By Biju Kewalram, Chief Digital Officer, Agility GIL
With COVID-19 accelerating digitalization, the pressure is on for logistics industry players to industrialize their digital transformation programs. We stand at a unique point in time when the widespread availability of a blend of technologies is converging with multiple management practices such as Lean, ITIL, and Agile. This combination has the power to transform the process logistics companies use to introduce, enhance and maintain their technology portfolios. This can be achieved through the adoption of practices and approaches like DevOps. But for this to occur, cultural and mindset changes are paramount.
Borrowing the secrets of start-ups
More than ever, companies in the logistics sector are trying to outpace the competition. They are under tremendous pressure to launch new digital products, but face issues such as instability from rushed software releases and security and compliance conflicts. Over the last decade, DevOps practices have been developed to help solve these issues.
The DevOps approach is best thought of as a ‘movement’ within the technology world that makes the continuous cycle of building, testing, deploying and monitoring more aligned with Lean approaches. It can help resolve the natural tension between developers, who are tasked with rapid releases, and IT operations, who are tasked with finding stability and risk mitigation. In order to stay relevant, particularly in the swiftly-moving logistics landscape, large and small companies need to combine the steady performance of their established networks with this startup-type thinking, particularly in the engine room of technology.
At its heart, DevOps involves three core continuums: continuous integration, continuous deployment, and continuous learning. While these strategies are well established in the realm of hardware and software development, there is an additional element that I like to refer to as ‘brainware’. This is the human part: the methods, best practices, company values, and work dynamics that enable the successful use of these processes to gain competitive advantage.
Traditional Agile practices form the base of the cultural norms required to achieve a continuous stream of development but, in order to migrate to a DevOps culture, additional shifts in organizational mindsets are needed.
For this model to succeed, it requires whole-organization engagement. This starts from the top, with sponsorship of DevOps at the highest level, and travels downwards, empowering decision-making by ‘front-line’ employees. It is vital that technical workers in the digital value chain feel confident to speak out if they are not satisfied with the quality of the product.
Crucially, DevOps culture is built on continuous feedback. Testing starts right at the beginning of the process, while measuring usability and satisfaction is shifted closer to the customer. To be effective, it is essential that feedback loops are promoted in the context of continuous improvement.
The mindsets that thrive in a DevOps environment are those of lifelong learners who can contribute insight from wide reading and specialized courses. We are experiencing the fastest growth in computing, communication and connectivity that we’ve ever seen, and this necessitates a workforce that is armed with the latest developments.
Importantly, nurturing a DevOps culture has a wider impact than just accelerating a company’s digital transformation. The degree to which overall job satisfaction and, therefore, engagement is boosted by employing this practice has been clearly demonstrated. Team members gain higher satisfaction from seeing their work put into use rather than waiting for long delivery cycles to result in tangible customer-measured outcomes.
DevOps is a highly energizing and motivating environment in which to operate, and the success stories that accompany it are too compelling to ignore. As the logistics industry confronts a new reality, thinking about how to effectively integrate these practices will be critical.
But while a convergence of different trends is accelerating the adoption of DevOps, I think there is room for an extension of this model to include broader business functions. This would allow the technology value stream to stretch beyond technology and IT departments, impacting customers at a more immediate level. Consumers would be able to see how this way of working allows products and services to be tailored to their needs.
At a time when the logistics industry is facing existential challenges and the way that we work is being challenged on a fundamental level, it is important for the sector to embrace DevOps. This means fully embedding Agile thinking into company cultures and taking on the challenge of extending practices beyond tech teams to organizations as a whole. DevOps isn’t a trend or a management fad but a real, impactful change to the way that we work in digital transformation, with the potential to drive the future success of the industry.