I recently had the privilege of speaking at DevOpsDays London 2019, the long-running DevOps conference which last month drew some 400 enthusiastic attendees, each keenly interested in software development and IT infrastructure operations. As a Solutions Engineer at AppDynamics, my presentation focused on the importance of application performance monitoring (APM) in a DevOps environment, and my favorite part of the event was meeting and learning from knowledgeable experts between sessions.
DevOpsDays’ lively discussions focused on many of the latest methodologies (shift left, agile, DevOps assembly lines), technologies (microservices, AI, ML, automation tooling) and strategies (DevOps, SecDevOps, AIOps, BizDevOps and NoOps)—as well as which innovations show promise and which, like many tech buzzwords, will soon be forgotten.
I learned that when it comes to selecting the newest and best innovations, the decision should be left to experts who know their environments best. Sounds simple, right? Not always. The process of HOW to make the best decisions—particularly those pertaining to new innovations around DevOps—is a major challenge for every organization today.
The Process of Innovation
The innovation process consists of two factors: the push from creators (sellers), and the pull from adopters (buyers). But while adopters seemingly have a wealth of DevOps-related information at their fingertips, their discussion-making process is often an unstructured mix of Google searches, buzz on the latest trends, and costly consultations with industry experts. Combined with the complexity of building enterprise DevOps and IT infrastructure—as well as the uncertainty of which path to take—organizations increasingly are aware of the critical importance of an effective innovation strategy.
To move forward, the adopter/buyer must discover:
- The risk tolerance of each type of implementation.
- The gap between their current technologies/processes and those of the innovation leaders in their industry. To identify the highest return on investment (ROI), it’s essential to follow tried-and-true procedures with the lowest cost of investment in R&D.
(A quick note: This view is somewhat idealistic and doesn’t consider every financial or internal political issue in the decision-making process. That said, these guidelines are a good place to start.)
While technologists often dream of having the latest and greatest tech, new innovations come with inherent disadvantages, including less quality assurance (QA) and documentation. In addition, edge cases are less explored and—perhaps the worst-case scenario—the cutting edge innovation you eagerly embraced won’t catch on and support will quickly fade away. Therefore, when choosing innovation, you need to understand and accept the risks to your application stability and performance.
To gauge innovation risk, we’ll use one of the most notable and oldest theories from social science: diffusion of innovations (DOI), popularized by communication studies professor Everett Rogers in his renowned book published in 1962.
DOI describes the five categories of adopters who embrace innovation:
- Innovators: Have the highest risk tolerance and want to be the first to innovate; they take risks and develop new ideas.
- Early Adopters: Opinion leaders aware of the need for change and new technologies.
- Early Majority: Those who need more evidence that innovation works, including case studies and related success stories.
- Late Majority: Sceptical of change, they adopt innovation only after others have tested it.
- Laggards: Highly averse to risk and generally limited by regulation or tradition, they require certainty before adoption.
Figure 1 – Diffusion of Innovations (En.wikipedia.org, 2019)
By knowing which DOI category best matches your organization, you’ll gain a better idea of the degree of risk you’re willing to take to gain a competitive edge in innovation.
Learn from Innovation Leaders
As with other investments, innovation ROI diminishes the closer you are to the bleeding edge. Therefore, an effective innovation strategy requires a keen understanding of where you stand in comparison to your competitors, enabling you to easily identify the “low hanging fruit”—innovations that deliver the best ROI with the least risk. To achieve this, you must study innovations implemented by leaders (or innovators) in your field and utilize their learnings.
With a solid understanding of risk tolerance, you can narrow your search for technologies and strategies, allowing you to build a framework to prioritize your innovation goals. And with this framework in place, you can focus on strategic innovations that deliver the optimal return on investment.
Your Next Step
My recommendations in this blog represent just a part of the decision-making process required for DevOps innovation. Your company must define and customize this process to fit its own needs. Now, how will you develop your innovation process to achieve continuous improvement?
Rogers, E.M. and Shoemaker, F.F., 1971. Communication of Innovations; A Cross-Cultural Approach