DevOps at SMBs: Three Important Considerations that Differ from Large Enterprises

I recently started a new program called Coffee with Digital Trailblazers on LinkedIn. We typically meet on Fridays at 11am ET and discuss a selected topic on leading digital transformation. Two weeks ago, we chatted about how to become a Digital Trailblazer, and this past week we discussed DevOps in SMBs and nontech companies.

DevOps for SMB: Isaac Sacolick Simplifies

Note: Because of my travel and holiday schedule, the next episode of Coffee with Digital Trailblazer is on Tuesday, November 22 at 11am, where we’ll discuss the topic: Developing Your Business Acumen. You can also subscribe to the Coffee with Digital Trailblazer Page to find the link to the next episode.

I’ve written about how SMBs are different when driving digital transformation compared to tech companies and large enterprises. Generally, SMBs have similar challenges and must develop technology advantages versus competitors, improve customer experiences, become more data-driven, innovate digital offerings, reduce tech debt, and secure the business – but without the same budget, skills, and process maturity found at many tech and large enterprises.

SMBs must transform, but with different tools, simplified processes, faster decision-making, strategic partnerships, and great leadership.

I was joined on stage by two amazing expert colleagues and dear friends, Joanne Friedman and Sarbjeet Johal, and we discussed insights for SMBs looking to mature DevOps practices. Here’s a summary.

Identify DevOps practices that quickly demonstrate business value

CI/CD and automating deployments get the lion’s share of attention on DevOps practices because it helps tech companies and enterprises deploy apps more frequently, efficiently, and reliably. That’s because tech companies and enterprises have the resources to develop cloud-native (and proprietary) microservices, applications, and other tech capabilities.

But SMBs? They’re developing and modernizing many more apps than a decade ago, but not always in proprietary code. Many SMBs will look to configure SaaS, integrate with iPaaS, leverage low-code tools, and deploy no-code to citizen developers as alternatives and often better options than developing proprietary software.

Joanne told the story of a manufacturing client that implemented infrastructure as code (IaC) as their first DevOps practice. SMBs looking to move apps to public clouds have many benefits by automating the infrastructure rather than using manual and often poorly documented procedures.

The key lesson is that SMBs should seek the DevOps practice that yields the greatest benefits. IaC, monitoring, AIOps, GitOps, or another DevOps discipline may be a better first step than CI/CD.  

DIY DevOps or seek an MSP? SMBs target sustainable DevOps 

Once one or more  DevOps practices are prioritized, SMBs can either build the skills and best practices internally or seek outside help. Sarbjeet suggested that for some of the more technical areas around supporting cloud infrastructures, configuring Kubernetes clusters, or managing security, SMBs may be better off with a managed service provider (MSP).

Sure, SMBs can hire or train for these skills, but there’s considerable knowledge needed in implementing architectural best practices. If the configuration requires ongoing support and is likely to change, SMBs may achieve results faster and have lower ongoing costs by partnering rather than using a do-it-yourself approach. 

Another reason to consider MSPs is the difficulty of retaining engineering talent. Whereas enterprises can have a team of engineers focused on any DevOps practice area, that’s less likely in SMBs. If only one or just a few engineers understand how to debug a CI/CD pipeline, update an IaC script, or add new alerts to a monitoring tool, then that’s a risk SMBs should address early.

Sustainable DevOps implies that lifecycle management is considered early in the engineering process. Tech teams at SMBs avoid fancy tools or complex implementations, knowing that even if they successfully deploy them, they will be hard to maintain. A minimally viable solution is more important than a robust, generalized, and highly extendable implementation.

Research DevOps tech fit for SMB adoption

SMBs may not want to embrace top quadrants, waves, and ratings from analyst firms that primarily target large enterprises. SMB leaders must go deeper into the ratings and review which companies of similar industry, size, and complexity have short and long-term success implementing solutions under consideration.

Some gotchas:

  • Platforms that require significant configuration and programming 
  • Tech that requires significant training before getting started or requires professional services
  • Pricing that’s out of reach for SMBs or requires significant scale for reasonable discounts
  • Roadmaps that target large enterprise complexities that have little value to SMBs
  • User experiences that are too cumbersome for SMBs with less time to waste

So yes, DevOps is important for SMBs, but the roadmap, tools, and practices will likely differ from strategies that large enterprises employ.

Coffee with Digital Trailblazers

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.