Interview with Abbas Haider Ali, CTO at xMatters

How *not* to do DevOps: 50% of companies wait for Ops to declare a major incident before responding

Gabriela Motroc
Abbas Haider Ali

When going down the DevOps road, automation through any means possible is critical. If it can be automated through tools, code, or robots, that’s the path a driven DevOps team will take. However, automation is not the only pillar of DevOps. We talked to Abbas Haider Ali, CTO at xMatters about a recent DevOps maturity survey the company carried out alongside Atlassian.

“DevOps has been a cultural force in the world of software and operations for 10 years,” Atlassian’s Natalie Mendes wrote in a blog post announcing the DevOps trends and best practices in 2017. But where have 10 years of cultural change, infrastructure improvement, and tooling got us?

To answer this question, Atlassian partnered up with xMatters, a provider of integration-driven collaboration to proactively resolve issues, to research the state of DevOps practices today.


JAXenter: Atlassian and xMatters carried out a survey and discovered that even though companies have embraced the culture and processes to enable DevOps, they are still struggling to achieve the full benefits. What’s you take on this? They have the means — why can’t they reap the benefits? 

Abbas Haider Ali: Companies need a shift from tool-first thinking to team-first thinking. This is evidenced by the fact that more than 80 percent of organizations say their Development and Operations teams share tools, but 64 percent say their knowledge sharing between Development and Operations is poor or limited. A tool should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. It starts with culture, and tools and processes need to fulfill the vision of that culture.

For example, companies monitor just about everything. That’s great, right? But if they don’t have processes and priorities in place for using all that data, they just get overwhelmed. And it looks like that’s what’s happening when you see that about half of companies have issues in production after releasing code.

JAXenter: Although about 65 percent of companies claim that they are achieving the benefits they expect from DevOps, a maturity gap remains. How can they speed up the process or what are they doing wrong? 

Abbas Haider Ali: To move forward, companies have to start automating processes throughout the DevOps delivery pipeline. This means thinking beyond processes that encompass the development and test cycle, and including the build, staging, and production components.  Leading companies use tools to check in code, communicate, and manage issues from a single-issue management system—with the right team members bought in to the underlying processes that these solutions support.

Like every technology shift that’s come before it, there is always the temptation to look for the quick fix with tools but without the cultural changes, all teams wind up doing is magnifying the cultural problems that exist.

They also use a communication platform that can connect tools to people to enable the sorts of open communications that the DevOps cultural shift is made for. When processes and tools work in conjunction with culture, companies will significantly mature in their DevOps journey.

JAXenter: What does DevOps maturity mean? What are the processes or steps that need to be followed? 

Abbas Haider Ali: Like any other approach to building and operating technology, DevOps is a cultural change with an application of various disciplines in the form of a craft. And like any other craft, it’s something that all teams should work to get better at. In the survey, we looked at five very broad areas: culture, operations and support, architecture, testing, and delivery.

One of the core ideas behind the DevOps Survey was to allow teams to go through a detailed questionnaire and compare it to their self-assessment to allow for a comparison of how good they are at their craft in comparison to their peers. xMatters and Atlassian will be providing self-assessment tools along with prescriptive playbooks for teams to get from where they are today to the next level of maturity in their DevOps journey.

SEE ALSO: The first-aid DevOps toolkit: What does it contain?

JAXenter: DevOps is meant to break past silos but some companies create a new one when they adopt DevOps. What can be done to prevent the creation of yet another silo?

Abbas Haider Ali: By observing an organization that calls itself DevOps you can quickly determine whether it’s a real change or just another operational silo by another name. The key hallmarks to look for are the cultural changes. Knowledge sharing, collaboration both vertically and horizontally in the technology org, a focus on automation, and the ability to fail without reprisal are some examples. The survey shows this in monitoring. Companies monitor virtually everything, yet only 60% say their solutions predict issues before they affect customers.

And when those issues affect customers, companies can be slow to respond. Our survey shows that 50% of companies wait for Operations to declare a major incident before responding. The simple answer to preventing these silos is automation and connected systems that share information with each other and the people that need to take action. In other words, the technology needs to align with the culture.

The technology needs to align with the culture.

JAXenter: What comes first? Culture or tools? What is more important when adopting DevOps?

Abbas Haider Ali: Culture always comes first. Like every technology shift that’s come before it, there is always the temptation to look for the quick fix with tools but without the cultural changes, all teams wind up doing is magnifying the cultural problems that exist and increasing the velocity at which they cause problems. With the right culture in place, tools, process, accountability and transparency fall into place a lot more easily.

JAXenter: How important is automation in a DevOps context?

Abbas Haider Ali: The “Dev” in DevOps means that when going down this road, automation through any means possible is critical. Any developer worth their salt would not want to do the same operational task twice. If it can be automated through tools, code, or robots, that’s the path a driven DevOps team will take. It’s the only way that they can scale themselves and provide high-quality services to their customers.

JAXenter: How can you tell when a company is adopting (or trying to adopt) DevOps?

Abbas Haider Ali: The biggest clue is when a company decides that they want to start on a journey to a digital transformation of some part of their business, whether they refer to it as that or not. As they move towards more rapidly evolving apps and a stronger customer focus, DevOps just becomes a natural consequence on how they operate their apps. That doesn’t mean that they will do it well to start, but by following the practices of people who are doing it well and using it as prescriptive guidance, they can move up the maturity scale more quickly.

Thank you very much!

Find the DevOps maturity survey report here

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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