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Automate, Deliver, Repeat: 5 Steps To Building a High-Performing Service Operations Machine

Service Ops as a Platform: Empowering Teams, Accelerating Innovation

Introduction

The IT landscape is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis, driven by advancements in technology and the widespread adoption of DevOps methodologies. This digital transformation necessitatesa paradigm shift in traditional IT operations. To remain relevant and responsive to an organisation's digital needs, these operations must evolve from their historical focus on stability and security towards becoming a dynamic engine that propels business innovation and enhances customer satisfaction.

The Shift from Stability to Innovation

Traditionally, Service Operations prioritised maintaining system stability, often leading to a disconnect between development teams pushing for rapid deployments and operational teams focused on upholding system integrity. A 2023 study by Uptime Institute found that 72% of businesses experienced downtime due to IT infrastructure issues in the past year. Every minute of downtime costs organisation money, and the resulting financial implications cannot be overstated. Outages are often a result of overlooked considerations during product development or a lack of co-ordination between the product and services ops teams. A 2022 Outage analysis report indicated an average outage could result in financial losses exceeding £500,000 for larger organisations. This siloed approach is gradually dissolving as digital transformation underscores the criticality of agility and continuous improvement for organisational success. 

Today, Service Operations must embrace and facilitate ongoing change, recognising that innovation and frequent deployments are critical to attracting and retaining customers in a competitive digital marketplace.

Automate, Automate, Automate!

Service operations and product teams face numerous challenges that can hinder their ability to deliver quality software efficiently. One of the most significant obstacles is the reliance on manual deployment processes. Those manual deployments are inherently error-prone and unpredictable, largely due to the potentialfor human error and an often-insufficient rehearsal of the deployment process. These inconsistencies can lead to significant issues, such as deployment failures, unexpected downtime, and prolonged recovery times, which in turn can affect customer satisfaction and the overall reliability of services.

The seminal book Accelerate provides some compelling statistics on the difference between high performers and low performers in software delivery.

“High performers are twice as likely to exceed organisational performance goals as low performers” enabling organisations to increase their profitability, productivity, market share, number of customerswhile improving their quantity of products/services, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, quality of products, achieving organizational/mission goals.”

To drive the shift to a high performing delivery function, it is imperative that teams move towards more repeatable and automated deployment processes. Implementing Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines is a proven strategy to achieve this. CI/CD pipelines automate the integration and deployment processes, ensuring that every piece of code is thoroughly tested and reliably deployed. This automation not only minimises human errors but also enhances the predictability of deployments. Moreover, it facilitates frequent and consistent releases, allowing teams to respond swiftly to market changes, demand and user feedback.

Additionally, thorough testing is crucial in an automated framework. By integrating comprehensive testing protocols within the CI/CD pipelines, teams can detect and resolve issues early in the development cycle, significantly improving the quality of the final product. This not only reduces the risk associated with deployments but also boosts confidence in the deployment process among all stakeholders.

Ultimately, automating deployments through robust CI/CD practices and thorough testing is not just about improving efficiency; it’s about creating a foundation for high-quality service delivery that is resilient, agile, and user-focused. By adopting these strategies, service operations and product teams can ensure that they are not just keeping up with industry standards but are positioned to lead in innovation and reliability. 

Transforming Service Operations into a Platform

The concept of "Service Operations as a Platform" (SOaaP) is a revolutionary shift.It moves the focus from traditional governance to empowering product teams through standardisation and self-service capabilities. When we think of a ‘platform’ we have to move away from thinking solely about technology platforms.

Evan Bottcherat Thoughtworksdescribes it “A platform is a foundation of self-service APIs, tools, services, knowledge, and support, which are arranged as a compelling internal product. Autonomous delivery teams can make use of the platform to deliver product features at a higher pace, with reduced coordination’. 

This platform approach enables IT operations to provide consistent, repeatable solutions that product teams can readily access and utilise. This ensures services are delivered efficiently, reliably, and with clear APIs for seamless integration and interaction. The goal- to make Service Ops teams easy to work with, and their services simpleto consume.

Customer-Centric Service Operations

In the new era of Service Operations, the user experience reigns supreme. Operations must be designed with the user in mind, and as if they were a commercial product, focusing on ease of use, cost-effectiveness, and rapid adaptability. The ultimateobjective is to become an invaluable asset to product teams, aiding them in achieving their outcomes efficiently. This necessitates a well-defined service catalogue and leveraging data analytics to measure and optimise the performance of both internal and external services. A recent example of customer-centric service operations can be seen at Barclays Bank, where they implemented a self-service portal for developers, allowing them to access and manage APIs more efficiently, leading to faster innovation and improved customer experiences.

Strategic Transformation and Continuous Improvement

The evolution of Service Operations is an ongoing journey that demands a strategic approach to achieve operational excellence. To foster ongoing improvement and innovation it is key to automate mundane tasks to minimise errors and maximise efficiency, employing advanced observability to proactively identify and address potential issues, and maintain complete transparency in service performance. Additionally, embracing Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) practices is crucial, ensuring systems are robust, performant, and reliable under all conditions.

Modernising Service Operations isn'tjust about keeping the lights on - it's the secret weapon to unlock explosive innovation and outpace the competition. By building a platform-based approach, embracing automation, and prioritising both customer needs and continuous improvement, you can transform Service Operations into the engine of your organisation's success. Get ready to crush delivery timelines, unleash a wave of value creation, and secure a strategic advantage in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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