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Forget grassroots: Why the CIO must be today's DevOps leader

DevOps from the ground up sounds like a great idea. Too bad it won't work, at least in an enterprise. David Savage explains why the CIO must lead the DevOps journey.

Let's start with a provocative premise: CIOs are no longer seen as key to a business realizing its digital potential.

In the 2018 Harvey Nash Technology Survey, we asked who the most important person is in helping your business realize it technical promise. Is it the CEO? The CTO? Or the CIO? As the traditional figure head of technology, it's the CIO, right?

Wrong. In the digital age, most technologists see the CTO as their leading light, followed by the CEO. It isn't even a close call. In the survey, 29% saw the CTO as the key role, with CEOs getting 19% of people's backing, and the CIO just 13%.

Surely that isn't the news CIOs want to hear. But it turns out DevOps might just provide a new and improved platform that can highlight a CIO's ability to lead. The CIO has to become the new DevOps leader.

Who is the DevOps driver?

DevOps is definitely a hot property. In my role, I've often been approached by platform managers and leaders in tech asking how they can best implement DevOps in an enterprise environment. They hope I can make an introduction to businesses with a success story that can also help them understand the potential pitfalls. Often we think of a person below the C-suite as being the DevOps leader and having the enthusiasm to drive adoption.

Stephen ThairStephen Thair

A year ago, I spoke to Stephen Thair, co-founder of DevOpsGuys Ltd. The consulting group believes in an operating model that helps deliver software at speed, which enables innovation. You'd expect Thair and his team would reaffirm our belief -- that a CIO is not essential to businesses realizing future potential. But even though DevOpsGuys often works with midlevel managers -- the kind of people I regularly talk to -- Thair believes the CIO is the real DevOps leader and is vital to making it work in the enterprise.

Why? According to case studies generated by DevOpsGuys, successful DevOps implementations have to come from both the top and the bottom. If it is just a bottom-up, grassroots approach -- engineering alone trying to build a better continuous development pipeline -- then DevOps stays in one tech department. One department lacks the power to change the organization and culture.

Plug-and-play digital strategies are commonplace with so many cloud tools available to tech departments, but a strategy has to be coherent. Teams need a DevOps leader who can see the big picture.

So what to do?

You'll achieve success when a CIO can tap into the grassroots.

A CIO needs to take his/her organization on a journey. Return from a conference and impose change from the top, and you'll alienate teams. You'll achieve success when a CIO can tap into the grassroots and understand the need to change the business to keep pace with technological challenges.

DevOps provides the perfect vehicle for a CIO to demonstrate leadership, bring teams together to form a robust and successful digital strategy, and make the overall business more competitive. If I were a CIO, I'd make DevOps a key part of my strategy.

This was last published in February 2018

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How are CIOs positioned to bring a grassroots movement and executive leadership together under one directive?