Why Read This Report
Infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals have never been under more pressure to change. From cloud-native approaches to product teams and DevOps, the challenges just keep coming, and many I&O pros report great uncertainty about their career futures. This report describes the top trends that will shape the I&O role in 2020 and summarizes what the modern I&O team should start, continue, and stop using.
Stop Overcontrolling And Overspecializing
Operations no longer own production; it’s a collaboration with development. Deep expertise is a fine thing, but you need to balance it with a broad perspective. Integrated product teams are here to stay.
A process Is A Power Tool — Use It With Care And Only Where Appropriate
Processes and standard procedures are changing with increasing speed. Trying to document every activity with hyperformalized processes leads only to disdain for the process. Instead, focus on automation and collaboration with rich audit trails.
Your I&O Platforms Are Products
Integrated product teams are all the rage, but in large, complex environments, it’s the collaboration of products that will deliver outcomes. Cloud providers promote a bewildering variety of options, and your platform teams need to curate them, construct approved templates, and maintain guardrails, all with product team empathy for their internal customers.
I&O’s Value Is More Than The Sum Of Its Current Tasks
Cloud-native, DevOps, and automation are turning I&O’s world upside down. As organizations move to self-provisioning, I&O professionals are rightfully concerned about their futures. In the world of self-service consumption, the traditional tools and tasks of I&O teams are subject to constant overhaul and replacement. AI and automation continue to transform traditional I&O capabilities such as the service desk.1 The cloud-native ecosystem is flourishing, and the days of waiting six months for a server seem medieval. DevOps is not only climbing in adoption but also growing in its application across full portfolios. At the intersection of these trends, the semi-autonomous product team is emerging as the new basis of the digital economy. This leaves many wondering how the I&O organization is relevant.
- Value isn’t changing, but culture, tasks, and structure are. The work of the I&O team is changing. It’s even shrinking in its overall area — outsourcing infrastructure tasks and automating repeatable work — and developers are embracing new autonomy, such as that provided by infrastructure-as-code (IaC). What’s left isn’t less work, but it’s denser work.
- The good news is, you’re in a position to lead. Today’s businesses face a future of complexity and fragmentation, with a fractured picture of costs, risks, and legacy workloads alongside innovations. I&O’s function is to see this big picture and wrangle it with end-to-end knowledge and systems-thinking approaches.
Ten Trends Will Reshape I&O Pros And The Way They Lead
You’re an I&O pro, and your job is changing. These changes are significant, and how you navigate them within the context of your organization will determine your ability to add the most value. Forrester has identified the top trends that will dramatically transform the I&O role and boiled down the top 10 ways I&O pros can modify their behaviors and practices to lead effective change. We’ve organized these 10 trends and areas of modification by what you need to start, maintain, or stop.
- Start X: Adopt these behaviors and practices to jump-start your transition into a modern I&O role.
- Maintain Y: Maintain these behaviors and practices for the time being.
- Stop Z: Abandon these altogether for modern alternatives.
No. 1: Integrated Build/Run Product Teams Will Gain Even More Traction
Perhaps the most significant difference between old-school IT and modern digital organizations is the latter’s use of integrated, cross-functional product teams. These teams are more efficient and effective because they don’t need to wait for other teams (at least, not as much). And as product-team alignment replaces the project team construct, the build/run (“you build it, you own it”) model is gaining traction in organizations.
- Start supporting build/run product teams. Underbuild/run, everyone needed to run the service sits on a cross-functional team. Instead of siloed dev teams, ops teams, testers, and systems administrators all throwing work over the wall to one another, the organization assigns members from each discipline to a service where they work in step with their counterparts to build and maintain the given application or service — sharing ownership and accountability. Implemented correctly, build/run creates autonomous, productive employees, better-quality services, and happier customers. Keep in mind that you can only create cross-functional teams if the skills exist in your organization or if you have confidence that teams can learn the skills in a reasonable time frame.
- Maintain managing software in a maintenance mode. As with all tenets of your operating model, you should tailor applications of build/run to your organization and roll them out on an application-by-application basis. Shawn Thayer of H&R Block told us, “We have a handful of legacy applications that will never move into a DevOps model.”6 For legacy systems or enterprise applications that require little updating, avoid overspending and overengineering. Instead, outsource to a managed services provider (MSP) if you can afford it and look to software-as-a-service (SaaS) if necessary.
No. 2: Infrastructure Will Turn To Product-Team Thinking
To develop a user-level feature, a product team (six to eight people, rarely more) might have a designer, front-end and back-end developers, testers, and even some basic infrastructure expertise. But what about complex infrastructure? The I&O organization has much to learn from product-team thinking.
- Start embracing product-team thinking. Just because the user-facing teams know a little IaC doesn’t mean that I&O goes away. There’s still a variety of critical platforms requiring ongoing care and feeding: networking, monitoring, storage, continuous delivery, and cloud providers (what parts of Amazon are fit-for-purpose in your organization?) Such platforms require automated, self-provisioning interfaces and even consultative services when other teams need assistance with harder questions. There are lots here for the I&O pro to do!
- “I was previously at a major US retailer where we pivoted the I&O organization to a product-team model, allowing us to cut our service-level agreement (SLA) times in half and provide services to development teams at a much higher rate of delight. As a result, our internal customers would proactively choose to come to our team for services rather than building their own.” (Yasmin Rajabi, product manager, Puppet)
- Stop hiding behind queues. Ticketing systems damage company culture and team productivity. These first-come-first-served interfaces are clunky and antiquated, creating unnecessary barriers and checkpoints in what otherwise might be a seamless workflow. Move toward automating infrastructure provisioning, change and incident management, the network operations center (NOC), and service desk onboarding. Lean on automation and APIs to make this a reality.
No. 3: Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Will Become A Foundation For Resiliency
Digital-first companies are increasingly adopting SRE models and principles to ensure resiliency within a build/run product-team model. Site reliability engineers can manage an increasingly complex technology stack, improve managed services, ensure that they meet business obligations, and provide the documentation necessary for smooth operations.
- Start implementing SRE. SRE involves a comprehensive set of tenets that vary in their applicability to individual organizations. Many of these tenets, however, are universally beneficial to companies looking to maximize robust momentum in software delivery. Reflect on your business goals and your software development lifecycle to locate areas where SRE can be beneficial. In particular, you’ll need to decide whether you want a consultative SRE team, an embedded community, or a next-generation operations team that still accepts production turnover.
- Stop tolerating repetitive toil. I&O managers have (sometimes) been ambivalent about their teams spending time scripting. Google flips this and tells its teams, “We want you to spend half your time automating.” Computer operations and software engineering are therefore converging.