This piece was co-authored with Jennifer Tipton, a client partner in Capgemini’s utilities practice.
In a highly competitive climate driven by customer expectations of on-demand service, utilities must move past the legacy approach to IT and embrace a more agile model—one that’s functionally suited to accommodate tech-driven customer service and operational initiatives.
To enable an agile approach, utilities must foster a closer collaboration between software developers and IT operations professionals, which is a role of DevOps. And to lay the foundation for DevOps’ success, utilities should prioritize the ingredient that matters the most: culture.
Amid increased customer expectations, utilities face adaptive IT challenges
Evolving customer expectations are the key driver behind the need for utilities to adopt DevOps. Today, customers expect service on a near real-time basis. During an outage, they’re not willing to wait on hold as their provider works through a long queue of callers. Instead, they want clear indicators of prompt action—from frequent Twitter updates to app notifications and personalized texts.
Today’s utilities customers demand service on their own terms. Similarly, internal customers from the business demand proactive and frequent updates when infrastructure or applications issues are degrading performance. Internal customers also now expect an IT organization to be nimble in response to application enhancement requests. Requested changes must now be implemented in days and weeks, not months.
For providers, meeting this expectation means jettisoning the old approach to IT. In an industry of increasingly digital enterprises, cumbersome legacy systems are no longer tenable. The old batch model of IT—where you deploy a system and don’t touch it except to run nightly batch cycles—isn’t suited for companies that must service internal and external customers in real time. Therefore, utilities are moving toward a future-minded approach focused on merging development and operations, commonly referred to as DevOps.
Building a DevOps culture to surmount implementation challenges
The move toward DevOps isn’t without its challenges. Existing systems and labor costs can generate top-down resistance to abandoning legacy IT systems. Also, many utilities struggle to maintain reliable performance while simultaneously attempting to incorporate more agile approaches to software development, increased frequency of functionality releases and, of course, streamlined operations.
Another problem utilities face is that their functions are too siloed. In order to drive DevOps forward, utilities need an alliance between the business, application development and support, and infrastructure where decisions are made cross-company rather than within one department or silo.
Both of these barriers—the investment in legacy systems and the siloed nature of decision-making—present cultural problems and opportunities. And when it comes to implementing DevOps, culture is where utilities need to channel their focus.
More than anything, DevOps’ success within a utility hinges on a strong change culture. Change, after all, happens through people, and DevOps is no exception to this trend. For utilities CIOs hoping to introduce DevOps, it’s important to consider the historically risk-averse nature of utilities culture.
In this conservative climate, the best way to deploy DevOps is to do so incrementally, beginning with a governance framework that supports agility, enhanced by process simplification and automation. Old IT governance practices that have struggled to keep pace with the demands for agility should be retooled to support the pace of change required by the business.
Then, by gradually introducing simplification and automation of formerly manual functions—including automated testing and automated monitoring—utilities CIOs can use process automation as a stepping stone from which to embed DevOps into the culture. Through gradual automation, CIOs can prime their culture for a new way of working—one that moves away from long change management cycles toward lean, real-time, agile systems.
A proactive approach
As expectations from internal and external customers increase—and competition within the industry mounts—companies should foster a culture of DevOps to bolster innovation and keep pace with an increasingly on-demand sector. They key tenets of such a culture would include:
- Governance structure supporting changes at a frequency and quality needed by the business
- Organizational alignment and support for well-governed agility
- Personnel selection and development
- Resource prioritization
- Proven Organizational Change Management (OCM)
- Full support for, and implementation of, management and measurement tools to gauge progress
- Organizational freedom/empowerment to adjust as appropriate.
By establishing the cultural groundwork for DevOps, utilities can reap the benefits of a successful DevOps implementation, including faster and more transparent customer responsiveness; greater cost efficiency in terms of cost of ownership and cycle times; and a much higher degree of overall reliability.
Article published in EnergyCentral.com, Monday, June 5, 2017