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Why DevOps? The simple answer is it creates safer processes

Is it possible to take an old-fashioned organization actually hostile to technology and move it into the 21st-century DevOps world? Expert David Savage says it is.

While we adopt new technologies to innovate, streamline, generate wealth and cut costs, there is another reason to do DevOps that might be even more important. Why DevOps? It can make you safe.

Break down barriers

We're all familiar with the benefits of technology, but even today, a large number of businesses aren't as quick to adopt new ideas as others. A number of research studies show the benefits of technology, but sometimes that's not enough to force a change. Many people might have simply not had exposure to tech in their working lives and don't know what is possible.

Cost is another obvious barrier. For established companies and even individuals, technology promises a brave new world, but often fails to deliver. It's expensive, and the number of choices can be overwhelming.

So when you aren't comfortable with technology -- perhaps you're in a more traditional business -- and it costs a lot to implement, we can see why some businesses lag behind. But there is a way to cut through all of that and inspire change, even in companies usually hostile to technology.

Why DevOps?

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Sharon Cooper, the chief digital officer (CDO) of The British Medical Journal. Her job is to manage the cultural change of the organization. This is no small feat. The BMJ is around 170 years old and a print business by heritage. Cooper has had to change a print mindset to one that can deliver content to doctors and clinicians when that information is needed, even if it's 3 a.m. How did she start that journey, and why DevOps?

For Cooper, the key starts with listening to stakeholders. Early in her role, a BMJ sales director threw his laptop on her desk, saying it was as useful as an Etch A Sketch. At that moment she realized technology was failing her customers, and no explanation could change that.

If a drug dosage recommendation changes, 'The BMJ' reflects it in a matter of hours.

She started with very small things. The BMJ adopted Google to replace Lotus Notes and no longer required staff work overnight. Cooper didn't dramatically overhaul the organization's technology infrastructure. She implemented small, cost-effective changes slowly.

New model DevOps

So again, why do DevOps? And where does it fit into this picture? Cooper's customer base is largely made up of trained clinicians and a very traditional workforce. In other words, this is not an overly tech-savvy group.

How did Cooper do it? She initially got the tech team to move to Agile and focused their efforts on the end product. Once that was in place, she pushed the business focus to DevOps, and over time, the team moved product by product and service by service to the new model.

It took time -- around three years -- but now clinical products aren't updated only once a year, but whenever clinical guidance changes. If a drug dosage recommendation changes, The BMJ reflects it in a matter of hours. They don't make changes on a whim, of course, and The BMJ adheres to the "do no harm" philosophy in the information it gives. But now, The BMJ's information is always accurate and up-to-date.

The move to DevOps and Agile has made The BMJ flexible enough to respond to the needs of customers. Why DevOps? Well, again, it's about getting the right information to people as quick as possible. The BMJ is now a completely safe and reliable source of information. Cooper has been shortlisted as CDO of the year in the Computing Digital Technology Leaders Awards.

The takeaway: Rather than focus on cost, start with your customers and make significant changes that deliver tangible benefits. In this case, the question, "Why DevOps?" was key to a complete culture change of The BMJ.

This was last published in April 2018

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