Chapter 1. Introduction
In recent years, there has been a movement within organizations to become much more collaborative and open when it comes to communicating about efforts, concerns, and projects, especially across multiple teams and departments. When organizations place a high focus on sharing more about what takes place throughout the day in an environment that is accessible by all, higher efficiencies can be achieved in a number of areas. Finding ways to increase the speed and velocity of delivering software and services to end users is of the utmost importance to all modern IT departments, but finding new ways to accomplish our daily tasks more efficiently is something all departments within an organization are examining.
Popular group chat tools such as Slack and HipChat have allowed for greater transparency about what goes on throughout the day within teams and organizations. By engaging in conversations in a shared space where others can be part of the discussion, greater awareness and efficiencies are provided to a larger part of the team. Important information and discussions are shared and made available across entire teams and organizations. Rather than artificially blackboxing that information in one-on-one emails or instant messages, it is disseminated to others, allowing for well-informed and high-performing teams to take shape, as well as helping to drive innovation within the company.
The goal of this report is to outline the benefits of ChatOps, as well as concerns organizations and teams should consider as they begin to roll out their own ChatOps efforts. I’ll touch on some of the existing technology available today as well as how teams are using persistent group chat, third-party (native) chat integrations, and chatbots to provide even more functionality and capabilities for teams managing varying aspects of IT operations and beyond.
Those who are considering their own ChatOps journeys and looking to consume a high-level rundown of what is necessary to begin should find the contents of this text a good starting point. Very little of the text will be technical in nature. The important concepts of ChatOps are not difficult to understand, nor are they unique to any specific tool, framework, or programming language.
Facilitating a culture of increased sharing, shortened feedback loops, automation of tasks, and cross-functional teams, ChatOps has been central to many organizations as they begin to evolve toward a DevOps model.
Throughout the report, I’ll cover some of the key concepts and technologies that have emerged in recent years, in addition to the challenges that one must consider. These ideas will set the stage for you and your team or organization to begin planning out your own ChatOps efforts, as well as providing the language needed to discuss the potential benefits and concerns with leadership.
What’s in the Report
I think it’s important to point out that a ChatOps approach requires a change in your company’s culture. I want to start off by discussing that specific challenge in Chapter 2. By understanding the key benefits associated with ChatOps, you and your team will begin to find the language to use with senior management to win their endorsement. Examining benefits such as increased collaboration, dissolving blackboxed conversations, and creating high-performing and cross-functional teams will be the primary focus of Chapters 3 and 4. Then we will take a look at some of the common use cases of ChatOps and the technology behind them in Chapters 5, 6, and 7. We’ll round out the report by discussing more of the nuanced topics behind ChatOps in Chapters 8 through 15. Security concerns, managing a good “signal-to-noise” ratio, and what to think about when relying on third-party chat services are just a few of the things we’ll take a closer look at.
What’s Not in the Report
The majority of this report focuses on the “why” of ChatOps. Because so much of the “how” depends on the technology you select, I won’t be covering technical aspects such as hosting and configuring any of the group chat tools or chatbots mentioned in the coming chapters. The step-by-step procedures vary from tool to tool and are beyond the scope of this report. Getting everything up and running shouldn’t be much of a challenge, but fortunately every tool that I highlight in Chapter 6 has great documentation and a growing community to leverage for technical assistance if you run into problems.
At VictorOps, I have led the adoption efforts of ChatOps internally. For more than two years, the underlying concepts have often been at the forefront of my responsibilities and efforts. Users of our “on-call and incident management service” are early adopters of ChatOps, whether they are aware of the concept or not. Acknowledging, triaging, investigating, and resolving incidents from the VictorOps interface or from a group chat tool via an API is a perfect use case of ChatOps. Sharing information, taking action to address service disruptions, and continuously improving are the byproducts and are why I’ve grown passionate about the topic of ChatOps.
My intent is that by the completion of this report you’ll have a really good starting point to begin your own ChatOps journey and explore the new levels of efficiency and other benefits it can offer your team, your organization, and the products and services you provide.