Should Your Agency Adopt DevOps?


It’s not you; the world actually seems to be turning faster. Ubiquitous access to digital content has created a demand for faster and faster services. Driven by the consumer, these changes have pushed agencies to respond faster to clients and deploy marketing, PR and communications services at a pace like never before. The laws of digital nature require strategies and campaigns to pivot on a dime with the ever-changing demands of the end consumer and clients.

Today, the primary responsibility of most marketing agencies has been the inbound marketing framework that centers everything around the consumer and their specific needs. To do it well, the industry has entire platforms available to help automate and deliver even the most complex services to clients at high velocity. Agency tool sets grow every day through more APIs, workflows and the speed of data. Many of us, through no planned intent, have ended up in the world of providing software and development services in order to provide a full range of digital services. All of a sudden, our agencies have become just as much about the software as they are about the end deliverable.

But this requires the development needs of campaigns to be equally fast while maintaining or improving quality. If there’s a line of code that’s broken in your client’s branded app, you need that fixed now — not in weeks or even days. The speed of the technology we use is absolutely limiting the speed at which our agencies can adapt to customer and consumer needs.

Luckily, there’s a solution for that: DevOps. There are a lot of definitions, but basically, DevOps is the restructuring of software or code delivery within an organization to be as fast, efficient, automated and reliable as possible. As our agency struggled to meet our clients’ high-velocity demands, we began a massive company infrastructure upgrade to rebuild the highway that our developers and server/hosting teams drive on. Our goal was to build stronger railings on the highway to keep developers from crashing off course while driving at high speed. The undertaking resulted in the inadvertent adoption of DevOps — an ethos that we’ve now come to evangelize.

A large number of tools, dogmas and business processes have been built to support the DevOps mission — everything from continuous improvement (CI) or continuous delivery (CD), deployment and cloud-based technology, to containerization, serverless infrastructure and even agile. This is all stuff you’ve probably heard of by now at a conference or from an industry colleague. You might even be doing some of it unknowingly.

Software companies and some enterprise-level agencies are already implementing DevOps, but it has left agencies with 10-100 developers in a really hard spot. For a while, enterprise-level DevOps tools and methodologies were only available to the enterprise. With today’s availability of best practice open-source applications, software as a service (Saas) and platform as a service (PaaS), it’s become a lot more viable for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) to implement high-velocity development to meet the technical requirements of their clients’ marketing needs.

But DevOps is more than just a tool set. It requires a full set of business processes and the correct approach, culture and organizational buy-in, in addition to the technology infrastructure. The good thing is that you might already have some of the pieces of the puzzle, such as code repositories like GitHub, project management tools like Asana or Accelo, or parts of a scalable cloud infrastructure.

DevOps needs a set of processes (or operating system) to unlock its full potential. First, figure out if you can benefit from adopting DevOps:

• Does your agency have five or more developers working on internal and external web-based platforms?

• Do you also manage hosting (either yourself or via SaaS) and other application program interface (API) or integration requirements internally?

• Are there a lot of process blockers keeping developers and hosting working well together?

• Does your agency have client marketing needs that have seemingly higher-velocity delivery requirements that can’t be met by the in-house and/or hybrid agency outsourced team?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider putting DevOps high on your priority list. It’s going to take 18-24 months to implement it right, even with the best intentions and a skilled team. You may not be a software company, but if you have a team of developers that bring the digital part of your services to life, you’re going to need DevOps to stay relevant and competitive.

The next steps for implementation include the following:

• Formulate an adoption strategy, and get leadership buy-in on the structural and business process requirements. Build workflows and charts to help you visualize the big-picture structure down to the macro level of a day in the life of a new line of code. As you run through the processes and workflows the first few times, be ready to adjust, diagnose and address roadblocks.

• Identify the tool set and then test, refine and optimize it before making it the gold standard to the rest of the organization. It is a work in progress until you say otherwise and needs to be treated as such. One of the key success factors to your tool set will be automation and integration, so identify tools that work with some of your existing systems. Pick a deployment tool that works with something you’re familiar with.

• With a stable tool set, you can begin to implement and enforce the new processes and way of doing things. Full employee trust in the tool set will unlock buy-in at all levels.

• Most of all, adopt a plan and pipeline that works for your organizational needs. You are encouraged to take all the best parts of different systems to make something that works for you.

Once paired with your high-velocity agency services, DevOps will allow you to respond faster to client needs and adapt to the changing landscape without the execution of technical projects slowing your agency down.

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