Why you need ChatOps: Key benefits

by Bill Doerrfeld

As the rate at which software is deployed and updated continues to accelerate, teams are looking for new ways to streamline their approach to DevOps and continuous delivery. ChatOps directly supports this goal by enabling actions within a specific, automated context through a single chat interface. ChatOps drives productivity, and increases visibility for your entire software team. 

The practice yields many benefits. Here are just a few of the benefits of ChatOps.

It enables an asynchronous, distributed workforce

The benefits of asynchronous communication via ChatOps are obvious when you consider the needs of an internationally distributed company. With over 200 employees across 103 cities, GitHub is an apt case study.

"We have to be very deliberate and thoughtful about how we communicate, and we try to use chat as a way to bridge that," said Mark Imbriaco, director, platform architecture at Pivotal Inc. In his previous role as an operations engineer at GitHub, he gave an in-depth presentation a few years back about how GitHub used ChatOps, in his words, as "the primary mechanism that we use to operate software better, together." 

It centralizes your operational apps

Your team is probably already spending too much time dealing with an ever-increasing list of tools: GitHub, PagerDuty, Heroku, Trello, CircleCI, Mailchimp, and so on. With a few lightweight links, ChatOps unites all of your tools into a single, centralized workflow that eliminates time wasted with screen-switching and logging in.

It speeds incident resolution

ChatOps is great for security. Localizing incident monitoring in chat means all team members can view alerts and quickly understand their context. When ChatOps commands are paired to underlying infrastructure, time-to-response is decreased drastically.

"You can stop a DDoS attack on your phone at the airport—it's like if Jack Bauer was an operations engineer!" said Eric Sigler, engineering manager for developer tools at PagerDuty, referring to the central character in the Fox TV show 24. In a 2015 presentation, Sigler discussed how PagerDuty uses ChatOps.

ChatOps is the latest face of agile 

A ChatOps approach can be used to automate routine tasks, deploy new code to GitHub, initiate servers, balance storage clusters, receive continuous integration notifications, monitor virtual machines, retrieve analytics, and more.

It is more efficient than calling APIs

The arduous process of tying into web APIs to automate continuous integration tasks fares badly in a comparison to the easy usability of chatbot commands, which likely use plain English.

More visibility means improved team collaboration

ChatOps affords better visibility for sharing critical KPIs. Don't spend time taking screenshots of your DataDog admin panel; just politely ask Hubot to share with the group. With heightened visibility into each action, time-stamping also makes auditing easy.

“Our teams were really distributed, and chat was the one thing that held us together,” said Dan Chuparkoff, director of product, healthcare analytics at McKinsey & Company. His 2015 presentation explained how his former employer, Bigpanda, took "ChatOps to the next level—for SSH-free deployment, pager-free monitoring, asynchronous standups, and of course, for sharing Internet cats!"

Community scripts help adoption

New technology often comes with headaches for early-stage adopters. Thankfully, many ChatOps processes are already tested, scripted, and documented. Take advantage of the community-generated plugin communities around Hubot, Errbot, and Lita to save ChatOps adoption time.

ChatOps helps onboard new employees

A ChatOps environment with help commands and documentation acts as a window into the daily flow of an organization, which is helpful for showing new employees the ropes.

"Once you start working this way, you'll never want to work another way again," said James Fryman, senior software engineer at Puppet.  During a 2015 presentation, he said, "ChatOps practices help teams accelerate delivery by bringing in technology operations in line with conversations already happening today. This in turn helps turn operations into simple events that can be chained together to make teams even more powerful and flexible than ever before."

It uses tools you already know

ChatOps exists on the chat platform that your team is likely already using (i.e., Slack, Hipchat, Flowdock). Why not insert operational actions into the conversation?

It already has first adopters

Originally popularized by GitHub, ChatOps has been used by companies such as Box, Librato, Micro Focus, Stackstorm, and VictorOps. An operational philosophy that comes endorsed by others is easier to stomach than a brand-new approach. 

It fosters a company culture

ChatOps can be a fun, interactive method to build a culture and connect with fellow team members. It's "a tool to help teams work better together," said Imbriaco.

True collaboration

With ChatOps, you can synchronize the communication that is so crucial for effective collaborative development and IT operations. Adopting ChatOps means a more continuous DevOps approach with a dynamic infrastructure that can respond to issues as they arise.