Cloud Society: Collaboration goes far beyond DevOps

DevOps has become one of the IT industry's favourite buzzwords but we look beyond such simple collaboration

A debate at the most recent CloudCamp in London, held at Cloud Expo Europe at the end of January, raised an interesting series of questions about the role of DevOps. For the uninitiated, these are people who can work across IT development and operations, or enable liaison between the two.
The need to close this divide exists, for sure. Indeed, friction between those who write software and those who have to maintain and support it has existed for decades.

I can remember a meeting at a certain insurance firm back in the 1990s, where I was mentoring a team of developers. The operations teams were being briefed on the new application release. “When do you want it to go live?” they asked. “Two weeks?” was the tentative answer. I wasn’t sure if the Ops Manager was laughing or choking, but the effect was the same.

Friction between those who write software and those who have to maintain and support it has existed for decades

So, all applause to anybody who recognises the importance of getting developers and operations to work together, it would be dumb to suggest otherwise. And yes, you can insert words like ‘agility’ and ‘alignment’ here. However, recent experience suggests that even this brave move does not go far enough, for two reasons.
The first (and more obvious) is that both developers and operations staff form that amorphous blob known to the outside world as “The IT Department”. IT refers to those outside that sphere as “business users” and, in general, never the twain shall meet unless the latter are seconded into development teams or nominated in liaison roles.
“Of course,” you say, “but what if we’re not delivering services to internal staff, but to external customers?” This is where things get really complicated, as the lines between marketing, sales and support are largely eroded.
By way of illustration, a few months ago I spoke to a senior marketer in the healthcare profession. He was interested in enabling care pathways – using technology to help patients from initial education to facilitating their route to recovery. He also held the budget for the website – but (here’s the rub) was finding dialogue difficult with IT.
We see similar issues in marketing agencies and in-house departments. Budgets for customer self-service web pages, campaign-orientated apps, training tools… all may be driven from marketing. For sure, some organisations may have collaboration between these segments of the business off pat, but many (I wager) do not.
The point is simply this: all dialogue is important, not just between Dev and Ops but the ensemble of stakeholder groups involved in the delivery and receipt of a service. This may come as no surprise to outsiders, but let nobody in the fledgling DevOps community think that, just because two groups are talking, their work is anywhere near complete. Indeed, it has only just begun.