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Why operational efficiency is key to your application's success

John P. Mello Jr. Freelance writer

Fast delivery of quality applications to customers has become an imperative for organizations in today's highly competitive markets. One way to meet that imperative is by wringing latency out of the application delivery pipeline. Infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams can contribute to that process by following DevOps practices that emphasize automation and collaborative solutions.

In a recent study, Forrester Consulting found four areas within organizations that typically contribute to latency in the development process:

  • Manual processes. Manual processes in test, release, and production phases not only slowed release speeds, but lead to buggy releases.
  • Failure to collaborate. You need effective collaboration between I&O and development teams to automate the delivery of and support for applications. But Forrester found that only 38% of teams collaborate through daily stand-up meetings and that even fewer use collaboration software to communicate with one another.
  • Testing and monitoring. Automated performance testing and production environment monitoring are key to accelerating application delivery and improving customer experience.
  • Executive buy-in. In organizations where an executive was responsible for application success, DevOps practices were widespread or expanding.

Customers can't wait

Squeezing latency out of the application delivery process and improving quality and speed-to-market have become crucial because software has become critical to business success. "Everything is software-powered," said Manisha Sahasrabudhe, co-founder and vice president of product management at Shippable, maker of an automation platform for DevOps and continuous integration and delivery.

"If companies want to survive, they have to start competing with their software."
Manisha Sahasrabudhe

Robert Stroud, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, said the drive toward digital business is disrupting almost all vertical industries across the globe. New business designs are blurring the physical and digital worlds around customer interactions and services.

"To deliver competitive advantage, organizations must deliver improved, new, and differentiated apps in the form factor that are consumable by their clients and constantly evolving to deliver the services their clients desire."
Robert Stroud

Those desires need to be satisfied quickly, too. Consumers today have very little patience, Sahasrabudhe said. "Unless you give them something new all the time, they're going to get distracted and try out the competition."

Many companies are already meeting that challenge. A recent Forrester report on DevOps trends found that one-third of organizations released applications weekly or sooner, while nearly as many (32%) released monthly.

Latency kills quality

While getting apps online fast is important, so is the quality of those apps, which can also be affected by the use of manual processes and other sources of latency in the development pipeline. "One scary statistic to represent this: 28% of organizations said that customers are very frequently the ones finding problems in the production environment, and a further 48% said this happens occasionally!" Forrester noted in its report.

People have very low tolerance levels, especially for mobile apps, said Jonathan Chashper, CEO of ProductSavvy, a product development, management, and marketing company.

"If they pick up an app and it doesn't work the first time they run it, they will never run it again and probably uninstall it."
Jonathan Chashper

Developers have always strived to create quality products, but the software business models used today make the stakes higher. "Where the software industry once made revenue on one-time purchases, application cash flow today is founded on repeat use—consistent subscription payments or continuous ad consumption," explained Simon Jones, application delivery expert and evangelist for Cedexis, a web performance optimization company.

"The cost to acquire a user is modeled on an assumption of future revenues. When poor quality drives away users, the whole business model falls apart."
Simon Jones

Unique challenges for I&O

Forrester's report maintained that the application development pipeline is fraught with sources of latency for infrastructure and operations teams. "Like developers, infrastructure and operations teams struggle with ecosystem complexity," the report noted. "However, I&O faces its own, unique challenges based on the scope of their responsibilities across the application lifecycle, as well as a lack of training and resources."

For example, application complexity is magnified for I&O teams because they need to deal with numerous tools that not only span the app lifecycle but also across applications used to support the lifecycle. Those tools typically aren't integrated, and that can result in "silos of automation" that can introduce significant delivery latency, Stroud said.

"The proliferation of tools—many for each stage—and the work to integrate them leads to manual handoffs or partial integration."

Deploying tools that play nicely together can make a world of difference for the pipeline, added Kyle McMeekin, a senior sales engineer for QASymphony, maker of a software testing platform.

"It's important, from all the tooling out there, to find a cohesive stack that allows different teams—regardless of what silo they're working in—to have visibility into what's going on as the teams deliver a product."
Kyle McMeekin

That's easier said than done, though. "There are so many infrastructure technologies that are not compatible with each other and are complex," said Ujwal Setlur, CEO of Pensa Networks, a virtual infrastructure company.

So when you do put together infrastructure for application delivery, it might not be the right combination, he continued. And the provisioning of infrastructure is difficult, even with automation.

"There’s no intelligence as to what constitutes a correct application delivery, and you tend to do a lot of guesswork—and at that point, you have lost time and have potentially arrived at a wrong delivery plan."
Ujwal Setlur

People problems

Staffing issues also contribute to latency in the development process. The report found that 39% of the organizations surveyed said a skills shortage prevented them from developing applications faster.

The root of that problem, according to Forrester, is a skills development gap between developers and I&O teams. It explained that in developer organizations, there has been a huge push to get teams agile and educated on DevOps practices to increase velocity. However, on the operations side, that level of education is far less common. "This has led to an Agile skills gap on infrastructure and operations teams that is impeding application delivery," the report noted.

In some shops, skills issues are reduced by removing the "church-state" division between dev and ops people. "In many organizations, the role of dev and ops people are beginning to overlap so the dev people are actually doing some ops-related tasks," said Frank Zinghini, CEO of Applied Visions, a software development company providing solutions for cybersecurity, business applications, and command and control.

"That improves efficiency because you have one integrated team doing it all rather than having a handoff between teams. It's a latency step when dev has to hand off to ops."
Frank Zinghini

Keys to success

For organizations looking to jump-start DevOps for I&O, Forrester makes three key recommendations:

  • Get an executive to run interference for DevOp initiatives.
  • Bridge the collaboration gap between developers and I&O teams.
  • Automate key processes plagued by human error.

For more detail on the report's recommendations for boosting your app's success, download the full report below.

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