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Public sector CIO DevOps Q&A

Public sector CIOs say fluid approach key to DevOps success. Picture by Matt Gore

Leading CIOs recently spoke to Horizon Business Innovation about DevOps adoption and the impact it is having on the wider organisation, staff and technology.

Adam Sewell has been leading technology at the public sector agency the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) since January 2012 having joined the agency from scientific journal publishers Nature where he had led business systems since 2008.

Adam Sewell, CIO, Copyright Licensing Agency

Adam SewellHow would you define DevOps?
The primary thing is, it’s a culture, not just a process – not just something you’re going to implement and then it’s going to be done, it’s a journey in getting everybody in the whole organisation to work together in the same direction.

How would you describe your DevOps maturity?
I would say we’re getting there or halfway there … we tend to work with a lot of external development partners, so for us it’s been about getting a greater visibility into what those partners are doing for us, so having full visibility of the development pipeline, and being able to see where they are with development and ensuring when it comes to various tools that we’re using – things such as continuous integration. They’re using our tools, so we have full control and full visibility of all of those metrics. Now we’re going to move on to continuous deployment.

Has DevOps been adopted beyond IT?
It is starting to be, it’s important that the whole business understands what you’re trying to achieve. I can’t remember who it was, someone said to me recently ‘try to not use the word DevOps because it doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside of IT as it’s about explaining to people how it works, and without doing it with getting into technical language, but getting them on board.’

Where is DevOps in the business?
Ultimately, the whole business, but initially it is focusing on the IT team, development and operational teams and product development team as well where it’s particularly important because those are the people that are helping to direct and steer our new products and services, those are the people getting feedback from customers, to say ‘well this is great but it would be useful if I could do this with the product, or take it down this route’. We work with development partners, so we launched a product last year into the higher education sector, in the UK, so we have worked with universities to develop the product and get their feedback and buy-in and help us to steer how we develop that product.

DevOps and staff
It’s been an education of the existing IT team to explain to them what DevOps really is, and explain that it’s just about breaking down the silo between development and operations traditionally, but it goes wider than that, it’s about getting them bought in to principles, most it people had heard of it and aware of it, so for us it was bringing everyone together and getting them to understand our vision of DevOps, but we haven’t recruited anyone specifically.

Have Developers had to learn operations and vice versa?
To some extent, we’re working on that, but working with external developers a lot of them are working this way with other customers already, so they’re pushing us to say we’ve been working this way, and it’s really helped us to accelerate our own implementation.

External developers – how does that set up actually work?
CLA is a small company, compared t companies I’ve worked at before, so DevOps can be straight forward as you have your own resources, for us as we work with different organisations, it gives us greater visibility on what we’re working on. It’s about co-ordinating people who are not under our direct control, and make sure we’ve got that visibility and turning around things just as quickly as an internal development team.

What are the main outcomes/successes?
I guess it’s really building up to the next phase, seeing the whole process through. We’ve been able to turn around feature requests and our whole development processes have speeded up considerably. I think, in a year’s time we’ll be in a position where potentially customers can request new features and turn them around in a matter of days, so I don’t know if we have seen significant gains yet.

Are there more significant benefits down the line?
Yes, towards the end of the process, being able to do the end-to-end cycle is where we want to want to be.

Are there any barriers?
I think the main barrier really is time; I think is everybody is very busy doing the day job, and while people can see the advantage for this and they’re keen to adopt it, getting the time to do the work that is required is always a challenge, and probably has been our biggest challenge I think.

What are your main business priorities – is DevOps helping you to achieve them?
I think it’s a supporting factor, we have some exciting ideas in terms of new products and services that we’d like to develop for our customers and getting those to market quickly and getting viable products out early on and getting feedback from customers and then developing and enhancing them. So the product we launched last year has now been adopted by over 60 universities in the UK, so we need to develop and respond fast; without DevOps we would have struggled to run at the appropriate pace.

Ed Garcez, Chief Digital and Information Officer, London Borough of Camden

Ed Garcez has been leading business technology in London’s public sector since 2004 following a career with the airline British Airways.  Garcez began his public sector career south of Ed Garcezthe River Thames in Lambeth before heading against the flow of the river to Fulham and Hammersmith and now he’s in the North of the capital at the Borough of Camden where he has taken on responsibility for digital and information.  Camden was previously led by John Jackson.

How do you define DevOps and do you use it?
It’s interesting in the context of DevOps, and obviously I’ve been looking at my leadership team and the kind of roles that populate that leadership team.  There is a real challenge, in that cliché again, if we do the same stuff we’ve always done before we’ll get the same outcomes we’ve always got. And one of the challenges in local government is that we have to change the outcome of what we’re getting, and that means  changing some of the things we’re doing. So I’ve been asking myself the question: do I want a head of apps, ops and traditional roles? Or do I want something more innovative, where I have a head of platforms, head of live services, a more DevOps-agile approach to a structure, so for me it feels quite contemporary.

I’m giving a huge amount of thought to how I structure and shape the leadership team for three councils to break us away from silos of IT, and focus us on influence and innovation and digital and relationships rather than technology silos.

How would you describe your DevOps maturity?
DevOps is at its heart fundamentally about doing ops and dev together, so traditionally we talk about dev team producing some stuff, testing some stuff , a project team if you like… and then handing over those developments into ops. So two distinct phases of activity, so one where you’re liaising with users, and design stuff with users, and then done all of that and you’ve all tested things , you move into ops, so quite a linear waterfall type approach to doing some IT stuff. I think DevOps, for me, is bringing together the kind of development activities, and the testing quality assurance type activity, and the operations activities so it allows for a much more fluid and agile approach to both releasing new functionality and updating or improving existing functionality so I guess it’s some of the kind of Mode 2 Gartner stuff, it’s agile in an operational world, those are the kinds of ways I would describe it.

Has DevOps been adopted beyond IT?
So there is a devops function within in our team currently, it’s a behaviour that happens lower down the organisation rather than something that is represented on my leadership team. So the question is not should we be doing it, because we do some of it, it’s how close to the core should DevOps sit.  

So with that in mind when we say  what is the stuff that matters in DevOps world? The influence stuff, being able to communicate effectively, to collaborate really well because the traditional hand over from development to quality assurance and testing to operations is now much more fluid. So collaborating and working across a team is really crucial in underpinning an approach, a methodology that is focused on delivering change quickly, and recovering from failure fast, rather than the traditional approach which is about avoiding the risk of failure. So it’s almost a different mindset and approach to risk and collaboration and working together. Flexibility is key.

I think there is also this notion of – in a traditional organisation, you specify some stuff, we deliver some stuff, we test the delivery that matches the specifications and then everyone pats themselves on the back and say the job’s done. Whereas DevOps is more fluid again, actually we continuously monitor improve, so there is a little bit of that kind of black belt, Sigma approach of continuous improvement, and really monitoring, looking and amending and then monitoring looking and amending.

If going beyond IT, where in the business do you see the DevOps model being adopted?A lot of that is about a new relationship so all of the stuff I’ve just described I’ve been thinking about, should be about a really formal project specification, project activity, project sign off, new application delivery, to a much more agile…fluid, flexible approach around doing something and then continuously focusing on making it better.

On a technical perspective it’s quite challenging because our infrastructure needs to change…. In essence there is an infrastructural requirement that is more modern that is better able to deal with APIs or integrations, rollbacks, where effectively the boundary between hardware infrastructure and software applications is more blurred, so it’s almost as if we’re in a place where the platforms that we work on have to be more interoperable and connectable to make stuff work, and we have to keep thinking of it as a continuous journey it’s not a one-off thing.

So to summarize, I think it’s about soft skills around communication, influence and acknowledgement of continuous improvement and being open to that always. It’s about really understanding that configuration is really important, version control are really important because those are the things that allow us to make changes, without requiring a whole system re-test so it is about being able to compartmentalise, change and assess its impact very quickly and roll it back if necessary very quickly or then develop on top of it.

For more information on adoption of DevOps ECS Digital, which spoke at the 2016 Innovation Leadership Summit have penned a white paper: A CIO Guide to DevOps which you can download at: http://www.ecs-digital.co.uk/2017-cio-guide

Innovation Leadership Summit
Public sector CIOs say collaboration is vital for DevOps success. Picture by Vicky Mathers, Icon Photomedia, part of Icon Business Media 
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