DevOps is not a fad. It’s not what small companies do, or what that lady down the hall does to route around the CIO. DevOps, in short, is what you need to be doing.

That is, if you have anything to do with mobile.

Some have described DevOps as “a culture for continuous delivery of IT services,” and that’s true. But what descriptions like these don’t explain is why DevOps has become mandatory, and not merely a clever way of getting stuff done. The answer, as Forrester outlines in a new research brief (“DevOps: Where’s the Heat?“), is mobile.

More and faster

The pace of technological innovation has dramatically accelerated over the past 100 years, and the confluence of the web and mobile devices has set us into hyperdrive. Consumers dump their phones for the latest and greatest every two years, compared to a much slower desktop refresh rate, and we cycle through apps (and app updates) even faster.

While it used to be good enough to drop a massive release of Windows every few years, or even an annual upgrade on Quicken, today’s consumer expects vendors to be constantly improving software. This, in turn, has pushed enterprise IT to try to keep pace, as consumers complain that the “enterprise grade” software and hardware traditionally foisted upon them is a pale shade of what they can download for free or buy for cheap.

To keep up, enterprises increasingly turn to DevOps.

Following Forrester, DevOps is “a set of practices and cultural changes — supported by the right tools — that creates an automated software delivery pipeline, enabling organizations to win, serve, and retain… consumers.” It is, in other words, a way of matching the pace of development to the pace of heightened expectations.

Expectations driven by the frenetic pace of mobile.

Some have characterized mobile as a cloud thing. Traditional IT, the thinking runs, are mired in the data center and its constraints while DevOps engineers are born in the cloud. However, the cloud is a means, not an end, to DevOps. And that end is delivering against mobile expectations.

Others, including myself, have talked about the impact of open source on driving DevOps. Yes, open source enables DevOps, because it conditions developers to expect instant gratification (“I need, I download”). Studies by Puppet Labs have traced this correlation between open source and DevOps persuasively.

But, again, open source is just a means of delivering against the expectations created by mobile computing.

Blame it on mobile

By pulling its research data on developer adoption of continuous delivery practices, infrastructure trends (i.e., the move to cloud architectures), global mobility data, and DevOps survey data, Forrester has managed to map DevOps adoption by industry to see where mobile is making the biggest impact on how we build apps.

Or, as the research concludes, “Highly competitive industries ruled by empowered consumers with low costs of switching have the highest levels of DevOps adoption.”

Those industries most feeling the DevOps “heat,” according to Forrester, are as follows:

  1. Professional services (including advertising, consulting, marketing, facilities support, accounting, and office administrative services) – “They are feeling the heat because they need to differentiate their customer experience from their competitors. One way is through the services and corresponding applications they provide.”
  2. Financial services
  3. Retail
  4. Telecom
  5. Consumer products

In each case, these industries turn to DevOps to significantly increase the pace of software development as they try to differentiate themselves against competitors in a rush to meet mobile demands.

With all this in mind, the answer to “should I figure this DevOps thing out?” closely correlates to how much of an impact mobile will have on your business. Given that some estimates peg mobile phone adoption at 90% of the world’s population (over the age of six) by 2020, it’s hard to imagine many industries that can afford to take a pass on mobile.

Which means, of course, that you can’t afford to not figure out DevOps.

This will likely change the kind of database you use and the programming languages you know. It means you’re going to have to get comfortable with public cloud computing. And it suggests that you’re going to need to reorganize your traditional IT department to embrace the cultural and organizational shifts that DevOps demands.

Because if you don’t, you’re toast.