The right tool for the job

Ensuring powerful business outcomes

I was fascinated to read the State of DevOps 2019 report. It represents six years of research and data from over 31,000 professionals worldwide. Because of this, it provides unparalleled insight into the practices and capabilities that drive high performance. The results let us understand the practices that lead to excellence in technology delivery and which barriers remain to ensuring powerful business outcomes in the digital age. By following the advice in the report, teams can be empowered to become elite performers and stay ahead of their peers.

On reading this year’s report, it was easy to make a clear conclusion: the usability of tools affects productivity. This is perhaps not surprising. After all, it’s is not just bad workmen than blames their tools; ineffective and outdated tools can supress even the best developers.

The creation of elite performers

The proportion of those developers deemed to be elite performers has almost tripled to 20% in the past 12 months. This indicates that the industry is moving in the right direction and is not just learning from its mistakes but learning from what works best. The creation of elite performers is becoming a repeatable formula that any organisation can adopt and embrace. And for good reason. Compared to low performers, elite performers have 208 times more frequent code deployments and have 106 times faster lead time from commit to deploy. More importantly, perhaps, they are 2,604 times faster to recover from incidents.  

But what does it take to be at the top? The characteristics of elite performers are almost always the same. They release updates multiple times per day, this includes numerous small and what can be perceived as “boring” releases. They are highly agile too; the lead time for changes (from committing code to production) is generally less than a day. The outcome of this is that value is delivered faster to the business. Essential for any modern business with a desire to be agile.

It is worth remembering that these findings are not simply limited to 21st century high tech companies. Instead, organisations of all types and sizes, including highly regulated industries such as financial services and government, can achieve high levels of performance too.

A hurdle for developers

However, in many ways it has never been more difficult. This is because increasingly stringent regulations have meant that a layer of security is having to be added to ensure that they remain compliant. This is another hurdle for developers to navigate, and one that is getting harder and harder to achieve without the right tools. 

If we explore the technical practices that enable teams today to be successful, they generally revolve around Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery CI/CD. In a nutshell, this means that code commits should result in a build, with several automated tests being run before it flows into production. Developers rely on these tests being passed. Yet, if there is a failure in a test, there needs to be a fast feedback loop. However, once traditional security testing approaches are layered into this picture, the process is often quick to break down. 

Stifling their ability to execute

Modern businesses are working at a scale that we have simply not seen before. If you consider a development team releasing multiple times per day, they cannot tolerate the long scanning times associated with traditional static and dynamic security testing tools. Quite simply, it stifles their ability to execute. 

Some teams attempt to mitigate the problem by introducing incremental code scans or targeted dynamic scans, but these approaches require security experts to configure the tools and triage the results. This can cause costs to quickly spiral. 

Concentrate efforts in the right place

Traditional security tools can be overwhelming to developers and rarely work straight ‘off the peg’. Finding the right ones are imperative, especially when building complex systems and managing business-critical infrastructure; here, the work will be inherently more difficult.

The elite teams highlighted in the report were found more-often-than-not to be using tools that required minimal or no customisation. This meant that they could concentrate their efforts on more important activities such as new development, refactoring, design work and documentation.

A path to happier developers

Because technical practices that support software development and deployment are important to speed and stability, the usability of tools has a direct positive effect on productivity. It is time for legacy tools to be pushed to the side. A modern approach to application security that doesn’t require customisation and is designed with a developer’s 2019 needs in mind is required.

About the Author

David Archer is sales engineer at Contrast Security, the world’s leading provider of security solutions that enable software applications to protect themselves against cyberattacks. Prior to Contrast Security, Archer spent over 15 years at the coal face, leading successful agile teams and developing revolutionary apps.