Jen Thomson
Jennifer Thomson (Senior Research Director & Lead Accelerated App Delivery Practice)

As unprecedented circumstances unraveled across Europe during the first quarter of 2020, we held our 1st European DevOps Research Innovation Council meeting of the year. As well as casting our minds to think about what DevOps will look like in its second decade, the conversation turned to how organizations and the technology that supports them will have to adapt in real time to support business change in a world impacted by COVID-19, and what lasting effects this may have on the way we operate.

Pressure on the network was a very real discussion — as I and other members fought with bandwidth issues in Italy and the U.K., this immediately shined a light on whether the infrastructure was available globally to support what is now a very real scenario of two-thirds of the world’s population working remotely.

There were three key takeaways from the meeting.

Distributed DevOps Just Got Very Real

If we put the impact of COVID-19 in perspective, within a three-week period many engineering teams across Europe went from being colocated in a single location to distributed across many. Distributed DevOps and distributed agile just got very real for many European organizations. Colocation is a very interesting and relevant topic, and in normal circumstances colocating teams is a good thing, but organizations need to adapt to the new normal and rapidly set their teams up to succeed both virtually and in a distributed fashion.

For some organizations this will be easier than for others and there are many things to learn from those doing this well. For instance, Github/Microsoft has gradually been shifting from colocated to distributed teams for a while, and Cycloid, another council member that specializes in DevOps frameworks, exists predominantly without office space, so the current remote work situation is life as normal. However, this requires a technology strategy to support remote teams. For instance, as Github/Microsoft moved more people to work from home it invested heavily in cloud development systems as this provided easier access to the infrastructure versus having to access it over an enterprise VPN.

In this context the council debated security and the potential implications of sudden remote working. Will this lead to an explosion in bad code being released as organizations grapple to push out digital apps and services? Will this mean that organizations will start to practice bad code and security hygiene? Overall, the council had the perception that security will shift left (move upfront in the development life cycle) in a healthy way (of course there are going to be challenges).

Think of the scenario where, for example, financial institutions are not able to force employees to use their existing infrastructure, either because not all the team got laptops or there are not enough VPN enterprise network licenses/endpoints and so on. This will lead to a situation where organizations realize that they can’t just protect at the perimeter — perhaps a false ideal anyway — but must assume they are under persistent attack and adopt a breach mindset.

Bear in mind that fraudsters and hackers are going to try and exploit the disruption caused. This requires that engineers build in security earlier in the process and build it in as part of the main development process. Therefore, we are hopeful that remote working may lead to some healthy security habits — but there will be pain along the way.

Sustaining Cultural Transformation and Adjusting Organizational Benefits Will Be a Game-Changer

As with many topics we discuss, the technology side is the easier part. This has always been the case with DevOps, but it’s the business processes and metrics — things like HR, benefits, and KPIs — that lag. Most “organizational” benefits for software engineering teams are set up for the old world, for people who are in an office space and can come into the office, but realistically many organizations are still not set up for homeworking, let alone distributed and collaborative working. What is interesting is that up till now remote work was for many organizations an exception, with mainly in-room teams and a fraction that worked remotely. Once the whole team is remote this brings much more attention to the entire situation.

We must think realistically about the virtual cultures that we are creating; will this help or hinder organizational culture long term? How can virtual culture be less artificial, and aid in sustaining the cultural transformation that has already taken place? What are the new incentives for virtual teams and how can gamification play more of a role? IDC research in 2H19 showed that 40% of European organizations identify culture as the weakest link to achieving enterprise agility. Furthermore, it underlined that over 5 in 10 organizations will focus on measuring and driving cultural change in the next 12 months.

However, as we all know, cultural change is multidimensional, crossing collaboration models, customer engagement strategies, continuous learning capabilities, metrics (with the emphasis on measuring to learn), and business leadership and vision. Now we must put all of this into the context of 100% remote working, and as a result many challenges will confront organizations as they navigate cultural change.

All teams now need a different way of working. Just think about things that get taken for granted, such as where are the post-its going to be stuck; where are the whiteboards for idea capture; how will team cohesion be retained and managed; and how will personal ties and informal chats be maintained? This now needs to be rapidly addressed and thought about, not just in the context of individual teams but within the context of the wider organization, and, unfortunately, for many teams in the context of reduced working hours and salaries — the game just got a lot harder. The challenge for every organization will be how to maintain the stability of software and DevOps engineering teams, maintain the cross-functional work ethic and practices, and hold on to the talent that they fought so hard to attract.

On the upside there’s a whole bunch of engineers at home potentially getting bored and frustrated with the tools to which they have access. MongoDB certainly sees this as a very viable scenario, and this may well be a time when a whole new breed of tools will be born. Innovation is born from necessity and this will be no exception.

Talent Management and Skills Balancing Is Even More Essential

IDC research shows that access to adequate and relevant skills is a challenge for just over 4 in 10 European organizations, and close to half of European organizations tell us that they are focused on training and reskilling staff to support DevOps and app delivery demands in the next few years. Over the past 12 months we have seen a big shift in the importance placed on skills and talent required for successful enterprise-scale DevOps strategies. This was confirmed by the DevOps Institute, a new joiner to the IDC European DevOps RIC, which is focused on developing, supporting, and advancing the skills of the humans of DevOps.

This is not just a time to focus on the technical and development skills (which are of course critical) but also the skills required to make distributed teams work. Developing human skills must be a priority — think interpersonal skills, empathy, motivation, and how organizations and teams can make this work in a distributed, homeworking scenario.

The council debated whether there is — given the current situation — an opportunity to address the European skills challenge and shortage that is very real for several software development and engineering teams across Europe. Thinking longer term, if remote working becomes more accepted, we asked ourselves whether organizations will be able to bridge critical skills gaps if there is the ability to work around local language barriers.

The European DevOps Research Innovation Council will debate the issue of how we manage distributed teams in an upcoming podcast. Please stay tuned for further details. We’d love to hear your views, experiences, and thoughts on this, so please get in touch.

Who’s in the IDC DevOps RIC?

IDC invited the following cloud innovation council members to the inaugural research innovation council:

  1. CloudBees —
  2. Cycloid —
  3. DevOps Institute —
  4. Dynatrace —
  5. ECS Digital —
  6. MongoDB —
  7. Github —
  8. MuleSoft —
  9. Plutora —

If you want to learn more about the COVID-19 Impact on DevOps, or have any questions, please contact Jennifer Thomson, or drop your details in the form on the top right.

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