4 benefits of DevOps automation — and 4 ways to make the most of it

May 31, 2021 / by Juha-Markus Aalto

In this blog post, we’ll be taking a closer look at the benefits of DevOps automation and focus more on insights rather than common automation buzzwords. But before we get to the point, let’s look at what DevOps automation actually is. 

It almost sounds like an oxymoron. On the one hand, DevOps is all about automation, and on the other hand, it isn’t. DevOps is about delivering value faster, and one crucial prerequisite for this is automation. So, in essence, there may be no DevOps without automation. 

Our ultimate guide to DevOps automation takes a closer look at this topic. Still, in short: DevOps automation means using automatic tools to perform DevOps tasks that generally require manual work. In DevOps, automation plays a crucial role in further deepening its importance for your business in practice. 

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The 4 main benefits of DevOps automation

1. It helps you deliver the right kind of value faster

How is value delivered? This can really range from the type of company you are looking at. But in terms of software development (cloud software and other software that powers your business processes,) value is defined by the end-users and customers. 

Delivering value for product teams means being able to deliver new releases at short intervals, releasing new features, and continuously improving the product. Another important aspect is product management: the value needs to be delivered fast, but it also needs to be the right thing. One way to see the agile DevOps way of working is the approach of Lean Startup and the build-measure-learn loop

That means, in short:

  1. Defining the value proposition of what we should create to achieve traction among customers
  2. Building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) of essential functionalities
  3. Measuring the success of what we have released (feedback, telemetry embedded into your product)
  4. Learning from the experiment, and improving the product in the next iteration until product-market fit is achieved.

This is related to fast feedback loops. In order to deliver the right kind of value faster, development, IT, QA, and other teams need to work together at an agile pace, and be able to commit updates to production with confidence. And this is not just true for companies that produce their own software and need to maintain a specific release schedule. Expecting continuous integration, testing, and delivery is the norm. 

We know to expect it from the apps we use privately, and we expect nothing less from our business applications. On top of that, the move to the cloud has made it far easier to see and fix problems as they occur, and update releases continuously. 

Do you remember when Windows 10 was launched? Everyone was questioning how a product could be updated at such short intervals. Now, continuous release cycles are the new normal. The systems that power core business tools, such as CRM and ERP systems, are continuously updated. This means that you need to be able to react as fast as the tools that power your business processes. In practice: Your favorite ERP provider might release a security patch tomorrow. Can you wait until a new release is convenient for you?

Sometimes, continuous releases can feel like the stuff operations nightmares are made of. This is because sometimes the systems you’ll be building your processes on might resemble a fragile house of cards made of legacy code and shortcuts and whatever feature sales promised to a new customer. 

But, this is another practical way in which DevOps automation can help you deliver value faster: Test automation. There’s no need to fear that the SAP forces of the world might release an update you need to deploy tomorrow. With automated testing, you’ll see the problems when they occur, and you’ll be able to fix issues as soon as you notice them.

2. It’s the foundation for incremental development

Lean and agile development is all about small and incremental steps—releasing single parts of features rather than big things. In practice, continuous releases do put pressure on operations. Every time a system is updated, there is a potential risk for it to fall apart by just one small error. DevOps automation is about making sure this won’t happen. 

For example, in Qentinel Pace, we use this principle. We recently added a notification functionality that can send out a notification when a test case has failed. The old way of working would have looked at this as the notification feature as a whole. 

Instead, we divided it into parts and released capabilities one by one. First, we made it possible to order email notifications; next up are Slack and Teams notifications, and so on. This is possible only because the DevOps is automated, and is able to sustain these continuous development cycles.

3. It enables fast feedback loops

In the old days, developers would work on code for several months on end. Then, they would spend weeks or even months combining, integrating, testing, debugging, and bug-fixing. Loads of bugs were found, and it was incredibly challenging to understand if something was a bug or a feature, where the bug was coming from, and how on earth to fix it. 

So, in short, code was worked on in isolation, and the different code fragments only met after months of development. Feedback loops are essentially the way in which different parts are connected to each other, and changes in one part of it might affect the other parts. 

Look at your front-end and back-end, for example. Whatever changes you make in one will inadvertently affect the other. One clear benefit of DevOps automation is that you can immediately test this relation and ensure you don’t break things. 

Code is committed every day to the cloud (GitHub or similar repositories), and once committed, you can have ready-made regression test cases that will see if whatever has been committed as the latest code will affect something else.

4. It helps you analyze user behavior

Data-driven anything is a hot topic in any business area these days. But it’s a fact that the amount of data we have at hand from our users is ever-increasing. As said above, being able to release new features at a constant pace is a core benefit of DevOps automation. 

One of the core functions in DevOps is analyzing user behavior, looking at data, and understanding how users are working with a product, in essence, if a feature creates value for its users. We also want to know what kind of issues and bugs our users are facing, so that we can fix them. 

You can also use automation to simulate users with automated tests, and collect data on performance and quality issues based on telemetry data. You should aim to automate the analysis of large data sets you get from the DevOps process as a whole. 

For instance, the Qentinel Pace AI can detect trend changes in test case execution times. These changes typically indicate that your application is slowing down. You can also run automated tests in the production environment (a.k.a. shift-right testing) and not only during development in a QA environment. It’s about analyzing behavioral patterns, feeding this back to the product owners, and adjusting the development roadmap accordingly.

In the end, it all comes down to two things: DevOps automation creates confidence in the deployment, which makes it possible to deploy at a faster speed, creating new features, and collaboration across teams is fostered.  Everyone commits their code or updates continuously, and if bugs are found, teamwork is often needed to fix them. All of these things are a solid foundation when it comes to benefiting from future developments such as AI and machine learning. 

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4 concrete ways to start benefiting from DevOps automation

Here are four concrete tips and tricks that will pave the way for DevOps automation (and its benefits, of course) in your organization. 

1. Select SaaS tools

This might sound like a no-brainer now, but before we all retreated for over a year to our homes in 2020, using SaaS and cloud-based tools wasn’t such a common thing.  Many companies needed to find ways to make their ways of working accessible in the cloud and with remote connections, and picking SaaS and cloud-based tools is a great way to do that. SaaS and cloud tools allow you to focus on the essential, value-adding work instead of being stuck maintaining the infrastructure. 

2. Update your ways of working

Once you’ve chosen your cloud-based tools, you need to establish ways of working with these tools.  One way to approach this is by mapping out all your internal processes and essential artifacts (e.g. requirements, pull requests, tests, and so on), and deriving conventions from there.

3. Implement feedback loops

Once you are working in the cloud, you can set up the basis for your test automation and decide what you want to test on a continuous basis. This way, you can ensure your functionality stays in place. Having those feedback loops in place is the foundation of creating value faster. Without them, you will surely create fast—but whether it adds value or not will remain a different question entirely.

4. If you treasure it, measure it

Automating your DevOps brings about opportunities. The best advice here is to decide on the metrics you want to track early on, find ways to visualize them and analyze them continuously. 

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Topics: DevOps, Software Testing, Test Automation, Agile, Quality Assurance

Juha-Markus Aalto

Written by Juha-Markus Aalto