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DevOps Enterprise Adoption at ITV with Tom Clark

| by Manuel Pais Follow 9 Followers on Aug 31, 2016. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

Tom Clark, head of common platform at ITV, a producer/broadcaster in the UK, gave a well received talk at the past DevOps Enterprise Summit 2016 in London, focusing on how their cloud platform has served as a medium for spreading DevOps practices and way of working across the entire organization, as well as how to grow a team of "smart and kind" engineers around it.

InfoQ reached out to Clark to dig deeper into how ITV's DevOps journey started, where it's at today, and what the main challenges have been.

InfoQ: Can you tell us a bit more about your current role?

Tom Clark: I’m responsible for managing the team of platform engineers who develop and operate the “Common Platform”, which hosts all of the applications developed through our modernisation programme.

InfoQ: How and when did you first hear about DevOps?

Clark: My first exposure to the term was in 2010 when I joined the original London DevOps mailing list. However, I first experienced the benefits of DevOps in 2007 when working as a developer at a startup called Trutap. The devs and sysadmins sat next to each other, which meant we learned about each others’ domains through osmosis - it was a really productive way to work. 

InfoQ: How did DevOps get started in your organization? What were the first steps taken and why?

Clark: Back in 2012 we were developing a version of the ITV Player (our VOD platform - now called the Hub) for Samsung TVs. As it was an MVP my colleague Robert Taylor thought it'd be an ideal opportunity to try a DevOps/product team approach rather than the functional silos we’d used previously. 

InfoQ: Was it mostly a grassroots movement? Or was there a top­-down understanding that DevOps was needed?

Clark: Grassroots, definitely. Rob's a "pioneer" in the Wardley sense - he had the idea and convinced the technology controller of the Online division to give it a try. It was a great success, which gave us the confidence to adopt it throughout the rest of the division. This gave us more evidence which helped convince the CTO that it was the right approach for the other technology divisions. 

InfoQ: Which DevOps initiatives are currently going on in your organization? Did they involve organizational changes?

Clark: ITV is currently in the middle of a huge modernisation programme to redevelop almost all of our legacy business systems (and I mean legacy - one’s in COBOL running on a virtualised mainframe!). The programme marks a switch from waterfall to agile, as well as development via long-lived “products” rather than short-lived projects.

ITV is divided into five main divisions: Studios, Commercial, Broadcast, Online and Shared Services, with a dedicated technology team attached to each. The modernisation programme affects each division, and until now they’ve been used to waterfall delivery. Because of this we were sure to take them on the agile “journey” so that they weren’t surprised when every feature wasn’t there on day one and when changes got delivered in days or weeks rather than months or even years!

InfoQ: Have you witnessed any culture shocks, for example from risk management and/or security/compliance teams?

Clark: Surprisingly not! Our change team sees automation/CI/CD/etc as a way to reduce risk and improve the signal-to-noise ratio in their world, allowing them to focus on “real” risk. It’s a similar story with our security team. Because everything we do is automated, audited and tracked it allows them to have confidence in the platform, meaning they can focus their efforts where it’s needed most. There are still some areas of the business that aren’t 100% comfortable with continuous deployment, but we’re gradually shortening their release interval to prove it’s safe with data. 

InfoQ: Which other cultural or technical challenges have DevOps initiatives faced in your organization?

Clark: We embed a platform engineer in each product team, which is hugely beneficial but obviously costs more than having a central shared team. It took some convincing, but the results speak for themselves.

InfoQ: What have been the greatest achievements and failures in your organization's DevOps journey so far?

Clark: A recent success that springs to mind was a new product team being able to get from “zero to beta” - i.e a working product into the business’ hands within eight weeks. Previously that might’ve taken a year.

So far, fingers crossed, there haven’t been any major failures… 

InfoQ: In both cases which were the most important factors from your point of view?

Clark: The success was driven by a number of factors. Collaboration was key - the business was very clear what they wanted in the MVP and we delivered exactly that - no more. From a platform perspective it benefited from the Common Platform “toolkit” that my core team develop and my embedded engineers use day-to-day. The reuse of standard “primitives” to build the platform has resulted in better consistency and higher quality across the board.

I think the reason we haven’t seen any major failures so far is because we prefer iterative change over big bang, and we like to “start small, think big”. We also consider ourselves to be “fast followers” rather than trying to keep up with the bleeding edge.

InfoQ: The "2016 State of DevOps Report" suggests that investing in DevOps and Continuous Delivery practices leads to faster, more reliable delivery of business value. Do you agree? And if so, have you come across concrete examples in your organization backing up that claim?

Clark: It’s hard not to agree! My “zero to beta” example above highlights the benefits, but essentially manual processes don’t scale - only through automation/CI/CD can we safely do the amount of change we need to do to deliver the modernisation programme.

InfoQ: What kind of metrics or feedback are you collecting in order to validate the value (or reduced waste) accrued through your DevOps transformation?

Clark: I meet with the owners of the products that I host (who I consider my customers) regularly to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help them deliver effectively. Anecdotally everyone is very happy with where we are, but I’m intending to start collecting hard data to quantify how much things have changed since we adopted DevOps.

InfoQ: What challenges and roadblocks lie ahead in ITV's DevOps journey?

Clark: Finding great people will always be a challenge. I always say that I hire two qualities: “smart” - the ability to adapt to change, and “kind” - the ability to fit into the team. Finding either is easy, but finding both is really tough. Also money isn’t enough any more - you’ve got to tick all of the boxes and keep ticking them.

 

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