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How and why to set up an automation CoE for DevOps

As DevOps automation efforts spread across IT and the business, use a center of excellence to establish standards, secure executive sponsorship and organize staff trainings.

A wholesale transition to DevOps is the right time to establish an automation center of excellence.

At the core of an automation CoE is a cross-functional team that provides leadership, best practices and research to support automation efforts across the organization. The best time to form an automation CoE varies between businesses, but a general rule of thumb is to consider a center of excellence when multiple business groups have transitioned -- or are in mid-transition -- to DevOps, and are starting to design their own automated processes.

Here are 5 steps to stand up a DevOps automation center of excellence.

1. Get executive sponsorship

Executive support can help a new CoE reach its potential and serve as a safeguard for continuation, even in the face of company politics and changing corporate policies. Because automation is a divisive topic in some companies, this support is critical. The right executive sponsor vested in automation efforts can get the right parties to sit together at the table, resolve any misunderstandings and clarify goals.

Choose an executive sponsor, such as the CTO, who has the most to gain from a robust automation strategy. A sponsor has a budget -- or at least a sway over finances -- to help advocate for IT's automation efforts and ensure fair representation in budget planning.

An executive sponsor is also instrumental to sell automation and its benefits to the rest of an organization's C-Suite. As IT's efforts proceed, the sponsor can share success stories.

2. Create an automation vision

Visions of DevOps automation run the gamut across organizations -- and not all are positive. For example, some employees might fear job cuts due to automation, or that inexperienced managers will rush to automate everybody and everything in the DevOps toolchain.

An automation vision must be clear and concise to ensure that all audiences understand it. For example: DevOps automation frees staff to pursue more critical work for the company and its customers.

An automation vision must be clear and concise to ensure that all audiences understand it.

Any vision without hard data and a defined plan to back it up will not be well received by management or its employees. Regardless of IT's vision, an automation CoE must also communicate the roles of developers and IT operations admins as it automates more steps in its software builds. Consider writing before and after job descriptions for developers and administrators. If automation opens the door to projects beyond keeping the lights on and paying corporate bills, then communicate the new backlog of work with details and information about related budget adjustments.

3. Consolidate data, metrics and success stories

To tell the right automation story in today's corporate environment requires access to data, metrics and success stories that advocates can share internally. Metrics should drive status reporting. It's the data that proves success.

An automation center of excellence is an ideal clearinghouse for the automation metrics and success stories that hide inside the departments, teams and projects of mid- to large-sized organizations. In cases where the circulation of such information across the business isn't part of the organization's culture, a CoE enables that dissemination.

Track metrics that show how automation has improved software delivery and efficiency: Include this data in sales and marketing presentations, marketing collateral and proposal responses.

Company size doesn't matter

While many of the points in this article relate to options for larger enterprises, the same principles of information sharing, cross collaboration and an automation vision apply to smaller shops. It's possible to establish a CoE that consists of one person who's a vocal advocate for DevOps automation, and seeks support across the business.

4. Set automation standards across the business

It's not a business imperative to run all DevOps toolchains with the same sets of tools, but some degree of automation standards can help iterate on current processes.

Automation standards -- in some form or another -- ease staff onboarding and training. These standards assist employees who work with automation across teams, or need to fill in for colleagues who are unavailable for some reason.

Standards also help with automation troubleshooting; the CoE should collect and maintain all troubleshooting information.

5. Pool resources for specialized training

Because an automation center of excellence unites stakeholders from across an organization, it enables those stakeholders to pool their resources for internal or external DevOps automation training.

An automation CoE should sponsor internal training. For example, a certain business group might be ahead in automated testing, compared to other groups, because it has continuous testing experts. Those experts can share their knowledge at a CoE meeting, and stakeholders can work out the budget for the experts' time.

External training budgets vary across organizations. An automation center of excellence with an executive sponsor can use its cross-organizational membership to set priorities, define budgets and campaign for more training more easily than any individual department could.

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