DevOps: ITSM Killer or Talking Shop?

November 16, 2018
Written by Geoff Rees

At this point, most people in the IT world have heard the term “DevOps”.
Sometimes it’s mentioned with the excitement of the devout. Other times it’s more of a ‘what has this got to do with me?’
But what is Devops actually for? Is it a replacement for ITSM and ITIL? An alternative? An addition – a philosophy that can be adopted alongside traditional service management processes? Or something else entirely?
In today’s post, we’ll look at this key question , and give our take on what DevOps means for ITSM.

What is DevOps?

To kick things off, a definition seems in order.

According to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) website:

“DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organizations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.”

So in basic terms, DevOps is intended as a way to speed up development, delivery, and improvement of IT services and applications.

Simple, right?

ITSM Vs. DevOps?

A misconception about DevOps, at least from a service management perspective, is that it’s an alternative to traditional ITSM frameworks like ITIL.

Now that we’ve looked at a sensible definition of DevOps, it should be clear that nothing could be further from the truth.

While DevOps specifically concentrates on providing customers with constantly-improving apps and services, ITSM is a (still customer-focused) approach to delivering IT as a whole. It covers service provision, change management, incident management, ticketing, and a whole host of other functions.

Put simply, while DevOps may well be a valuable way to enhance the service delivery cycle — particularly when it comes to building and delivering software — it doesn’t eliminate the need for proper controls, structure, and documentation. Realistically, a sensible ITSM framework like ITIL is still essential to ensure IT services can be reliably delivered at scale even in very large or rapidly growing organisations.

Can ITSM and DevOps Exist in Harmony?

Once you cut through the hype and misconceptions, you can start to think about DevOps in more useful terms. Instead of:

“Is ITIL vs DevOps reality? Is DevOps an alternative to ITSM frameworks like ITIL?”

The question becomes:

“Could DevOps be a useful addition to our existing ITSM framework?”

And the answer is a resounding… “Maybe.”

It’s certainly true that the DevOps philosophy raises some important questions about the time it takes to develop and deploy applications and IT services. While many organisations have simply accepted that these types of service enhancements take a long time to actualise, it may well be that wait times can be reduced by breaking down silos between development and operations.

In fact, the benefits of a DevOps approach may be particularly valuable for certain types of organisation. For example, in the banking world many customers now interact almost entirely through mobile and web-based applications. A DevOps approach could be highly valuable in this type of environment, as it could aid in the process of adding and improving functionality in order to keep up with customers’ expectations of what a modern banking service should be.

But at the same time, I wonder whether this type of rapid service change — and all the resources required to achieve it — is really applicable to the average organisation. After all, most large and established organisations are likely to place a much higher emphasis on maintaining strong and stable IT environments and services, and be less inclined to expend resources on something that isn’t strictly necessary.

And this argument could be made for growing organisations, too. Yes, it’s nice to be able to quickly develop and roll out changes to IT services, but it’s far more important to ensure that IT infrastructure can be quickly and safely scaled as the organisation grows.

Final Thoughts on DevOps… for Now

Before we wrap up, I think it’s only fair to give you a genuine answer about how we at Sunrise think about the DevOps movement. In preparation for writing this post, I asked a variety of my customer-facing colleagues for their take on DevOps, and how it features in an ITSM context.

For the most part, this is what I heard back:

“It’s been mentioned to me a couple of times by customers… but that’s about it.”

And:

“I hear it mentioned quite often at industry events, but so far it doesn’t seem to make it into real world conversations about IT service delivery and management.”

After discussing the subject with them in more detail, this is what I heard:

“For most large organisations, ITIL provides a framework with clear best practices that are relatively easy for people to adopt and use as needed. It’s simple to understand what an incident, a problem, or a change is within ITIL, and it’s easy for people to relate these concepts back to the tasks they perform in their day-to-day work.

On the other hand, DevOps is more about software development and operations. It’s potentially useful, but for the majority of ITSM stakeholders it just isn’t relevant. Even when DevOps is relevant, it can be difficult to adopt and follow because there’s no clear framework for it — organisations would be forced to come up with their own, which would likely prove to be a huge amount of work.

At the same time, look at the primary stakeholders when it comes to managing any mid-large sized IT service — they are primarily service managers, service delivery managers, and service desk managers. For these people, ITIL is a core concept that already governs a lot of the work they do.

For a typical IT service operation, adopting a DevOps approach would suddenly require input from development managers and teams who simply aren’t involved in service management projects. Given that major (and very common) divide, it’s hardly surprising that most organisations continue to uphold ITIL principles, and will take a lot of convincing before they’ll give any serious consideration to DevOps.”

Ultimately, then, while it may have a role to play in the future, in our view, it looks as though DevOps probably won’t make any huge waves in the ITSM world for the time being.