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Last Updated Jul 22, 2021 —

DevOps as a Service (DaaS): scaling digital transformation the right way

DaaS is not the only way to achieve desired digital transformation outcomes at scale, but it is an effective means to streamline processes and achieve coordination at scale, in a way piecemeal approaches often cannot.

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When going through digital transformation, many organizations have discovered that they can achieve quick wins in isolated pockets, but organization-wide transformation can end up being uneven. Digital.ai's 2021 Digital Transformation Progress Report found that, while many leaders in Business, IT, and Security report achieving positive progress across certain milestones, overall results can fall below targets. This subpar performance is particularly pronounced when organizations are trying to observe a measurable return on investment (ROI) from their digital transformation initiatives.

Part of the challenge of realizing the full potential of digital transformation stems from misalignment between teams. Much of that has to do with the struggles that can come from scaling agile practices in any context. Organizations represent complicated systems, after all, so achieving consistent outcomes across DevOps departments is a challenge.

One solution is to develop a pattern of DevOps service delivery. Establishing a model for processes, workflows, and even tool libraries gives the DevOps service delivery team an effective template for success. These patterns can then be implemented broadly across any DevOps team with any function, supporting them while raising the chances of positive performance gains.

It can help to think of this standardization as providing "DevOps as a Service" (DaaS) internally to product teams. Leveraging DaaS practices can significantly reduce the burden of tool selection or process development while imposing consistency across teams.

DaaS is not the only way to achieve desired digital transformation outcomes at scale, but it is an effective means to streamline processes and achieve coordination at scale, in a way piecemeal approaches often cannot.

What is DevOps as a Service (DaaS)?

The most succinct way to describe DaaS is that it is a delivery model that can be leveraged by teams to inform crucial work decisions about tools, processes, and the architecture of value streams. Assigning this work to a specific team has the effect of enabling more efficient work, thanks to a repeatable delivery model, while also achieving more consistency across DevOps teams. Leveraging the service model streamlines operations by establishing one go-to source for this expertise, similar to the way human resources (HR) provides personnel and management support across the entire company.

TechTarget provides their own summary of DaaS: "A DevOps as a Service provider provides the disparate tools that cover various aspects of the overall process and connects these tools to work together as one unit. DevOps as a Service is the opposite of an in-house best-of-breed toolchain approach, in which the DevOps team uses a disconnected collection of discrete tools."

Why would an organization choose to take a DaaS approach?

To understand the benefits of using a DaaS of service delivery, compare it to the traditional DevOps approach. The traditional approach is that each team in DevOps selects their own tools and processes. These decisions are changed and modified when current outcomes are undesirable or new outcomes are desired. Over time, each team develops its own core competencies and idiomatic approach. Each team ends up with a set of tools and practices chosen to fit their given challenges and work preferences. If there is a strong need for collaboration or transparency, it can cause multiple teams to adopt an intentional process or toolchain, but independence is the norm.

Having each team develop its own uniquely adapted practices and tools can present a major challenge! Each team is optimizing choices to their own needs but not the overall big picture of efficient value delivery. In some cases, the environments one team uses to deliver needed work can look utterly different from another team. Heterogeneity can be especially pronounced when one organization manages several different products, creating distinct silos. Completely revamping these ingrained processes and tools takes time, and it requires a culture change

The reality is that the "infinite freedom" of choosing the optimal resource stack for your team means "infinite responsibility" when it comes to coordinating with other teams and aligning activities towards a common goal. DaaS not only seeks to unify practices but to take the decision-making burden away from individual teams. The internal DaaS provider builds a set pipeline or menu of tools, and these set the pattern for all teams to follow.

As DevOps.com suggests: "The goal of DaaS is to enable organizations to focus on developing and delivering software without having to worry about managing or maintaining tools. It is designed to abstract away the intricacies of tool integration, deployment, and maintenance. This enables teams to focus on higher-level tasks, and outsources significant manual effort."

In other words, the DaaS approach eliminates DevOps siloing that can come from each team selecting its own tools and processes. It effectively reduces the decisions teams need to make while providing a template they can adopt to rapidly begin contributing value in an efficient way.

DaaS sets a tempo for digital transformation to happen more quickly and evenly

As one might imagine, standardizing value delivery models can have a profound positive transformative effect. The effects are similar to shifting from internal management of HR or accounting issues to having a dedicated service provider for it. Importantly, DevOps teams can request deviations based on individualized needs, but the norm is that they know what tools/processes to use and how these components fit together to form a complete value stream.
DaaS solves a major challenge posed to large organizations needing to scale transformation. Small organizations that need to scale often crave additional resources: more personnel, more talent, more tools, more capital to invest or put towards outsourcing.

"Large enterprises that have an infrastructure of teams, tools, and processes in place, however, are already scaled up in terms of resources—any additions here are more likely to be incremental," observes Security Boulevard. "For these businesses, meeting shifting market expectations requires a different kind of scale: a level of efficiency and responsiveness not usually associated with a company with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of employees."

But large organizations have no lack of resources. What they need instead is a clear architecture allowing all those resources to work in concert to efficiently produce desired outcomes. DaaS can do exactly that, achieving efficiencies that result in more productivity and greater alignment with desired business outcomes — all with lower resource consumption. The result is greater agility, at scale.

In the experience of Sushma Sattigeri of NetApp, "DaaS enables teams to significantly reduce their cycle time, from the time code is written to the delivery."

How DaaS can work in action

Former Digital.ai VP of Platform Strategy Andreas Prins offered some suggestions for transforming DevOps using a DaaS model in a recent webinar on future-proofing your digital transformation:

Using a template for a given tool pipeline/stack
Create a standard template for teams to rely upon and reference. This guideline can also be thought of as a standard pipeline execution pattern that is applicable for a specific technology (Java, .NET, etc.)

Use this pattern to instruct the process from release to release. This standardization ensures that specific builds, tests, and security tools are optimized for a specific technology stack. It can allow teams to balance internal control with a desire for standardization while employing the best of tech for each stack.

Set rules for deployment servers in order to reduce heterogeneity
How do you deal with streamlining rules and permissions across teams when using a deployment server where everyone has access to set up what they want to deploy? Prins suggests that organizations allow the server to take over how to execute the deployment. DaaS leaders can establish standardized deployment patterns that teams have to follow in order to have their release approved by the system. 

The server can also be programmed to recognize different roles and permissions based on those roles. The effect is that the server can provide individualized control while segregating duties to prevent undesired deviations from the standard processes.

Create a model of data collection for auditing purposes
One of the most beneficial services DaaS can provide is to standardize not only data collection but also data presentation. The team can provide templates for all other teams to use, so that no decisions need to be made for how to present data. As an added beneficial effect, teams can begin to build consensus on which metrics are most critical to the organization as a whole.

Whether leveraging DaaS or something similar, aim for consistent practices across teams

The function of DaaS is not to limit what teams do but rather to enable innovation and focus on goal outcomes. DaaS team acts as a support for other teams — a problem solver, and also a way to maintain accountability internally for each team. Reviving the HR example: HR develops expected patterns of behavior for employees and standardized methods for dealing with problematic deviations from these patterns. In outlier cases, HR can still provide support to help the team determine the optimal way to handle the team's unique situation. 

The centralized service provider model has become quite popular among digital transformation consultancies. McKinsey & Co suggests that, "[DevOps] teams need additional support from a central team, a control tower or nerve center. This team’s principal role is to enable the squads to deliver value—and to ensure that they do so. It also provides an important coordinating function by maintaining best practices, sharing code, coordinating staffing, and allocating resources."

Organizations that struggle with digital transformation often lack a "big picture" blueprint capable of unifying all activities towards a focused set of goal outcomes. This lack of consensus is why small wins with small teams are possible during digital transformation, but big wins consistent at scale are less common.

Look to techniques like DaaS that centralize support for other teams, solve problems proactively, and set a model for repeatable performance at all levels of the value stream.

Learn how to move beyond the first stages of digital transformation to achieve greater coordination and efficiency while prioritizing security and governance in our webinar: "Future-Proof Your Digital Transformation"

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