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Changing Development and Operating Ideas in IT

This week, I’ll finish up this three-part series by exploring application software development and groups that run the software within a company. This area of IT has undergone a significant amount of growth and change over the years due to the enormous success of computer use in business.

The Way It Was

Not long ago, IT departments were organized just like any other department in a company. The department, whether it was system programming or computer operations, had a manager and team members organized by specialization. The team had specific jobs to do (e.g., installing and testing system software or running the batch schedule), and didn’t have a lot of time to do much else. So what was missing from these methods of organization? Let’s first consider the development shop along with production control and operations teams.

The Development Shop

The development shop was where designers and programmers worked. This kind of work had its own pace driven by the urgency of the business needs. Then, as today, there was a significant backlog of work to do. In some shops, the nature of work changed from developing complete applications for payroll or accounting to selecting and tailoring commercial off-the-shelf products. This transition was largely made more urgent by the need for Y2K compliance.

Production Control and Operations

The production control and operations team picked up new workloads from the development shop. The developers might complete a paper form that was designed to discover information about incoming workloads and get it into the daily, weekly and monthly schedule.

What Was Missing?

There was often organizational tension between the team writing or tailoring the application and the team tasked with running it. IT complexity and unfamiliarity meant that the development shop often struggled to keep a schedule. At the end of the schedule was the turnover to production control and operations, which could often feel rushed and uncomfortable. This method of organization was missing a level of informed teamwork where each team was given the time and resources to contribute to the department as a whole, not just perform their individual parts. Minimizing the impact of organization barriers was key in smoothing out the technical difficulties of taking an application from development through to operations. These issues were a bit more complex than time, resources and organization, but improving these three areas could have gone a long way.

What Has Changed?

Many significant changes have occurred over the last few decades, and IT is now playing a much more significant role for many businesses. An IT team is more than a tool for efficient operation of the company; it’s a strategic driver, a tip of the arrow used to find new sources of revenue and respond to competitive threats. Today, IT workloads have changed and become less predictable. There are still batch workloads managed within a specific time window, but there are also transaction workloads with less obvious operations involvement. IT teams are also responsible for workloads on and from the web along with work that gets done in commercial cloud environments. IT workloads may be less visible in straightforward ways but because of their heightened importance they now require improved human focus.

A Better Relationship

DevOps is the key to improved human focus. The term is typically used to label a set of practices emphasizing the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other IT professionals responsible for an application. DevOps has a significant focus on automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. Simply put, DevOps aims at establishing a culture and environment where building, testing and releasing software can happen rapidly, frequently and more reliably. The Invisible Thread is a good place to start to explore the topic of DevOps for the mainframe. DevOps can also be a catalyst for modernization as discussed in Enterprise DevOps.

Next week, I’ll start a new series with a focus on exploring a number of key aspects of enterprise DevOps.