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Why Invest in Tooling? Benefits and Concerns

Emily Arnott

When looking to invest money in your engineering teams, what gives the best return? Hiring more staff to enable bigger projects and more diversified skill sets? Training engineers to uplevel their ability and productivity? Increasing salaries to retain the best talent? These are all great ideas that should be exercised often. But there’s one other investment worth considering that can offer huge benefits for relatively small amounts of money: tooling.

In this post, we’ll look at three reasons to invest in tooling, while addressing three common concerns.

Benefit #1: Automate away the worst parts of your engineers’ jobs

The goal of tooling is to take a process that was manual, tedious, and ad-hoc, and make it fast, automatic, and consistent. Sometimes it enables a process that would be so toilsome that you never even considered adopting it otherwise. This gives you more time back by accelerating processes and allows you to achieve things you couldn’t otherwise.

But it isn’t just that you save time, it’s that you save the worst time. Engineers don’t want to waste their hours and brainpower on what’s essentially busywork. Filling out forms, manually transferring data, repeating the same tasks… These are major drivers of dissatisfaction and alienation for engineers. Tooling addresses these areas specifically: increasing the overall enjoyability of engineers’ work, making them able to contribute their specific talents in a more impactful way, and giving them more time for their most meaningful projects.

Concern #1: Doesn’t tooling pale in comparison to in-house solutions?

It’s tempting to see these areas of toil and want to design something in-house to fix it. After all, how could something off-the-shelf address your specific needs as well as something you built? But think about it: who will end up designing this in-house solution? And build it, and maintain it, and update it, and fix it when it breaks? It’s the very same engineers you were trying to help!

Rather than put yet another task on their plates, with the uncertain promise that it will save time in the long run, why not empower them right away by handling things with a tool? Nowadays, tooling is much more powerful and customizable than those from decades past. Gone are the days when a new tool just complicated and slowed workflows for engineers. If you work with your teams to identify where the most toilsome areas are and look for on the market solutions, you’ll very likely find something helpful.

Read our full build vs. buy guide for SRE tools to learn more.

Benefit #2: Stay secure and reliable with the guarantees of tools

It’s true that introducing dependencies on third party tools creates new opportunities for failures or security risks. However, these new risks are often lesser than the risks created by handling these responsibilities in-house. Your organization is responsible for maintaining the security and reliability of your customers’ data, and any connection they make with your service. Why take on the additional responsibility of maintaining internal features?

For example, you wouldn’t consider making an in-house chat application. You’d be opening yourself up to huge potential failures, and a host of security vulnerabilities. Slack or MS Teams already offer all the features you need, with the guarantee that they’ll remain sufficiently secure and available. It seems obvious to adopt this attitude when it comes to chat applications, but it should be considered for a variety of other tools too.

Concern #2: Aren’t engineers tired of tools?

Nothing is more annoying than being forced to incorporate an unnecessary tool into your process. Probably most engineers have at least one bad memory of such a tool and have thus naturally adopted a skepticism around new tooling. This skepticism isn’t bad to have – not every tool is the right investment for every team. As useful as tooling can be, you should still approach new tools needing to be convinced that they’ll be helpful, not defaulting to picking them up.

At the same time, your past experiences shouldn’t muddy your judgment of more tools. Instead, let it motivate you to really ensure your tool investments will accomplish what they need to. Studies have shown that tool sprawl, having too many tools in general, isn’t a problem for most organizations. The problem is ineffectual tools. Work with your engineers to find tooling solutions that can become as essential to them as those that they already rely on.

Benefit #3: Automatically keep up with cutting-edge advancements

The awesome thing about investing in a modern tool is that the company responsible for it is also still investing in it. As the tool updates, you’ll be able to realize more and more value from it. This is something that could occupy multiple full time jobs for in-house tools, but with third party tools, you get these benefits automatically.

We’re heading into exciting new territory as AI features expand into almost every aspect of work. These features are likely to rapidly evolve in the coming years. Tooling isn’t just buying the product as-is, but investing in something that will grow alongside your own projects.

Concern #3: Aren’t tools expensive?

It can be easy to look at the yearly or up-front cost of a tool and think “geez, that’s a lot.” Since you’re already surviving without the tool, it might be hard to accept a brand new expense. But don’t look at the price in a vacuum. Instead, think about it in comparison to investments you’re already making.

For example, most tools won’t cost anywhere as much as a single engineer’s salary. Despite that, a tool can often enable functionality that would be a full time job if handled manually. When you think about the size of your entire engineering budget, most tools are a drop in the bucket. If the tool is beneficial for those entire teams, your return on investment can be massive.

Benefits of Blameless

Of course, we’d like to throw our hat in the ring as a tool worth investing in. Blameless helps you realize all these benefits with our incident management workflow. Save time and get more resilient every time something breaks! See how by checking out a demo.

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