.

Citing the State of DevOps Report, Forsgren argued that high-performing IT teams outperform their peers and that everyone can benefit from utilising data in their daily roles. Her view is that all employees should view themselves as transformational leaders and help bring their organisations forward in today’s interconnected world.

Data is a validator

Nicole opened her talk by discussing how our intention varies when we encounter new people, organisations and events. Making decisions based on this alone isn’t easy, but her view is that data can help with this process. “Often, our institution is right, but sometimes it’s not. And so what we need is data to verify it,” said Forsgren.

When it comes to decision making in the corporate world, Forsgren pointed out that businesses often look to academic publications such as Harvard Business Review for guidance. However, in a technology context, she recalled how making a business case for IT has been an uphill battle ever since American writer Nicholas Carr wrote that it didn’t matter in a 2003 research paper.

But she actually thought he made a good point. He talks about the fact that, well into the early 2000s, people were just purchasing technology and plugging it in. If it’s easy to buy a solution, then your competitors can do the same thing, Forsgren said. Agreeing with Carr, she commented how this approach lacks focus. Sure, you may be an early adopter, but the rest of the market will eventually catch up.

This, according to Forsgren, hasn’t changed a decade on. Vendors are still trying to sell technology solutions out-of-the-box that they say can fix every single problem. “We’re just going to back to the 80s and 90s again when we saw these large initiatives not deliver substantial value to their organisations,” she said. That’s why data is key – it can help prove the return on investment.

DevOps underpins high-performance IT

Forsgren views DevOps as a journey, rather than a product that technology companies can buy to fix all their problems. It consists of technical practices, lean processes and culture, all of which can drive performance outcomes. Of course, this takes a lot of time and thinking, but the end results can drive performance outcomes. The key ingredient here? Data.

When Nicole worked as a software engineer, she’d often pitch potentially groundbreaking ideas to the management team. But they wouldn’t be able to invest resources in these projects without key evidence of ROI. Because DevOps is a mix of technology, processes and culture, Forsgren argued that IT leaders can easily deliver value for their organisations.

Measuring the speed of software is the first step. High-performance companies are good at depoying frequency based on business demands, setting lead times for changes and mean time for recovery, and changing fail rate. Overall, they’re more agile – making 46 times more frequent code deployments and experiencing 440 times faster lead time from commit to deploy. Such teams are also more reliable, being able to recover in less than an hour instead of a few days.

As ROI is concerned, high-performance IT departments are twice as likely to meet both commercial and non-commercial goals. The former cover productivity, profitability and market share, while the latter are the quantity of products or services, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, quality of products or services, and achieving organisational or mission goals. Forsgren and the DORA team found that these organisations can achieve 50 per cent higher market capitalistion in three years.

Becoming a high performer

One of the fundamental aims of DevOps practices is to enable rapid software delivery, and throughput and stability are crucial in enabling seamless performance. Nicole spoke about how these can be achieved without tradeoffs. “For years, we were told that, in order to be stable and be safe, we had to slow down. This doesn’t appear anywhere in the data. High performers are maximising and optimising on everything. Low performers are having a really difficult time at everything,” she said.

With data and research, we can test and confirm our intuitions. But how do you do this, exactly? Nicole played down the benefits of maturity models – she claimed that they’re not effective at capturing complexity or changes in the system. Instead, organisations must keep innovating, experimenting, learning, tracking market trends and creating value for every stakeholder. More importantly, technology shouldn’t be viewed as a checklist of things to be completed, but rather an exciting journey to constantly explore and improve.

Low performers not only rely on maturity models, but also outsourced software and legacy IT infrastructure such as mainframe systems. What’s interesting, though, is that these factors aren’t necessarily linked to performance. To Nicole, architectural outcomes are the things that really matter.

The questions to answer are:

  • Can your team change the design of a system?
  • Can your team test the system?
  • Can your deploy the system?

But without the need to communicate and coordinate with people outside the team.

Succeeding as a high-performance IT organisation ultimately comes down to leadership, and DORA has generated a model to make this easier. Technology leaders need to communicate the organisational and team vision; challenge the things that are happening; inspire and motivate employees; support the needs and feelings of every team member; and recognise and commend personal achievements as part of continuous improvement.

Forsgren’s conclusion was that everyone has a role to play here. We can all be transformational leaders, measure outcomes, drive performance improvements and inspire others by sharing our success stories.

Our view:

Ed Pearson, product owner of DevOps, says: “DevOps is the key to organisations unlocking their competitive advantage. The data from the State of DevOps report could not reinforce this more strongly. Those organisations looking for a cookie-cutter ‘DevOps in a box’ solution are returning to a time when ‘IT didn’t matter’ – and soon they won’t either.”

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