Thought Leadership: Top 4 Takeaways on DevOps in the IT Ecosystem

By Jaclyn Patulo

Walmart boasts 2.3 million associates and 11,500 retail units, serving customers more than 260 million times per week in 28 countries. That’s 150,000 SKUs per service center and 10 million SKUs for online retail. And none of it would be possible without technology.

Walmart Technology Infrastructure and Platform Services employees Randy Frerking, an enterprise technical expert, and Richard Jackson, a technical expert and solutions engineer, explained that technology is an integral part of the retail giant’s success over the years during their SHARE keynote address “z/OS and DevOps: Communication, Culture and Cloud.” Walmart has been utilizing technology to innovate and leverage big data for a long time. The consumerization of IT and the digital economy has a significant impact on what they do and how technology is managed. However, this type of high-functioning IT comes with significant challenges when core legacy systems are involved. Frerking and Jackson discussed how they address these opportunities and leverage z/OS. Here are four takeaways from Frerking and Jackson’s keynote on DevOps.

Old vs. New

Technology is growing at a rapid rate, offering new opportunities. But what do you do with the older systems? Consider a house of cards: If you move one card, you can bring down the whole house. With legacy systems, you end up with fragile applications that create risk aversion — which, in turn, encourages slow introduction of new ideas and methodologies.

Development vs. Operations

The perception of development versus operations is that one group wants to do more things and one wants to control everything. Development seeks to evolve technology processes and add new functionality. Operations focuses on maintenance and consists of core business systems. As such, they’re concerned with scale and reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) aspects. But both want to assure quality for the business.

At the end of the day, both groups are focused on the same thing. The real problem lies in a failure to communicate. When it comes to the technology that your business relies on to operate and succeed, a lack of communication may be fatal to your organization. A divide exists that must be bridged to bring the business’ goals together.

Communication: Mission Critical

It’s difficult to find a true definition of DevOps. It’s a culture built on communication and collaboration. The communication element is so critical, even if it’s just making data consumable and broadly available.

Don’t underestimate old-fashioned discussions that cultivate personal conversations, leading to more collaboration. With a concerted effort and an open mind, collaboration will happen naturally as the lines of communication open up.

Culture and Perspective

Culture is established through repeated behaviors. It’s necessary to show initiative and establish these channels. There are caveats, of course. As you implement new ideas and processes, you have to be flexible enough to roll with the punches if obstacles arise. From a systems perspective, you need to have four core items:

  1. Leadership. Someone has to take the lead. You might have to take it upon yourself, even if no one asks you directly.
  2. Trust. Reach out and collaborate. Build a strong rapport with other teams and mutual respect will follow. As trust builds, the work moves along faster, too.
  3. Creativity. Allow everyone to play to their strengths. If you remove friction points and waste from the process, it allows creativity and quality to flourish at faster speeds.
  4. Teamwork. New projects and products are owned by everyone from beginning to end. Operate with an agile perspective to prioritize what’s next on the agenda.

None of these ideas are necessarily new; in fact, it’s a smaller part of the CALMS framework (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, Sharing) coined by DevOps pioneer Jez Humble. It’s a set of values to strive for when seeking effective communication, relationship building, risk management and lean operations.

In short, communicate and collaborate to get the attitude right between teams. You need tools to support this, but without these “soft values,” it doesn’t matter which tools you have — it’s not going to work.

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