5 DevOps and Security Best Practices for Improving Business Agility

5 devops and security best practices for improving business agility

Written By: Contender Solutions

Product development, change management, and security. For a long time, these three things have been at odds in many organizations. For example, change management often interrupts product development timelines, slowing down the business and reducing agility. Data security processes can make DevOps or change management more complicated, slowing the introduction of important tools and processes.

Any time a business’ operations aren’t aligned, it can create friction in the organization and impede business agility. However, sacrificing data security isn’t a viable option, neither is compromising on product development. So, it’s important to find ways to align DevOps and security within your overall change management strategy to increase business agility.

What is business agility and why does it matter? What is DevOps? How can you align product development operations to increase business agility? What are the business best practices for security to preserve agility without sacrificing security (or compliance)?

What Is Business Agility?

Business agility is the ability of an organization to respond to changes or opportunities quickly and efficiently. The faster a business can adapt to change, the greater its “business agility” is.

Why Does Business Agility Matter?

Business agility is important because it has a strong correlation to a business’ competitiveness. In today’s world, change keeps happening faster and faster as new technologies, business models, and regulations are introduced. Companies that fall behind the curve face an uphill battle to retain customers and earn new ones.

As noted in an article for Medium, “The pace of change will continue to increase, and the level of complexity and interdependence will continue to grow… For organizations to succeed in a constantly changing world, they need to improve their ability to change and adapt.”

The Medium article highlighted the rise and fall of Circuit City, which “was transformed from one of the most powerful electronics and technology retailers in the country to being a wholly nonexistent company” in less than 10 years. The reason for the decline of this and numerous other technology giants? A lack of business agility.

Without the ability to adapt to ever-evolving consumer demands, changing technology landscapes, and emerging business models centered around online shopping (amidst competitors who were adapting to these changes), Circuit City lost too much market share too quickly, and became defunct.

What Is DevOps?

DevOps is a portmanteau of “development operations.” In business, it’s a combination of practices, processes, and business philosophies that an organization uses to deliver applications or services to their customers.

There are different ways that companies can organize their DevOps. For one business agility example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a cyclical model for DevOps that divides things between a “delivery pipeline” and a “feedback loop”:

  • Delivery Pipeline:
    • Build
    • Test
    • Release
  • Feedback Loop:
    • Monitor
    • Plan

The “plan” phase of the AWS DevOps model feeds into the “build” phase, as customer feedback is used to further improve DevOps and future product development.

Microsoft applies a different DevOps model. The Microsoft DevOps cycle is divided into four different phases in a flywheel loop: Plan, Develop, Deliver, and Operate. Each phase also correlates with different sub-objectives: Collaboration, Workflow, Security & Compliance, and Continuous Improvement—though different primary phases may overlap with each other when addressing sub-objectives.

The Microsoft model emphasizes flexibility, stating that “the phases are not role-specific. In a true DevOps culture, each role is involved in each phase to some extent.”

Challenges in Aligning Product Development Operations to Drive Agility

One of the challenges of DevOps is aligning end-users needs/wants with the need to “protect the estate” while still improving business agility.

For example, end users for any product coming from your DevOps processes often want a seamless or near-seamless user experience (UX). However, adding extra layers of security can impede UX, making app logins clunky or repetitive. Despite this, strong security is often required to meet compliance standards and protect customers.

Another challenge is refining the DevOps process so that it is reliable and consistent enough to produce positive results—but still flexible enough to agilely respond to changing needs. If DevOps processes are too inconsistent, it can create confusion that actually reduces business agility. It can also lead to increased costs due to reduced efficiency for the product development team.

Team or departmental silos can be another obstacle to business agility and DevOps. When different teams use different standards and tools to approach tasks or report issues, it can easily lead to miscommunications between the product development team and the other teams providing feedback. This, in turn, can create delays in the DevOps process and compromise the quality and user experience of the product or service being developed.

5 Best Practices for Improving Agility for Product Development

If you’re wondering how to improve agility for your product development operations, there are a few best practices to follow. Some examples include:

1. Unifying Tools and Processes to Eliminate Organizational Silos

Removing barriers to easy communication between different teams, departments, and individuals within the organization is crucial for improving business agility. One way to remove barriers is to standardize the apps, communication tools, and processes that the organization uses across all teams and departments as much as possible.

This is where using a unified platform for enterprise software can help. Creating a single resource for business communication and collaboration tools helps to simplify workflows and eliminate organizational silos. Instead of having to check several communication channels for feedback, product development team members can get notifications and feedback through a single source, making it less likely that they’ll miss important notices.

2. Setting Up Test Environments for Software Products

In software development, it’s important to be able to test changes to a product without impacting the existing production environment. Provisioning a “test environment” where changes to an application can be tested in isolation can help the organization make major alterations without putting the “live” version of the software at risk.

Why is this important? Because, with any change to a software, there could be unforeseen issues that impact an app’s performance and stability. Making changes to live software could cause major problems that impede business agility or negatively impact the end user’s UX. By making changes in a test environment, companies can verify that their updates won’t negatively affect UX or product stability before deploying them to live users.

3. Standardizing Key Performance Metrics Across Business Units

Does every team contributing to the DevOps process use the same metrics to measure product performance and quality? Or, does each unit have their own set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that they use for their own business units that have nothing to do with one another?

If your organization has different people using separate terms to describe the same things within a software or service, that is going to create confusion for the product development team. Standardizing feedback for DevOps so that everyone uses the same terms to describe the same things helps to simplify communications and remove the risk of misinterpretations. It also helps to ensure that people use the right metrics to address specific business goals.

4. Following a Set DevOps Process Framework

Having a consistent framework for DevOps processes (or indeed, any business process) can be crucial for maintaining a fast and efficient workflow. Consistency makes it easier for team members to know what is expected of them so they can work at their peak productivity.

Examples of DevOps frameworks include the AWS and Microsoft frameworks highlighted earlier in this article. The specific framework your company uses should reflect your organization’s goals. For example, the AWS framework emphasizes the smooth integration of feedback and use data to optimize software performance. Meanwhile, the Microsoft framework emphasizes integrating the entire organization into the DevOps process to create a culture of business agility in product development.

5. Leveraging Modern Security Solutions to Maximize Safety While Minimizing Bloat

In security circles, there’s a concept called “security bloat.” It’s a term for when an app, platform, or organization continuously adds more layers of security without regard to how it impacts the user experience.

While security solutions such as multi-factor authentication can help minimize the risk of security breaches, having too many layers of security can actively impede UX and drive customers away from the software or service. In fact, too much restrictive security can make it hard for users within an organization to access mission-critical apps and data. This can negatively impact business agility by slowing down critical business workflows and reducing productivity.

Additionally, data breaches can be a major drain on company resources. According to data from IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Study, the average breach costs about $3.84 million. This drain on funds can severely restrict a business’ cash flow, impeding its ability to capitalize on new opportunities or make critical changes.

So, finding modern security solutions that improve safety while having a minimal impact on user experience is imperative.

How Security Supports Business Agility

Your company’s intellectual property (IP) is a crucial competitive advantage. Every new product, or refinement to an existing product, helps set your company out from a sea of competitors. Protecting that IP is a must.

When IP is leaked to external agencies, they can recreate it without having had to invest the time, money, and effort required to develop it. This increases their “agility” illicitly, removing your advantage in your market by undercutting your costs.

So, setting security standards for product development can be a crucial means of protecting your business’ agility from being undermined.

Some key security measures to take include:

  • Applying a Policy of Least Privilege. Not every employee needs access to every app, system, and database your company has. Restricting access to the minimum needed to fulfill their job role is important for minimizing the risk of IP theft and data leaks.
  • Training Employees about Security Risks. Employees are often the weakest link in the security chain. Providing training can help improve security awareness and help employees avoid common cyber threats.
  • Modernizing Security Tools. Security threats are constantly evolving—and so are security tools. Obsolescent security tools may not address current threats or prove to be too obtrusive to provide a seamless UX. By modernizing security measures, companies can guard against modern threats more effectively and find solutions that minimize security bloat.
  • Frequently Testing Security. Stress testing security setups is crucial for identifying potential flaws so they can be fixed. Penetration tests can help identify previously-unknown vulnerabilities before others take advantage of them to steal IP and sensitive data.

Aligning DevOps and security processes to enhance business agility can be a tall order for any organization. If you need help aligning your DevOps, security, and other business processes to drive agility for your organization, reach out to Contender Solutions today!

Download the IT Transformation eBook!