The Business of IT Blog

ChatOps: An Introduction & Beginner’s Guide

Muhammad Raza
4 minute read
Muhammad Raza

When we talk about silos and barriers between development, operations and customer support personnel, organizations cite the lack of situational awareness as a primary concern. Despite the availability of a vast set of collaboration and communication platforms, the missing information and dependence on manual efforts to facilitate cross-departmental workflows prevents Devs, Ops and support staff to collaborate effectively.

This is precisely a problem that ChatOps aims to solve.

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ChatOps – the Collaboration Model

ChatOps refers to a collaboration model that brings the communication and execution of software development and operational tasks within conversations on a common digital platform. It is a system that integrates the personnel, the existing work and technologies, processes and communications into a unified conversational environment. It is a communication structure that allows users to execute actions via internal robots on tools that are integrated within the communication platform. Essentially, the communication platform then works as shared command line interface or execution console for commands based on context shared during the conversations. The chatbots are configurable through custom scripts and plugins to automate tasks. The collaboration and communication takes place in response to the operational tasks that are tracked and visible within the communication platform. Users don’t need to communicate the status or context of the operational tasks with their team members because the information is already visible in the chatroom. Every member receives the shared context of the situation, makes decisions and takes actions accordingly. The progress is logged within the communication platform and the progress is visible in real-time, thereby eliminating the silos and barriers between team members as well as cross-functional departments working on the same projects.

As much as ChatOps involves the introduction of an intelligent and configurable chatbot that is integrated with external tools to automate operational tasks, effectiveness of ChatOps is equally dependent upon a cultural change for the technology adoption. Users from across the hierarchal spectrum, departments, functions and teams must embrace the mechanism that involves real-time collaboration and progress on mutual project responsibilities. It also requires trust in the communication technology to be accepted as a gateway to operational features that are previously only open to individual users in siloed console environments. Additional investments in technologies may be required to connect and integrate the distributed siloed tools in secure collaboration environments. Finally, humor may emerge as an integral part of the conversation regarding operational tasks that were previously communicated via formal email and direct message statements. Since the project progress is carefully tracked within the communication console, the chatroom doesn’t turn into a war-room. All necessary information is documented, updated and accessible to the team members in real-time, and the possibility of debates heating up to the point of no-return becomes less likely.

So Why ChatOps?

1. Automation

: Conversations can be designed to trigger actions automatically. Instead of forcing every team member to maintain a repository of manual scripts, the code can be stored and automated in a well-documented and centralized communication platform. The chatbot can be configured to pick up on commands in real-time, execute actions and update the console to keep every team member on the same page. The error-prone practice of manual code execution and progress tracking is replaced with effective automation capabilities of intelligent chatbots. As a result, users save the time and hassle on executing repetitive manual operations tasks as they move toward collaborative and effective team-work.

2. Contextual Collaboration

: Silos are created when team members fail to communicate information in the right context. Considering the proliferation of tooling and complex processes involved in software development and IT operations, it becomes a difficult task to extract and present accurate context with every conversation. Instead of relying on multiple channels to receive contextual notifications and manually connecting the dots to make sense of the available information, ChatOps introduces information within an always available or up-to-date context. This allows users to communicate constructive, concrete and information-driven feedback and actions between other users without relying on assumptions.

3. Workplace Transparency

: Honest and transparent communication is critical in incident management situations. In tense situations, organizations struggle to prevent the blame-game among the employees and encourage them to collaborate effectively. In situations when team members are open and honest in their communications, even the correct and straightforward statements such as “it works on my machine” do no favor to progress a development project. ChatOps allows the conversations to align with the reality of the project situations. If a build or feature is running on one system and not on others, the default reaction of blaming other users is replaced by collaborative efforts to identifying the issues that prevent consistent results across all users and machines. This practice is easier when the associate information is accessible via a centralized and common communication platform.

4. Productivity

: ChatOps supports collaboration between distributed teams by making contextual information available to all users in real-time. Without a common platform to visualize and discuss project progress, users with limited access to siloed tools and technology processes may not be able to communicate the necessary information. Since ChatOps operates as an automated environment to execute commands and trigger actions, users no longer have to rely on time-consuming manual scripts to perform the same actions. The time savings translate into convenience and availability to spend efforts on more meaningful job tasks instead.

5. Employee Engagement

: When all users are on the same page, it becomes easier for everyone to contribute to the project and discussions. Information-driven collaboration removes the bottleneck and delays in access to the right information to perform the appropriate actions. Users gain confidence as the build-measure-learn-iterate process keeps everyone informed regarding potential issues during the development lifecycle or project progress. And since users are relying on intelligent bots to visit accurate information, the psychological barrier in requesting and reminding other team members for appropriate information is naturally removed. Ultimately, team members can communicate on more important matters such as devising strategies and making collective decisions, instead of requesting data and communicating incomplete information.

From a security and compliance perspective, ChatOps offers the added advantage of documenting IT Ops tasks and establishing a communication mechanism for proactive issue resolution. While chatbots and centralized communication platforms have existed for years to ensure these benefits to an extent, ChatOps promises the philosophy and culture of information sharing that is designed to eliminate the barriers between siloed Devs, Ops and IT Support environments.

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Muhammad Raza

Muhammad Raza

Muhammad Raza is a Stockholm-based technology consultant working with leading startups and Fortune 500 firms on thought leadership branding projects across DevOps, Cloud, Security and IoT.