DevOps fears and the

DevOps fears and the 'Dilbert effect'

DevOps could be what lifts federal IT onto the cloud, according to a new survey of 152 federal IT managers familiar with their own agency's cloud-adoption efforts. The majority of those managers are looking to the collaborative software development method to help IT departments get past security concerns, complex infrastructures, lack of collaboration and just a general fear of change when it comes to moving over to the cloud.

In the slow lane

Only 13 percent of respondents felt they could “develop and deploy new systems as fast as the mission requires," according to a report released May 11 by MeriTalk. The managers cited "delays from operational, policy and security requirements.” And despite the 66 percent of managers who said cloud could help expedite mission and constituent needs, most agencies have yet to implement the system to its fullest potential, with less than half having made process or policy changes since cloud came along.

The hold up is as cultural as it is technical. Only one in 10 IT managers said there is good collaboration between developers and administrators. Some of the reasons cited include:

  • Lack of communication.
  • Each department operates in a vacuum.
  • Different departments have different policies and programs.
  • Lack of understanding perspectives.
  • Lack of vision.

Seventy-eight percent agreed this needs to change if there is any chance of moving successfully over to cloud.

Tim Hoechst, CTO of Accenture Federal Services (Accenture underwrote the study), said the culture of walls and silos that has defined how federal IT functions is something that has been ingrained in the system over many generations. “The people doing the design and talking to the customer are separate from the people testing the code and separate from the people writing the code, separate from the people managing the security," Hoechst told GCN. "This didn’t happen overnight. It happened over many generations. The result is that they tend to get focused on their bit of it. And getting them to collaborate has been a challenge.”

Those who know DevOps like it – but there aren't many of them in federal IT

Fifty-seven percent of respondents agreed that DevOps, a development method based on constant collaboration between software developers and operations staff, is the answer to the problem, with 9 percent disagreeing and 34 percent unsure. That 34 percent is not surprising, since only 1 in 5 IT managers said they themselves are familiar with the method. And even among those who do know DevOps, the majority said they were unsure where their agency stood on using it.

One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the fear of what something new will mean for productivity and efficiency, Hoechst said. Forty percent of respondents cited “fear of change” as a key factor slowing the move to cloud.

And when it comes to moving to introducing new methodologies, Hoechst said the “Dilbert effect” comes into play. “In Dilbert the developers are the only smart ones, and the management are the idiots. Sometimes these practices are misperceived by leadership as that -- no requirements or design and the inmates will be running the asylum.” Yet the opposite is true, Hoechst said. Working in a DevOps system is about getting momentum going and giving staff the tools to work more efficiently.

Hoechst said that once people see how keeping everyone involved in all parts of the process makes a better product, they recognize its value. “Remember that this is not only about rapid deployment of capability, but also the harmony that exists between the people running the system and building the system. There is no throwing over the fence…. The people who wrote it are also responsible for the people who broke it. DevOps is about bringing those things together.”

He also cited enhanced security as an example of the benefits of collaboration from the get-go. “One of the hallmarks of continuous integration is testing how components integrate with one another," Hoechst said. "All of the security people are working in the development environment or a copy of it, so every developer has a virtualized environment of the whole environment that they are working in. That goes a long way to improving the security of the system. And that’s only possible because of the automation of testing."

Unlearning the old ways

Despite the “unlearning” that is a necessary part of the process, those exposed to the DevOps way of working have adapted well. Hoechst said it also helps to have new blood in the workforce. “We know this is a transition they can make because, one, with strong leadership most legacy-minded folks go through this journey and become the greatest advocates of the process. We also see people coming right from school slide right into these methodologies.”

Some formal training is key to moving over to using DevOps, according to Hoechst, but implementation can and should begin immediately. “The right answer is to pick off some low hanging fruit and start from there. That’s part of the magic why the cloud is so important because I can just rapidly stand up those services…. Finding those projects and throwing fertilizer on them.” He noted that no one knows what version of Facebook we’re on, and that’s the way development should work -- by “adding little bits of capability” as you go.

MeriTalk's study, "The Agile Advantage:  Can DevOps Move Cloud to the Fast Lane?" can be found here.

About the Author

Suzette Lohmeyer is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.

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Reader Comments

Tue, May 12, 2015 Scott

After nearly 15 years of working as a systems administration and software engineer in the DoD/Intel community I have recently moved into a 100% commercial role. And it is on a DevOps team at a large company. I feel like we are moving at supersonic speed compared to what I was familiar with on government contracts; and we are getting things done. I feel invigorated about my career and sad at the same time wondering where I might be in my career had I not been worked on government contracts all those years.

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