DevOps in the digital agency

Stefano Viani

Management

16 Jun 2016 Processes Digital Agency

The requirements for the operation of web applications, especially e-commerce platforms and online shops, have changed: In the competition for the favour of shop visitors, which ultimately manifests itself in a good conversion rate, the user experience is constantly being improved in order to stay one step ahead of the competition. Continuous changes to the functionality of the online shop and improvements to the design and user interface must not be at the expense of operational reliability and performance. The competition does not forgive mistakes and shop operators expect the same quality of service as when shop updates were carried out annually on a managed server.

DevOps in der Digitalagentur - Blackbit

The contradiction between operation and development

This changed situation results in a conflict between development and operation. While the developers want to bring optimisations and adjustments live as quickly as possible on behalf of the shop operator, the system operators see every change as potentially jeopardising the reliable and high-performance operation of the online shop. The agency finds itself in the uncomfortable situation of either being "too slow" or "not conscientious enough".

DevOps combines development and operation

The word DevOps is made up of "Dev" for application development and "Ops" for IT operations and stands for the combination of two seemingly contradictory areas. Internet start-ups and native cloud companies use DevOps to update their applications faster and deliver them without errors. In May 2011, for example, the online mail order company and cloud provider Amazon initiated a software update on average every 11.6 seconds and delivered it to an average of 10,000 servers simultaneously. This requires suitable tools. Nevertheless, DevOps is more a question of philosophy and a task for process organisation. Amazon's CTO Werner Vogels wrote about this back in May 2006 in the Association for Computing Machinery's Queue magazine:

"The traditional model is that you take your software to the wall that separates development and operations, and throw it over and then forget about it. Not at Amazon. You build it, you run it. This brings developers into contact with the day-to-day operation of their software. It also brings them into day-to-day contact with the customer. This customer feedback loop is essential for improving the quality of the service."

What does the DevOps approach mean for agencies?

In the agency, too, teams of developers and system operators who share responsibility for the service are the answer to the current and future requirements of the market. To achieve this, it is necessary to eliminate the organisational separation of development and operations. For the platforms commonly used in the agency, automatable processes must be developed that cover all stages of a service from development to operation: Development, version control, merge and build, test, package, release, configuration management and monitoring. In contrast to native cloud companies that develop a limited number of products, the established development and deployment processes cannot simply be adopted. The large number of projects and the possibility for customers to make changes themselves place additional demands on the processes and the individual parties involved. As not every small change can be subjected to a manual quality check, a high degree of automation is necessary.

The agency as a managed service provider

Ideally, the key performance indicators (KPIs) to be monitored later are agreed between the agency and client at the start of the collaboration. This allows the KPIs to be taken into account at the design stage and the application and infrastructure to be designed accordingly.

In addition to technical indicators such as availability and response time behaviour, these KPIs should also include indicators such as search engine visibility, number of daily orders and checkout abandonment rate.

CONCLUSION

The demands placed on the operation of web applications are constantly increasing in line with their importance for achieving corporate goals. In order to avoid the dilemma of having to fulfil agency clients' change requests while maintaining stable operations, it is necessary to introduce DevOps methods and processes in the agency and to agree KPIs with agency clients that enable both sides to monitor success. The technical and economic development will lead to further concentration among both agencies and service providers, making the introduction of DevOps without alternative.

About the Author

As Executive Director of Blackbit digital Commerce GmbH, Stefano Viani manages all areas of the agency in the offices in Göttingen, Hamburg, Berlin and Kiev. His passion is the development of marketing strategies and their implementation in concrete measures.

In his free time, Stefano is passionate about riding his motorbike or working out in the gym.