Digital transformation

Outsourcing IT management in DevOps requires a close relationship of trust

July 12, 2021 - 4 minutes reading time
Article by Mike Wilmot

Outsourcing your IT processes to an IT service provider is a well-arranged relationship: a matter of setting KPIs and recording everything precisely in a contract. But how does that work in a DevOps collaboration, where you work closely with your IT partner – you do the Dev, 'they' do the Ops – but without a solid agreement and without strictly separated responsibilities? As in any partnership, success comes down to: good communication and mutual trust.

Organizations that like to respond quickly to changing circumstances in their market or industry often choose to outsource their IT processes or infrastructure to a specialist. Many organizations simply do not have all the necessary IT knowledge and skills in-house and therefore call in the help of a specialized IT service provider.

With good reason: outsourcing operational IT management helps you to create focus on core activities and deliver added value. It gives you space to do what you do best. Traditionally, organizations often outsource the management of their indiscriminate IT to an IT service provider, in order to focus on developing new applications.

However, the exact form of this IT outsourcing must fit the organization. And that is precisely where challenges sometimes arise in practice, for example when working according to 'DevOps': a flexible way of working together between Development and Operations teams during the entire development process and the complete life cycle of an IT project.

No more strict separation of responsibilities

The introduction of DevOps as a working method in the collaboration with your supplier, implies that there is no strict separation of responsibilities between IT development (Dev) and IT management (Ops). In contrast to the traditional way of working, the team is jointly responsible for the results. An adapted working method and management are essential for the success of the DevOps collaboration, which cán ensure a fast and efficient development process. DevOps requires a new, flexible mindset, from both customer and supplier.

However, when IT management is outsourced, a 'traditional' contract is often concluded, full of KPIs aimed at cost reduction, availability and continuity, and with a strict separation of responsibilities. At the same time, this separation of responsibilities is not in line with the DevOps philosophy. DevOps requires a high degree of flexibility, scalability and customer focus, in which IT management and IT development bear a joint team responsibility. The change processes and access restrictions that often characterize traditional outsourcing contracts can then cause friction in the relationship with the IT service provider. Fortunately, it does not have to be that way.

Dare to let go of traditional sourcing contracts full of strict responsibilities

‐ Mike Wilmot

Contracts based on trust

Organizations will not apply DevOps to all processes and IT applications. And often they already use different delivery models that match the need for different IT products or services. 'Hybrid contracting models' are emerging, in which responsibilities between the IT service provider and the organization can even differ per IT application.

The development method used (for example DevOps or the waterfall method) therefore requires clear agreements about the way in which organizations and IT service providers work together. This allows to meet the specific requirements of the respective application, such as flexibility, speed, availability and cost efficiency.

On the one hand, IT service providers must act as a partner that thinks along with their customers. On the other hand, it is up to organizations to let go of the traditional sourcing contracts full of strict responsibilities and to contract their IT service provider based on trust, commitment and joint results agreements..

Efficiency by automating management tasks

In the past, contracts were mainly drawn up with cost savings as an important objective. The cost savings were achieved through standardized processes, scalability and resource planning. While those are still relevant, the next higher level of efficiency is only achieved by automating management tasks.

Highly automated environments enable DevOps teams to develop their IT applications faster. With the use of 'Infrastructure as Code' (IaC), the operational infrastructure is made available as software. Outsourcing in a DevOps environment focuses on fulfilling tasks within the DevOps team, based on processes and backlog items.

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Flexible KPIs

It is important to build in sufficient flexibility within the agreement. The contract can be based on consulting (knowledge and skills), task responsibility (assurance of security & compliance) or even a full 'DevOps service' in which the IT partner acts as product owner and both IT development (Dev) and IT management (Ops) take charge of a specific application.

The Key Performance Indicators must then be DevOps-specific, such as 'stakeholder satisfaction', 'mean time to detect', 'mean time to resolve', 'change success rate', 're-use of platform components' and 'deployment frequency'. The determination and management of such KPIs takes place from the management organization, which includes representation from both the organization and the IT service provider. Without a boarded up contract, it is important to keep track of progress and to maintain an overview.

Taking the lead together

For this reason, organizations in DevOps often set up a 'Cloud Center of Excellence' or CCoE for central management. The CCoE establishes the frameworks within which DevOps teams can work autonomously. For example, for architecture, compliance, security, costs and service integration. Auditing no longer takes place afterwards, but this is done based on real-time monitoring and is 'policy based'.

The IT service provider is also prominently represented in the CCoE. Traditional, non-DevOps outsourcing evaluates the KPIs on components or IT service. But working according to DevOps is pre-eminently a team effort. That is why evaluation takes place about the functioning of the team as a whole and the added value of the IT service provider in that team.

Because the evaluation of team performance is less concrete than with traditional, well-defined KPIs, mutual trust plays a very important role in contracting. And the purchasing department and the traditional manager in particular sometimes find this difficult. The advice is therefore: start small and slowly expand the cooperation – and with it: the trust. Once that trust is in place, outsourcing at DevOps is the recipe for a happy, long-term partnership with your IT provider.

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