Solving problems in the IT industry

Developers who blame errors on systems administrators and systems administrators who blame the same mistakes on developers--a classic problem in the IT industry. Now, researchers from the University of Borås together with businesses have found solutions for the two groups to meet and work together as part of the major research project Data-Driven Innovation.

Hannes Göbel, Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Borås, runs the project Digital Platforms for Service Innovation together with his colleague Peter Rittgen, Professor. Hannes Göbel tells us that the movement DevOps has come to play a bigger role in the IT industry in recent years. The name is a merging of the two concepts, developers and operations, and the movement is largely about improving collaboration between the two professions. However, as the trend grows and more businesses latch on, it has become apparent that there is no clear definition of what DevOps really means, making it difficult for companies to implement it in their operations.

The project Data-Driven Innovation: algorithms, platforms and ecosystems is a four-year project funded by The Knowledge Foundation. Thirteen companies co-finance the project by giving employees the working time and giving researchers access to data.

Digital Platforms for Service Innovation is one of three sub-projects. The launch of Digital Platforms for Service Innovation consists of Hannes Göbel and Peter Rittgen (sub-project leader), Lu Cao and Stefan Cronholm. The companies that are partners in the subproject are Volvo Cars, TeliaCompany, Evry, Sofigate, Illumineight, TeliaCompany, Ericsson, and  SSO Consulting.

Other sub-projects are Software Algorithms for Data Analysis and ECOSTRAT.

"Defining DevOps was the first thing we worked on in the project, and we can now see that it consists of several different areas. Often, the organisation needs to change in order to achieve a culture of cooperation, and this isn't something that can be accomplished quickly. What routines, for example, should be set up to achieve cultural change? How can companies work with automation and Lean? And what are the problems that need to be solved jointly across professional boundaries? It's here we have developed a digital tool that will help businesses to address these issues," says Hannes Göbel.

Important issues identified

In the project, the researchers have collaborated with representatives from several different companies, and thus been able to identify areas where it is common for the two professions not to have a consensus on what is needed for the development of the business. Based on that knowledge, they have developed a wide range of questions and statements that the developers and systems administrators need to answer together, building around them a digital platform.

When they work with the tool, both occupational groups first go through the questions separately. When they then meet up, the tool clearly shows areas where the groups' images of the business differ. With such a basis, they can quickly move on to identifying the most critical areas and focus on solving the problems or challenges there, according to Hannes Göbel.

"There's usually about five or six questions and statements that both developers and systems administrators think is important, and once they have identified these, the solutions can often be quite simple. Sometimes there are several solutions to the same problem, and then there is a function in the tool in which they can evaluate which solutions are best based on efficiency, value, and risks."

Can help more than just DevOps

As a researcher, Hannes Göbel sees that the tools they have developed could be useful in many different contexts, not just regarding the concerns of developers and systems administrators in the IT industry.

"What is specific to the IT industry and embedded in the system are the questions we have developed for the specific DevOps context. But with other questions, the tool could be used in completely different contexts. It's really about general organisational problems and getting people to communicate."

He tells how they have been able to see that the tool has helped those companies that have tried it. In a short time, they have been able to move from working in separate "silos" to jointly working on identifying and prioritising problems, and then finding and prioritising solutions to them.

"Within the IT industry and IT-related research, we work a lot on identifying and managing data; through this research project, we have simply found a way to make use of all the data people have individually and transform it into information that makes it is possible to make better decisions," he concludes.

More about the project Data-Driven Innovation

To the project's webpage

Trust is the name of the game for collaborative research

Hannes Göbel's research profile

Text and photo: Helen Rosenberg