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This week, leading research firm Forrester released their first-ever Forrester Wave for Continuous Integration. Our team at CircleCI spent a considerable amount of time working with the research team at Forrester, and we’re proud to be named a leader in the space. You can go read the report here, but there’s a larger point we think is worth exploring: why is there so much attention on continuous integration right now? Why are Forrester’s clients asking them to provide research and analysis on which CI tools and companies are worth paying attention to?

It is all about digital transformation.

Yes, “digital transformation” is a buzzword having its moment right now. But what is behind the buzz? For those in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to scoff at the notion of a digital “transformation” happening a couple decades after the web became mainstream. Startups are digital natives, so the idea of transformation may seem like nothing more than a way to sell expensive consulting projects. But the trending nature of this phrase actually points to a larger story and an important shift in the industry.

CI comes of age

Unlike startups, which can test out new tools and processes across a team easily, large organizations can’t jump on every hot new trend and implement structural changes just to try them out. When they roll out changes, they must do so with clear visibility on ROI and containment of risk. When you have thousands of engineers across multiple business units, all of whom are subject to security controls and any number of policy and regulatory constraints, no change that occurs across the enterprise is simple or executed in a matter of days or weeks.

Five years ago, Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen declared that software was “eating the world.” New technologies and microservices were popping up everywhere, including the first entrants in the category of continuous integration and delivery tools.

Five years ago, companies that chose to adopt CI/CD practices were blazing their own paths as to how to configure and maintain the necessary assortment of tools. Many saw grassroots efforts built around open-source tools, but over the past 18 months or so we’ve talked with dozens of the world’s largest companies who have seen these grassroots efforts max out. They are struggling to achieve scale and undo the bottlenecks that have come with dozens or even hundreds of totally independent installations of such tools, each of which requires care and feeding to provision machines, configure jobs inside of walled gardens, manage security, and juggle plugins.

Five years ago, no vendor was prepared to support a company-wide roll-out of modern CI/CD practices in a large enterprise. But in the world of software, a lot can happen in five years. The last half decade has seen huge growth in both the number of quality offerings in this product category as well as the polish of these products. The Forrester report represents a milestone in the overall maturity of the category, which is clearly becoming a first-class part of all high-performing software organizations, regardless of size.

Who isn’t a software company?

Operations, customer interactions… almost no business is immune from the need for quality software development. The act of building quality software, and shipping it quickly, has become a core engine of creating value in companies across all industries. This is what we mean when we say that every company is now a software company.

As a result, the performance of today’s software organizations has become a critical bottleneck to value creation; the executive teams of our large customers realize this and have a mandate to improve. The questions of tooling and engineering processes are no longer orphaned within engineering teams, topics for developers to quibble about. They have transcended the server room and entered the boardroom. And as they become more closely tied with value creation across the entire organization, they will continue to grow in importance.

Not just dev tools anymore

As software continues to eat the world, more focused business attention shifts to the details and logistics of software creation. “DevOps” has become shorthand for the overall performance of your software org, and for good reason. If a company can shrink the distance from ideas to working software they shrink a fundamental cost of their innovation pipeline and can create value better and faster than its competitors: the essence of performance. We’re living in the future relative to how we built software just a few years ago. So improvements in any part of your delivery pipeline are massive for maintaining your overall competitive position in the market.

The release of the Forrester Wave report indicates that CI, and software development itself, has reached a new milestone. And we’ve seen this change reflected in our customer base over the years. We’ve watched it transform from mostly startups who are born with DNA of optimizing throughput, to large enterprises who are realizing that the speed and quality of their software output is integral to their bottom line. Our customers are now market leaders because they invested early. And every day, more large companies are realizing the need for new infrastructure to allow them to perform up to market standards.

The table stakes for being a modern software organization have changed. Leading-edge DevOps practices are no longer a nice-to-have if you want to stay competitive, and that’s why “digital transformation” is on the lips of C-level executives in every industry.