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February 01, 2017
Six questions to test whether you are working with your systems integrator in a DevOps way
By: Mirco Hering
Six questions to test whether you are working with your systems integrator in a DevOps way

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am disappointed on how little the cultural relationship between companies and their systems integrators is being discussed in blogs, articles and conference talks. As I am working for a systems integrator (SI), I find this surprising. Most large organizations work with SIs, so why are we not talking about it? If we are serious about DevOps we should also have a DevOps culture with our SIs, shouldn’t we?

When I speak to CIOs and have a discussion about DevOps and how to improve going forward, I often get a comment at some stage—“Mirco, you seem to get this. Why is it then that not all projects with your company leverage the principles you talk about?”.

A good question, and one that a few years ago I didn’t have an answer to and hence made me a bit unsure on how to answer. I have spent a lot of time analyzing in the years since. And the truth is, that often the relationship does not allow us to work in the way most of us would like to work.

The other week, I had a workshop with lawyers from both my company and lawyers from a firm that represents our clients to discuss the best way to structure contracts. Finally, we all seem to understand that there is a lot of room for improvement. We need to do more of this so that we can create constructs that work for all parties. I am looking forward to continue working with them—and how often do you hear someone say that about lawyers.

Coming back from yet another conference where this topic was suspiciously absent, I thought I would write down this checklist for you to test whether you have the right engagement culture with your system integrator that benefits both organizations:

  • Are you using average daily rate (ADR) as indicator of productivity, value for money, etc.? +1 if you said No. You can read more here as to why ADR is a really bad measureall things being equal.

  • Do have a mechanism in place that allows your SI to share benefits with you when they improve through automation or other practices? +1 if you said Yes. You can’t really expect the SI to invest in new practices if there is no upside for them. And yes, there is the “morally right thing to do” argument, but let’s be fair, we all have economic targets and not discussing this with your SI to find a mutually agreeable answer is just making it a bit too easy for yourself.

  • Do you give your SI the “wiggle room” to improve and experiment and do you manage the process together? +1 if you said Yes. You want to know how much time the SI spends on improving things, on experimenting with new tools or practices. If they have just enough budget from you to do exactly what you ask them to do, then start asking for this innovation budget and manage it with them.

  • Do you celebrate or at least acknowledge failure of experiments? +1 if you said Yes. If you have an innovation budget, are you okay when the SI comes back and one of the improvements didn’t work? Or are you just accepting successful experiments? I think you see which answer aligns with a DevOps culture.

  • Do you know what success looks like for your SI? +1 if you said Yes. Understanding what the goals are that your SI needs to achieve is important. Not just financially but also for the people that work for the SI. Career progression and other aspects of HR should be aligned to make the relationship successful.

  • Do you deal with your SI directly? +1 if you said Yes. If there is another party like your procurement team or an external party involved then it’s likely that messages get misunderstood. And there is no guarantee the procurement teams know the best practices for DevOps vendor management. Are you discussing any potential hindrance in the contracting space directly with your SI counterpart?

A lot is being said about moving from vendor relationships to partnerships in the DevOps world. I hope this little self-test helped you find a few things you can work on with your systems integrator. I am living on the other side and often have to be creative to do the right thing for my customers. It is encouraging to me to see that many companies are at least aware of these challenges. If we can have open discussions about the items above, we will accelerate the adoption of DevOps together. I promise on the side of the SIs you will find partners that want to go the way with you. Find the right partner, be open about the aspects I described above and identify a common strategy going forward. I am looking forward to this journey together. Let’s go!

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