March 4, 2020

Feeling DevOps Tool Fatigue? Here’s the Cure

Release orchestration company XebiaLabs recently announced plans to merge with CollabNet VersionOne, a provider for agile planning and collaborative development. The new joint solution combines “CollabNet’s upstream agile planning and enterprise version control functionality with XebiaLabs’ downstream release orchestration and deployment automation capabilities to create an agile, end-to-end DevOps platform for enterprises.”

Mergers like this one are something the market can expect to see more of in the future as companies continue to struggle with tool fatigue and require solutions with greater integration and breadth within the DevOps lifecycle. It’s not the first time a merger like this has occurred, and it certainly won’t be the last. Back in April of 2019, CloudBees announced its acquisition of Electric Cloud for the purpose of further building out its software delivery management platform.

Tool fatigue occurs when there is a surplus of tools in use, and said tools don’t seamlessly integrate with the rest of the company’s toolchain. It’s an all-too-common problem that reduces efficiency for organizations and can cause a slew of other issues.

Understanding what tool fatigue is, how to determine when it’s affecting an organization, and how to prevent it, can help to save time, propel projects forward, and keep ROI high.

Tool fatigue: How did it come about?

With more tools available to development teams than ever before, individuals can pick and choose from a variety of options when it comes to continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD), build tools, and more.

However, when it comes time for DevOps to horizontally integrate their software development pipeline, these disparate tools—some of which may be third-party products, or homegrown—must integrate. More often than not, this process is arduous at best and impossible at worst, sometimes even to the point of causing teams to bypass the DevOps process entirely.

Solutions like the merger of XebiaLabs and CollabNet VersionOne will aim to combat this challenge through consolidation, but the key to success will be in how they handle integration and incremental innovation.

How tool fatigue affects organizations

Tool fatigue creates two main problems for companies. First, it makes it harder to achieve an acceptable ROI. Bringing several products together to work in unison provides less value than when these products are used individually for their specific purposes.

Second, it may keep teams from achieving an optimal level of automation. Tool fatigue can influence companies to maintain inefficient or manual processes because integration is too much of a hassle, or simply not possible.

Organizations dealing with tool fatigue sometimes opt out of DevOps altogether, causing them to miss out on a plethora of benefits—increased speed, enhanced quality of work, higher collaboration, etc. Thankfully, new best-of-breed solutions are working to eliminate tool fatigue.

Best-of-breed solutions: Providing value in the age of tool fatigue

Best-of-breed tools come to market when there’s a unique job to be done, and technology is built to perform that specific task better than any other product on the market. ROI is generally quite high for these niche products right out of the gate and tapers off over time (particularly in a DevOps environment) as integration takes place.

The number one requirement for a solution to be considered best-of-breed is its ability to integrate with the rest of a company’s toolchain. These tools require open technology and APIs to integrate into the customer’s ecosystem seamlessly so that they don’t contribute to tool fatigue.

For example, imagine a database team finds a great product for doing a particular function (job A-B). The tool works well and is tactical, but then the database administration team is asked to integrate job A-B with job A-B through E. If their tool won’t integrate easily within the pipeline, or they need to add manual processes to get the job done, ROI begins to diminish. If that tool was best-of-breed and had great integration capabilities, they would be able to continue to use it and achieve the desired ROI.

This example goes to show that single-purpose solutions are often useful until they need to be used within a system. If integration proves difficult, or impossible, the tool ceases to function and provide value.

Another situation that often occurs is when a team has modernized their entire toolchain, save for one specific tool. This can bring down productivity and ROI for the whole organization because teams then need to manually integrate it with the rest of the DevOps toolchain.

Zeroing in on tool fatigue: When to let go and standardize

Organizations wanting to operate optimally and steer clear of tool fatigue first need to determine where it’s happening within their organizations. To do this, teams can ask themselves:

  • Where is the slowest part of the DevOps toolchain?
  • Where are the most errors in the toolchain?
  • Where are the most manual handoffs in the toolchain?

Once a team has identified where their issues lie, they can employ two basic strategies to eliminate tool fatigue:

  1. Call for a cross-functional team meeting including all of the stakeholders of a specific release cycle or pipeline for an application. Have all team members lay their cards on the table in terms of what tools they’re using and which they think are absolutely essential. From there, teams can work to determine where friction is occurring between tools, and have everyone collaborate to figure out what the best solution is for moving past it.
  2. Look for standardization. According to a new report from Gartner, many organizations have up to 25 individual toolchains. Teams should look for opportunities where they can consolidate their toolchain to eliminate tool fatigue. They won’t be able to whittle it down to just one, but it should certainly be under 25.

By getting familiar with the causes of tool fatigue, and its adverse effects on the toolchain, development teams can take direct steps toward eliminating it within their organization. Additionally, as the need for solutions to fight tool fatigue continues to grow, the market will likely see more consolidation among software vendors, as with the case of XebiaLabs and CollabNet VersionOne. Once free from tool fatigue, development teams gain the ability to enhance automation within their organization and reap the many benefits of DevOps.

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