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IT channel explores finer points of DevOps consulting

DevOps challenges are creating demand for IT consultancies such as Nebulaworks and Entisys, which both cite cultural changes as a significant customer pain point.

Chris Ciborowski, CEO and co-founder of Nebulaworks, a cloud and DevOps consulting firm, likens a software program with bugs to a financial account that isn't paying dividends. It's not adding value -- or in this case, functionality -- and is only accumulating interest charges because a development team is still fixing those bugs. As long as the team needs to make fixes, Ciborowski said, it is always going to be part of the software development life cycle and IT operations practices.

"There will always be an amount of Technical debt, because DevOps is an amalgamation of development and operations," he said.

Now going into its fourth year of DevOps consulting work, Nebulaworks has formed partnerships with a handful of what Ciborowski calls "innovation partners" that provide tools core to how DevOps provides benefits to customers, he said. The tools include Docker, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and HashiCorp.

As with other aspects of IT consulting, Ciborowski sees opportunity in helping organizations change the culture of how IT operations and development teams work in tandem in terms of people, processes and tools. Nebulaworks focuses on midmarket and enterprise firms in every vertical, he said. "Most of the work we're doing is enabling change, building the innovation" and proving return on investment, he said. "Because of things we're recommending ... like moving idle code to production, we can show immediate return," Ciborowski explained.

DevOps consulting: Customer pain points

Every one of Nebulaworks' customers has a "velocity challenge," which Ciborowski said comprises of how quickly a company can bring an idea to fruition and how intrinsically important that idea is to the company's business. Some customers want to produce quality apps, but they have too many bugs. "So they want to speed deployments with less buggy deployments," he said. "Other customers want apps that more closely match what their customers would like to see. We see that in banking and gaming." Nebulaworks helps customers figure out how to more quickly meet their own customers' demands, he said.

Chris Ciborowski, CEO of NebulaworksChris Ciborowski

"Everyone has a velocity equation. The direction they're heading in is unique to each," Ciborowski said.

For example, a tech firm client with a SaaS-based legal services offering found that their velocity equation included reducing the friction between their development and deployment processes. While the customer had quantified the need to increase the rate of application deployments, it was clear that to meet needs they also required a consolidated platform for all development teams to leverage, gain consistency and reduce repetitive work, Ciborowski said.

The issue was the tech firm didn't have a feedback mechanism to tell IT whether it was having a loss of productivity or what components of the apps were causing technical debt.

You say you want to do 'DevOps,' but if you don't have anyone who has the autonomy and authority and, ultimately, the accountability on all three of those for this journey, then this is never going to get off the ground.
Chris CiborowskiCEO, Nebulaworks

The first step was to provide a level of stakeholder baseline education, Ciborowski said. After that, he sat down with the operations and development teams and identified projects they could work on that addressed the metrics Nebulaworks helped them come up with to solve their issues. 

"In the case of that customer, they had a number of teams using different processes and technologies that were all trying to achieve the same outcome," he said. "Many were old and outdated and not well integrated," he said. The teams also had "little in the way of feedback mechanisms to show an increase in performance from development to software quality to performance of the app once it was running."

There were seven teams, and, because they were so disconnected, there was no collaboration, Ciborowski added. The first step was to build automated processes to continuously check and test their code and deliver it to artifact repositories, which is where the code is placed after it is developed and ready to deploy, he said.

The tech firm "had mobile development teams that were taking months to deploy their app," which was tightly integrated with the firm's customer relationship management processes and website. "We reduced that cycle time down to days because the process is automated," Ciborowski said.

Mike Strohl, Entisys360Mike Strohl

Another IT consultancy, Entisys360, based in Concord, Calif., launched its digital transformation practice and DevOps consulting services in September. CEO Mike Strohl said they heard from several clients that as they look for ways to better align their technology initiatives with their business goals, they often struggle to determine the best approach or first steps for doing that.

Entisys360 provides clients "with the guidance they need to select and integrate best-of-breed digital technologies within their businesses," Strohl said. 

Unlike traditional IT infrastructure projects, digital transformation solutions such as those related to DevOps "change the way a business does things versus just changing the thing they use to do it," he observed. "Our clients needed a way to easily change based on the needs of their businesses."

One way Entisys360 is helping clients achieve this change is by creating project goal alignment across an organization's stakeholders from multiple business units and departments. This upfront alignment is key to ensuring everyone understands the value the digital transformation project will bring to the company, he said.

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DevOps culture: A top challenge in DevOps consulting

Bringing about culture, process and tool changes to an IT organization can be a tall order. For Nebulaworks, "the No. 1 challenge" relates to whether customers have "someone who has the moral authority to take on this challenge or journey," Ciborowski said. "You say you want to do 'DevOps,' but if you don't have anyone who has the autonomy and authority and, ultimately, the accountability on all three of those for this journey, then this is never going to get off the ground."

Additionally, if an organization has teams that aren't willing to learn something new, DevOps won't be successful. "We run into this more frequently than we don't," he said.

And there is another significant challenge that Nebulaworks faces. "DevOps is a culture of adaptation and continuous change, and, for some of our customers, especially in the enterprise, the concept that you're always in flux is hard to comprehend," Ciborowski said. "The point of equilibrium, if there is one, is very short, and it should remain that way in order to always be delivering value," he added.

For Entisys360, the challenge has been that the company has traditionally worked on the IT operations side of things. Yet, digital transformation includes the application development work clients are doing. "This presents a very different dynamic and culture, one that requires true experts who understand the full spectrum of work that needs to be done, from IT operations to application development," Strohl said. As a result, to successfully launch its new practice, Entisys360 officials knew they had to engage with the right team of people "who would be willing and able to approach the situation with their eyes and minds wide open to the possibilities."

Looking ahead in DevOps consulting

Strohl envisions the next logical step for their digital transformation practice is in helping clients with big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence projects.

According to Ciborowski, as development and IT operations processes and tools inevitably change, Nebulaworks has already begun educating clients on a few emerging methods and technologies they believe will provide competitive advantage, such as policy as code.

He said they are also "monitoring many [other emerging technologies] that are looking promising, like quantum computing."

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