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March 1, 2021

State of DevOps: 2020 and Beyond

By Gene Kim

What Happened in 2020

Most organizations entered 2020 with a plan, and all those plans were completely upended by a global pandemic and the economic downturn that happened afterward. And yet I think 2020 has been illuminating in showing what technology can do in a time of incredible crisis.

I experienced this myself with DevOps Enterprise Summit. In a normal year, we host two in-person conferences in the US and UK. Of course in 2020, an in-person conference where thousands of people fly into a location and sit and talk and walk and learn together in a space was not possible. We had to quickly pivot to a fully virtual experience, which required us to dive into services, platforms, and technologies that we hadn’t had the necessity to use before.

But, similar to many companies, the crisis provided a catalyst for rapid change. And I’m thankful we were able to rise and meet it. 

Horses vs. Unicorns: Success Stories in 2020

For many years now, my passion has been studying DevOps adoption at high performing organizations. But not the tech giants, the unicorns; rather, my focus, and that of DevOps Enterprise Summit, is in studying DevOps adoption at large, complex organizations. The horses who have been around for decades and even centuries. 

What amazed me in 2020 was the way these organizations mobilized technology to get services to customers, internal and external, in a moment of rapid, unprecedented change. These large complex organizations that are known for their inability to pivot and adapt quickly suddenly had no other choice. 

Two companies that illustrate this successful pivot to agility are Nationwide and US Bank, who both presented at DevOps Enterprise 2020.

Nationwide Building Society, the world’s largest mutual financial institution, was able to respond in weeks versus the typical years. During this time of crises, policies, procedures, and old ways of working were thrown out the window in service of the needs of stakeholders and customers. Despite being a financial institution, which is heavily encumbered by regulations and rules, Nationwide was able to unlock agility that I don’t believe will end even after this crisis is over. Instead, it has likely changed their organization forever. You can watch their DevOps Enterprise Summit 2020 presentation in full here.

At US Bank, in response to the paycheck protection program (PPP), they were able to deliver a program in a week’s time that would normally have taken more than a year. This was accomplished despite having to work with a mainframe application and a specific enterprise service bus that hadn’t been touched in over 20 years. It was so successful that they were presented with this question: what could they do with double the technology budget the following year. You can view their full story in their DevOps Enterprise 2020 presentation here.

These success stories show how important technology is, illustrating that one of the key learnings of 2020 is how much we can achieve when IT and the business speak openly and honestly.

Moving forward, business leaders need to ask how they can leverage technology platforms to securely deliver in the future. In 2020, the tech community delivered when it was needed the most. Whether it was releasing a new feature or setting up VPN access for thousands of employees who had never worked from home before.

Looking to the Future of DevOps

In the beginning of DevOps, the biggest challenge was getting Dev and Ops talking and working together (like we illustrate in The Phoenix Project). Then it became a focus on bringing InfoSec on board. Now, the bottleneck is no longer the technical practices (though it still exists), the biggest challenge and necessity is getting business leadership on board.

Two successful examples of the business and technology working together include Fannie Mae and American Airlines.

At Fannie Mae, Executive VP and COO, Kimberly H. Johnson, doesn’t come from a tech background. But she’s known for always being willing to run into a fire. Her presentation at DevOps Enterprise 2020, in partnership with Tim Judge, VP, Climate Impact; Christopher Porter, SVP and CISO; and Ramon Richards, SVP, Integrated Technology Services, shows how DevOps practices helped them respond in the short term to the COVID-19 crisis and think and plan in the long term for things like climate change. Watch their 2020 presentation here.

In the American Airlines DevOps Enterprise Summit 2020 presentation, Maya Leibman asked Doug Parker, American Airline’s CEO, an important question—“Whose job is it to transform?” Doug Parker answered, “It’s everyone’s job.”

While technology is a piece of a successful transformation into future ways of working, business leadership must lead the charge. Transformation must be co-created between business and technology.

While this may sound easy for those at a tech giant or startup, where everyone knows that you live or die by your technology, this way of thinking is still relatively uncommon at large, complex organizations. And this idea, that transformation must be co-created and nurtured between the business and IT, presents the biggest challenge and holds the most promise in the future.

My goal for the DevOps community is that we keep reaching higher in organizations so that the American Airlines CEO isn’t the only CEO who recognizes and says publicly that this work is important and essential to the future of organizations. 

In order to get there, it all comes down to how you motivate change. While a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic presents an innate motivation for change, the challenge when organizations and teams return to the haze and success of the new normal is how to sustain  that motivation.

The enterprise can no longer sustain a binary thought process: top down or tech only. We must achieve true collaboration. Ninety percent of that work involves getting the right people engaged, onboard and aligned. Start there and we can maintain the motivation into the future.

- About The Authors
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Gene Kim

Award winning CTO, researcher, and author.

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1 Comment

  • Sameh Mar 1, 2021 3:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this insightful article. Is the IT of Fannie Mae/American Airlines the only source of technology solutions to the whole company? Because, often companies need AI solutions and other sort of advanced solutions that increasingly became critical to the business. Given the history of IT for providing traditional IT support systems, it cannot pivot to provide such advanced solutions. This limits the value IT providing to the overall company.

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