What DevOps teams really need from a CIO

DevOps teams need IT leaders to focus on three topics: communication, technical debt, and trust
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IT leaders can learn from plenty of material exploring DevOps and the challenging cultural shift required for making the DevOps transition. But are you in tune with the short and long term challenges that a DevOps team faces – and what they really need from a CIO?

In my conversations with DevOps team members, some of what I heard might surprise you. DevOps pros (whether part of an internal or external team) want to put the following things at the top of your CIO radar screen.

1. Communication

First and foremost, DevOps pros need peer-level communication. An experienced DevOps team is extremely knowledgeable on current DevOps trends, successes, and failures in the industry and is interested in sharing this information. DevOps concepts are difficult to convey, so be open to a new working relationship in which there are regular (don’t worry, not weekly) conversations about the current state of your IT, how the pieces in the environment communicate, and your overall IT estate.

[ Want even more wisdom from CIOs on leading DevOps? See our comprehensive resource, DevOps: The IT Leader's Guide. ]

Conversely, be prepared to share current business needs and goals with the DevOps team. Business objectives no longer exist in isolation from IT: They are now an integral component of what drives your IT advancements, and your IT determines how effectively you can execute on your business needs and goals.

Focus on participating rather than leading. You are still the ultimate arbiter when it comes to decisions, but understand that these decisions are best made collaboratively in order to empower and motivate your DevOps team.

2. Reduction of technical debt

Second, strive to better understand technical debt and how DevOps efforts are going to reduce it. Your DevOps team is working hard on this front. In this case, technical debt refers to the manpower and infrastructure resources that are usurped daily by maintaining and adding new features on top of a monolithic, non-sustainable environment (read Rube Goldberg).

Common CIO questions include:

  • Why do we need to do things in a new way?
  • Why are we spending time and money on this?
  • If there’s no new functionality, just existing pieces being broken out with automation, then where is the gain?

The “if it ain't broke don't fix it” thinking is understandable. But if the car is driving fine while everyone on the road accelerates past you, your environment IS broken. Precious resources continue to be sucked into propping up or augmenting an environmental kluge.

Addressing every issue in isolation results in a compromised choice from the start that is worsened with each successive patch – layer upon layer added to a foundation that wasn’t built to support it. In actuality, this approach is similar to plugging a continuously failing dike. Sooner or later you run out of fingers and the whole thing buckles under the added pressures, drowning your resources.

The solution: automation. The result of automation is scalability – less effort per person to maintain and grow your IT environment. If adding manpower is the only way to grow your business, then scalability is a pipe dream.

Automation reduces your manpower requirements and provides the flexibility required for continued IT evolution. Simple, right? Yes, but you must be prepared for delayed gratification. An upfront investment of time and effort for architectural and structural changes is required in order to reap the back-end financial benefits of automation with improved productivity and efficiency. Embracing these challenges as an IT leader is crucial in order for your DevOps team to successfully execute.

3. Trust

Lastly, trust your DevOps team and make sure they know it. DevOps experts understand that this is a tough request, but they must have your unquestionable support and your willingness to actively participate. It will often be a "learn as you go" experience for you as the DevOps team successively refines your IT environment, while they themselves adapt to ever-changing technology.

Listen, listen, listen to them and trust them. DevOps changes are valuable and well worth the time and money through increased efficiency, productivity, and business responsiveness. Trusting your DevOps team gives them the freedom to make the most effective IT improvements.

The new CIO bottom line: To maximize your DevOps team's potential, leave your leadership comfort zone and embrace a “CIOps” transition. Continuously work on finding common ground with the DevOps team throughout the DevOps transition, to help your organization achieve long-term IT success.

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John Allessio joined Red Hat in September, 2014 as Vice President, Global Services. He is responsible for consulting services, training services, and business partner enablement, globally. This organization of more than 1400 professionals has the mission to ensure client success with Red Hat technologies.