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DevOps in SAP: Interpublic Group’s journey to success

How do you bring DevOps to SAP? We share IPG’s story, and the key factors in its success.

The world of advertising is feeling the effects of digital disruption more than most. Traditional media is delivered directly online, new business practices are making advertising harder (Apple’s anti-tracking features have had a significant impact on the industry) and growing data concerns are putting pressure on governments to tighten regulations.

Established advertising and marketing firms must be able to adapt at high speed to keep up. 

In response to these pressures Interpublic Group (IPG), one of the world’s leading advertising and marketing services companies, adopted a DevOps approach to its SAP projects as a way to help increase the pace of change and support an approach to marketing “built on human values, fuelled by data and driven by creativity”.

In a joint webinar with Orhan Ozalp, Executive Director, Global SAP Solutions at IPG, we asked: what drove IPG to adopt DevOps, and what does Ozalp consider the key factors in IPG’s success?

Why adopt DevOps for SAP?

IPG acts as an umbrella company for a diverse range of brands, with overall responsibility for 54,000 employees across more than 90 operating units in 100 countries. The central organization provides central resources – like IT – that all these companies need. But with an SAP environment that caters to the demands and local requirements of 40,000 users, giving every brand what they need, when they need it certainly isn’t easy.

The team at IPG quickly overcame lingering reservations about the appropriateness of DevOps as an approach in SAP, becoming convinced that DevOps’ continuous cycle and iterative feedback loops were the best way to support subsidiary agencies safely and at speed.

Orhan Ozalp notes, “We investigated different methodologies and the one that we really liked was DevOps because there was a continuous cycle and a feedback loop, and we felt that with the business sponsorship, we could give it a shot.”

IPG’s journey to DevOps

The shift to DevOps would involve changing both tools and perceptions—from the top down and the bottom up. To lay the groundwork for change, Ozalp showed business leaders how DevOps could deliver continuous innovation to the business without increasing costs or risk of disruption.

After securing stakeholder buy-in, the next task was to find development teams willing to adapt Scrum and DevOps principles – and work on a trial project using the new approach.

Five key factors behind IPG’s DevOps success

Since that trial – and subsequent successes – IPG has embraced and developed a DevOps approach to SAP projects. When asked how, Ozalp identifies five key factors that need to be considered:

1. Backlog

DevOps involves a high volume of separate tasks that need to be continuously managed and reprioritized. At IPG all tasks are put into a single repository (Jira), offering a consolidated, clean pipeline of work. With all its requests in one tool, IPG’s IT leaders can continuously rank stories to make sure the most important progress.

2. Collaboration and organizational effectiveness

IPG has created a culture where cross-functional development teams are empowered to manage themselves. Team members continuously share feedback to help eliminate unnecessary rework.

3. Release on demand

Before they adopted ActiveControl as part of a DevOps approach, IPG deployed two releases into their SAP production systems each year. Now the team deploys every week. Changes can be released almost as soon as they’re ready, which means end users get what they need much sooner.

4. Monitoring

In a DevOps approach to SAP, production systems change far more frequently. For IPG, that meant it needed a way to regularly monitor its systems. It uses a combination of data and impact analysis and solution manager technical monitoring to proactively respond to potential performance issues before they affect end-users.

5. Continuous improvement driven by data

Building on its strong monitoring processes, IPG was able to use the data it collected from its systems to feedback into its DevOps loop—and improve each development stage over time. By using data analysis tools like Splunk, IPG turns monitoring data into meaningful insights to ensure its DevOps approach becomes faster and more productive with every project.

DevOps needs mature processes—and mature tools

These five factors have been crucial in helping IPG achieve DevOps success in SAP but underlying them all is a powerful toolchain that includes tools like BMC Helix (formerly Remedy), Atlassian Jira, Microsoft Teams, Micro Focus Quality Center, Splunk, ActiveControl from Basis Technologies, and more. As Ozalp observes, “It’s very difficult to do any DevOps or agile without [a robust] toolchain.”

The business impact of DevOps

Adopting DevOps practices and technologies in SAP enabled IPG to respond quickly to the constantly evolving needs of the business in a market experiencing a high level of digital disruption. Instead of waiting months to bring value to the business, it’s now delivered as soon as it’s ready. And the rigor of advanced analysis, controls and automation combined with the continuous feedback loop innate in DevOps methodologies virtually eliminates the risk of business disruption.

Watch the webinar to learn more

The journey to DevOps in SAP can be complex, but with the right approach and the right solutions, it can deliver significant value across the business.

We’ve covered the basics of IPG’s approach in this blog, but you can learn more about its DevOps tools, the stages of the journey, and the results delivered in our on-demand webinar: Supporting a DevOps Journey at IPG. Watch the on-demand webinar.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Nov. 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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