Apprenticeship Levy, DevOps

Why DevOps should be part of this year's Talent Strategy

29 July 2020 by Heidi Marshall

The Covid-19 crisis has forced large-scale change upon most organisations. In their quest to not only stay afloat, but to remain relevant and profitable, business leaders are turning to their digital teams for answers.

Adapting to new business processes, enabling mass home working and shifting to company-wide virtual collaboration have been some of the key internal challenges that IT teams have been frantically dealing with over the last few months. There has been a herculean training effort to upskill entire workforces in new platforms and technologies. Externally, businesses have been leaning heavily on IT teams to make sure their services are engaging, relevant and accessible for customers. It’s a big ask. Yet the most forward-thinking businesses are already one step ahead.

DevOps: An opportunity for L&D to fast-track digital transformation

DevOps brings together the traditionally siloed functions of software development and IT operations. The cloud-based nature of DevOps means that IT teams can collaborate, experiment and continually improve; with the business-critical benefit of enabling the organisation to respond quickly to changing requirements.

Research by Forrester (1) shows that 63% of large businesses have already implemented DevOps with a further 27% planning to do so in the next 12 months. With such emphatic support for a strong DevOps culture, it’s important for L&D leaders to stay abreast of the direction their IT teams are taking, and put DevOps re-skilling at the heart of their digital talent strategy.

Having access to the right talent is key to the success of DevOps. As adoption continues to soar, competition for the best talent makes it increasingly difficult to access the skills needed to resource DevOps teams. Mirroring trends across the industry, recruiting DevOps Engineers is becoming harder and more expensive. This opens the door for new and sustainable talent solutions such as the DevOps Engineering Diploma which is designed to modernise the skillset of your existing technology workforce.

In 2017, DevOps roles comprised 5.5% of all IT jobs advertised in the UK. In 2020, this figure is now close to 11.5%, and is rising fast. 

Five ways in which DevOps capability supports the new way of working

There is one certainty in a sea of unknowns: the economy and working practices will be changed exponentially as a result of the crisis. We are already seeing a shift in workplace culture towards agility, collaboration and innovation. DevOps practices embody these sophisticated behaviours and capabilities; and it takes thoughtful development opportunities to equip those DevOps practitioners with the right skills.

1 > Collaboration for the virtual world

The way in which DevOps teams are set up means that there are no heroes; no one or two pivotal people without whom a release or new feature would be delayed. DevOps is based on collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Teams overlap in their roles and become accustomed to robust and effective communication. Strong relationships that can withstand feedback and physical distance are more critical now than ever. The collaborative DevOps team is less vulnerable and less likely to be affected by individual absences – especially important at a time when the chances of team members experiencing illness, time out to care for family, or homeworking connectivity issues are increased.

2 > Resilience and the ability to ‘fail fast’

Organisational resilience is about gaining strength from failure. Having a company culture that sees failure as an opportunity to learn, means that the workforce responds quickly and positively when things go wrong. This is a sign of resilience and stability. The iterative DevOps operating model embodies this. It offers a space for safe experimentation; small batches of software tested in the real-world, with engineers getting regular feedback from users, quickly spotting errors and continually improving. There is little reason to fear failure, as it’s failure that augments your ability to notice mistakes, at speed, and recover from them. At no point has there been a significant commitment to what doesn’t work. In a world where survival is reliant on brainstorming new business ideas and strategies, an effective DevOps team can rapidly drive positive change.

3 > Scaling up and responding to changes in demand

The use of DevOps technology focuses on the Cloud because it enables businesses to scale their technology easily, and quickly respond to changes in demand. If they do bring out a popular product or service that gets a lot of traction, their system is less likely to be flooded and their infrastructures less likely to go down. By adopting DevOps practices, organisations are well equipped to absorb demand and convert it into successful business outcomes.

“The cloud has largely delivered when society needed it most, and enterprises are accelerating and ramping up their adoption in the wake of the crisis.” Peter Wayner (2), Editor CIO, 10 June 2020

Many of the organisations that have succeeded in providing innovative and reliable services and products to consumers during the Covid-19 crisis have cloud-based DevOps proficiency in place. For example, the London Borough of Waltham Forest deployed a cloud-based call centre to handle a 30% increase in calls during the pandemic; Northern Ireland Water used the cloud to ‘enable agents to work from home, provide a webchat portal and ensure payment card industry-compliant payments can still be made’; and in one particular month during the crisis in Italy, Microsoft Teams was able to scale and accommodate a 775% increase in monthly users. (3)

4 > Creative problem-solving

Without a strong cloud-based DevOps practice, developers cannot effectively practice Agile development. Agile software development allows organisations to quickly prioritise features, respond to issues, and receive early feedback from users. DevOps enables this by ensuring that the process of testing, deploying and scaling new features is as quick and automated as possible. Without it, even small changes may require rigorous manual testing, risky and time-consuming release processes, and limited options for responding to user engagement. In the current climate, business leaders know they need to innovate and find new digital solutions, but for those who are not technologists it’s often tricky to know how feasible an idea actually is. DevOps practices can get teams closer to the user need, the business need, and to solving a problem that exists rather than clinging onto outdated static specifications. In a time where innovation and creative problem-solving is proving pivotal in organisational success, DevOps capability is game-changing.

5 > Re-skilling talent for the future

Your pipeline of skilled DevOps Engineers will most likely need to come from within. The financial cost of recruiting externally is beyond the reach for most organisations and there is a clear appetite from existing IT staff to re-skill. By investing in your talent in this way, not only will your recruitment costs be significantly lower, but you will see the benefits of motivated, engaged staff who are hungry to learn new skills and future-proof their own careers. DevOps is the future and IT professionals are relying on L&D teams to invest in their development.

“Given the importance of talent in accelerating [digital transformation] progress, it’s critical to adopt a through-cycle mindset on people. Not just in keeping the right talent but also in building the skills of the people you already have.” McKinsey (4), June 2020

Tips on where to start

1. Have an initial discussion with your CIO or CTO about your organisation’s DevOps plans and capability.

Some questions that you might find useful to ask:

  • ‘How important are DevOps and Cloud technologies to our technology strategy?’
  • ‘What types of roles exist in our tech teams?’
  • ‘Where are the skills gaps?’

2. Look for potential participants in your existing talent pool.

Roles of those who would benefit from DevOps training might include Data Analyst, Systems Designer, Software Engineer or Network Architect. Those nominated should be determined problem solvers who are excited about the opportunity to expand their skills and knowledge in this rapidly growing area.

3. Get advice from experts in the DevOps field.

We are working with large corporates across a range of sectors including energy, financial services and professional services. We would be happy to share key insights into getting a Levy-funded DevOps Engineering programme up and running within six weeks.


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