CXO

How one company's DevOps success got them the green light to hire 1000 developers

Pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts utilized DevOps and an agile methodology to eliminate waste and improve its efficiency, leading to additional headcount as well.

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Image: iStockphoto/domoyega

The business concept of doing more with less, which dominated enterprise IT for many years, is being turned on its head in a major way at one pharmaceutical company. The leadership at Express Scripts recently green-lighted the hiring of 1,000 new developers based on the success the company has had with one key tech trend: DevOps.

The company got its start in the 1980s, relying heavily on mergers and acquisitions (M&A). And recently, the company began looking into DevOps to unify all of the disparate processes and technologies they had acquired and built up over the years.

Brian Gregory, director of IT at Express Scripts, said that the company saw value in the feedback loop created by DevOps, and the speed it enabled in deployments. So, it began piecing together its toolkit.

SEE: Riding the DevOps Revolution (ZDNet)

The company had a way to spin up and provision VMs quickly, Gregory said, so it began moving up the stack. The IT team decided on Pivotal Cloud Foundry as its core platform. It built its orchestration layer with automation server Jenkins, and another automation tool called Concourse, which bills itself as a "continuous thing doer." The IT team at Express Scripts also uses Artifactory to automatically download and compile their code, and it uses a Git repository for source control.

When it comes to utilizing new strategies that require sophisticated automation like DevOps, Gregory said one mistake a lot of people in the industry make is trying to build their own system. However, he said, that isn't always a good direction to go in.

"If I told you that you've got to figure out a way to get to work, what would you do? Would you build a car? You could, but if you could buy a car, then you could get to work faster and you could start delivering value," Gregory said.

If your organization is thinking about building out your own tools, you have to ask yourself what sort of differentiation and value it adds to your business, Gregory said. Building innovative tools is not a bad goal, but the tools must benefit the organization in a way that offsets your investment in them, he added.

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Once Express Scripts had its toolset in place and began utilizing continuous implementation and deployment strategies, it began to see distinct benefits. The steps from development to production were drastically reduced, and developers and ops staff both saw increased productivity.

By utilizing DevOps to more effectively leverage their existing developers, IT began to differentiate itself as a key value driver in the organization, Gregory said. Leadership at the company realized what the IT team could accomplish, and how they could further build the business by investing more in the team. This led to the decision to green-light the hiring of 1,000 developers. To put that into perspective, Express Scripts has around 30,000 employees total, including doctors and other healthcare providers, Gregory said. Still, it's quite a massive investment on behalf of the company.

"I started two and a half years ago, and I would've told you that would never have happened then—I would have said we would have been lucky to get 100," Gregory said. "But, it's really taken off."

One of the lessons that the company has learned on its DevOps journey is that while the philosophy itself builds a bridge between ops and development, it also extends that bridge to the company's business partners, Gregory said. This means that IT has to work hard to understand the business and its expectations, Gregory said, and all technical teams must be open to feedback so they can properly course correct.

"You're not going to hit the mark on day one, nobody does that. It's what you learn when you fail or you learn in that process that's so important," Gregory said. "That's where the real value is."

It is also essential that companies find the right people to champion their DevOps deployment. For starters, Gregory said that you want people who are risk takers and aren't afraid to fail. You also need leaders who will empower others.

DevOps, in general, is going to be a difficult transition for every organization because there's a "mindset shift" involved, Gregory said. Some people won't understand the mission at first, and that is OK. The key is to guide people along at their own pace, and get everyone moving in the same direction, he said.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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