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Digital Transformation

Hard Won Lessons in Digital Transformation

One of the key actions we do regularly with each of our customers and internally is to conduct Retrospectives – to critically understand the original problem, target solution and the journey so far. These retrospectives help us do course corrections and sometimes, even shelve the original plan!

In this article, we present you with a few key lessons distilled from our Retrospectives and experiences, in the hope that these will help in your Digital Transformation plans.

Culture is the key element of Digital Transformation and Leaders own it

Although this phrase is overused, but the meaning holds relevance. You revamp technology stack, adopt DevOps tools and technologies, improve your delivery practices, but the needle doesn’t seem to move! That’s because underneath all of the hype, your teams don’t change their fundamental habits and ways of working. You can’t expect to hold a townhall, walk through a presentation and expect the organization to shift.

Changing the culture is hard, but leaders need to show the way every day – by constantly talking to the teams, understand their challenges, provide trainings and investments, changing the performance and incentive structures and most importantly showing why the change is important for the organization and how it benefits them too!

In one case, we helped the client appoint a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to drive the enterprise-wide Digital Transformations.

In short, Culture emerges as the most important part of Digital Transformation journey, while digital winners approach culture with creating sub-units or identifying change agents to drive culture transformation, laggards leave it with the mails – ‘We are on a Digital Journey’.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” — Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Former CEO of IBM

IT Strategy = Business Strategy

The old generation IT was as a cost-centre, especially in industries where core business is not IT. These opinions were busted when the new generation IT gave rise to business models such as Netflix, Amazon, Uber. Digital native companies are already well-equipped with digital capabilities and technologies. To compete with them, non-digital organizations must integrate new-generation IT and technologies with their legacy systems.

Increasingly, even the non-IT Enterprises have adopted a vision of “IT as the Platform for Delivering our Capabilities”. To achieve this vision, organizations are investing in IT in a big way in the following areas:

  • Cloud-Native Applications for rapid Development, release and easy maintenance
  • Increasing adoption of DevOps, Automation and Agile
  • Modernizing legacy systems
  • Piloting use cases of AI, Blockchain, IoT

One of our Star client’s business model is to digitalize orthodontist industry with 3D printing and Digital Manufacturing using cutting edge software impressed us. In their initial conversations with us, they briefed us how their Digital Business Strategy is driving IT investments. Their ground-breaking tele-dentistry platform and vertically integrated, direct-to-consumer business model provides affordable, convenient and premium dentistry experience. Their rapid expansion in terms of geographic presence and revenue growth meant that they had to significantly upscale their IT Application Delivery and Operations process.

We helped in establishing a DevOps based Enterprise Delivery Pipeline that included Product Management, Engineering staff, Infrastructure and Operations teams. The Engineering transformation accelerated the pace at which IT could bring new markets online, resulting in a significant upsurge in Revenue.

“An IT Strategy that truly aligns with Business Strategy and Goals can act as a significant force multiplier for the Business!”

Measure and Adapt

In a third company, we were pleasantly surprised to see the DevOps tools and advanced CI/CD practices our client, a premier global valuation and corporate finance advisor was using. However, the leadership was not seeing direct benefits of the improvements. A quick Assessment showed that they did not have right metrics and data to demonstrate success and find issues in the pipeline. As a result, they continued with some practices that were not helping them, such as running every build through a Security Analysis product which did not provide the right results and slowed down the entire pipeline.

A comprehensive Measurement Program was designed using Business Metrics as the starting point and deriving Engineering/Operational metrics from it. The metrics were designed to measure system performance and not individual performance. A Lifecycle Intelligence Dashboard was built to get visibility into the metrics captured on an hourly basis. Feedback loops were built into the process through this Dashboard that the team could drill down to find and resolve bottlenecks.

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

Automate, Automate, Automate

Another Client of ours was struggling with low morale, lengthy times to get things done, broken manual processes and reliance on a few superheroes. Out of these, the biggest Technical debt was in Automating Testing. Their software had hundreds of combinations for each workflow, so manual testing was getting to the point of being unmanageable and expensive.

We introduced a tried-and-tested QA Automation Framework that quickly helps clients achieve incremental benefits of DevOps with Advanced Automation and improving customer interaction by improving existing digital touch points or creating new ones. We augmented our Automation framework with our AI bot to quickly identify areas of change, tests that were really required and generate necessary test data. Test Environments were containerized with different configurations and tests were run in parallel, sometimes using hundreds of test agents running in parallel.

DevOps requires Continuous testing to augment Continuous Planning, Continuous Development and Continuous Integration.

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Transformation is not a destination, it is a journey

An industry player in Loyalty Management Solutions turned to us for help in Digital Transformation of their Loyalty Management Platform to improve the user-experience and simplify development and customization of the platform. The engagement is a good example of how Digital Transformation is an ongoing process.

When we asked one of our clients in Loyalty Management Business “What single word best describes the business landscape in your industry?” We got a single word response: Evolving and Transforming. We drove a matrix ranking their solution to the counterparts and explained as they are evolving and transforming their platform, competitors are doing the same.

We started the discovery phase to outline the solution for the client. We started with business objectives of providing superior User Experience with Self-Service portal and introducing Loyalty-As-A-Service (LaaS) as a key feature. For achieving these business objectives, we recommended embracing CI/CD and API-first approaches to product deployments. But, as we explored more solutions in the industry, we found competitors are offering Advanced Analytics, AI, Gamification and Big Data solutions in the product.

We learned that organizations cannot reach the goal of the Digital Transformation as there are new features/solutions emerging in the market challenging the status quo of the existing ones. Once an organization feel it has completed the first phase of Digital Transformation, it’s the time to look at the internal processes, competitive landscape, customer expectations and refine the processes to make them more efficient.

Organizations must continuously evolve their offerings and services for competing in the digital world. A Customer-Experience focused strategy, right technology partner and exploring continuum of the latest technologies is the way to evolve current digital capabilities. The goal post of Digital Transformation keeps on shifting with the rapidly evolving expectations of digital customers.

Conclusion –

Digital Transformation needs a combination of Leadership, Cultural Changes, a motivated workforce and Technology excellence to succeed. In this article, we have tried to tell some of our stories about our experiences.

If you have your stories to share or you want to create new stories with us, we are here to listen. Contact us and we can co-create success for you.

Digital Alchemy – Making your Business the gold standard

We are living in the times where a popular business existing for over two decades find a potential market threat in a 9-months-old Digital native start-up. Irrespective of the line of business, Digital Transformation has become nearly inevitable to stay sustained. While we are at it, let’s just admit that it’s no small race to get the gold star first. The accelerating digital technologies such as one-click Customer service touch points, immersive VR/AR experiences, voice-based virtual assistants tagged to electronics… all are brought into play. Nothing feels like fantasy anymore!

Finding the right ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that can create significance, bring in the much-needed Digital Transmutation and result in Magnum opus is quite a task. So, in this article, we will discuss a way to achieve the ultimate golden standard which is… sustainable Customer Value to a business. Let us imagine a matrix of Digitization state defined by a company’s Digital Capabilities against Integration Capabilities. Based on their current status of Digital readiness, every company lies somewhere within this matrix. To achieve the gold standards, the company will have to move upwards from one state to other and eventually attain a state where it can distill best out of every asset and technology synergistically. Digital Success!

There is no comprehensive know-how guide for Digital Alchemy that works for everyone. Digital Transformation is to emphasize the uniqueness of a business using the right amount of Technology as an accelerator and it is impossible with a one-size-for-all approach. Every company whether a Digital-native or a Traditional company investing efforts to stay relevant to its millennial customer base would be in one of these below-mentioned stages before achieving the Elixir of business value.

Digital Entropy

This is the rudimentary stage where naturally deteriorated (with time) entropic forces make a business resistant to change and adoption. Every day we work with enterprises and no one wants to be stuck with the primitive stages of Technology.

“But these organizations are having siloed efforts of Business Analytics, Digitization of Customer Services, Cloud Migration and other technological efforts without the end goals of achieving gold standards in sight.”

What’s required at this stage is a strong intent towards betterment and ability to bring all the stakeholders on board to achieve the goal. In simple words, their current system doesn’t capture (enough) value for the employees or customers, and it requires decomposition and Putrefaction, which is ‘Nigredo’ in Alchemy terms. It must be a natural progression.

It is always suggested to believe in ‘Incrementalism’, especially when your company seems to be at this condition. Start small, maybe with IT infrastructure, Data Integration, Inside Operations and slowly find your way up. Choosing the technology partners and vendors carefully might require a lot of brainstorming, but it’s worth it, to avoid a scenario where the golden opportunity can turn into a pitfall.

Digital Enthalpy

In an urge to stay up in the race, companies oft-times fall into this category and we came across a lot of such during our assessments and client interactions.

“These companies are hot on Digital, have Digital Transformation at the top of their every agenda and desperately adopt every technology emerging around them and struggling to integrate them to their main aim and get people to adopt the sudden storm of changes.”

This is a path drifted away from achieving Digital Alchemy which eventually ends up making the business leaders worry about their Return on Investments. What it needs is ‘Albedo’, Purification, strategizing and streamlining of alacrity.

It’s always necessary to have a system to constantly reassess the current Digital Strategy and check how well the new adoptions are making synergies with the rest of the infrastructure. Some adoptions that have saved our clients from being disrupted at this stage are – App modernization in DevOps way, automating manual processes using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Improving customer interaction by introducing new digital touch points. The sense of confidence that comes from customers who are treated with excellent service and experience is long lasting.

Successful Digital Alchemists aren’t the ones who create gold with DT and stop there. It is always important to reinvent themselves to stay sustained.

Try these to turn your disruptable-business into a bi-modal enterprise:

Traditional Product with Digital Service – You can still sell the same product that made you special to your existing customers but adds value by transforming the way you do it through digitally enabling the current business model. Build applications (In-house or Third-party) that’ll serve your customers better. Traditional Service with Digital Service – While your traditional (off-line) service is serving your existing customers, make yourself available to the new generation prospects with services that are gadget-friendly. That way, you aren’t going too away from your current base but still ready with an expandable business model for the new-gen. Going all Digital overnight would create a lot of unwanted confusion within the organization which will eventually affect the customer value.

Hybrid Enthalpy:

Transforming the businesses that are set down in this state is the toughest of all.

“Business in this state are ahead in their journey of achieving Digital Alchemy but are struggling with the adoption of data-driven technologies.”

Organizations stuck at this stage holds a lot of unutilized data and requires immediate attention towards employing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Algorithms to achieve gold standards. They strongly believe in an extreme level of information and system consolidation but, is a screaming need for Digital Discovery. As they say, Adopt or die. What can save these businesses is ‘Citrinitas’? An awakening to dust off the unmined data?

They are one step closer to achieving the gold standard because system integration is the toughest one of all tasks needed for Digital Transformation. Since the consolidation is in place, they just need to perform a Readiness Assessment and spend time on picking the right technology(ies) that can improve the value and customer experience and monitor the progress. There are literally thousands of technologies available and the number is only growing day by day. AR/VR, Artificial Intelligence, Bots, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Block Chain the list goes on.

Digital Alchemy:

The ultimate position everyone would love to see themselves in but is not an over-night journey to reach there. This is where the enterprises constantly disrupt their own models through continuous innovation which is nothing but distilling the best out of every asset and technological adoption. It’s not a destination but is a state of continuous rediscovery for the business. The enthalpy needs to help the system functioning at an optimal level of Digital Success.

Once the unique recipe and modus operandi are found to Digitally Transform the business, the leadership needs to transcend this movement by establishing the new agenda of culture, purpose, and future; and make it articulated well to the entire workforce. They must act as the change agents to drive the digital and physical business transmutation. A DT journey map needs to be drafted at every touch point with intent and attribution. Understanding that Digital Literacy is the only way of business, every part of the business must feel responsible for the Customer Experience and Innovation to make it happen. When Innovation becomes an integral part of the culture, that is ‘Magnum opus’!

Why are we one of those very few successful Alchemists?

For a Technology company who is not even a decade old, Qentelli has an impressive collection of illustrative cases demonstrating how a Digitization can rebuild the business in more than one way. When a giant global food chain was feeling left behind mainly because of,

  • Their Monolith ERP Application for POS and Back office operations
  • Siloed implementation of CI
  • The time spent to spin up new Environments
  • Multiple versions of the core Front- and Back-of-store Applications
  • Incorrect versions of Software deployed to Environments
  • No streamlined process for Test Data Management
  • Inconsistency in environments, and many other issues.

That is exactly when Qentelli has stepped in to introduce production-ready, lightweight containers with standardized images for streamlined CI/CD practices. We’ve used just the right amount of AIOPs that can complement and eventually capable enough to supplant the human IT staff efforts to perform monotonous tasks such as system monitoring, alert response, trouble diagnosis, and course of action drafting. There are more multiple instances where we’ve introduced sophisticated DevOps, Automation, Robotics, state-of-security eCommerce applications, and Application Modernization solutions to Digitally enable them to survive in the ever-competitive marketplace.

Now that we are all on the same page that shift of businesses during Digital Transformation doesn’t mean adopting Digital Technologies to simplify business operations but also carefully choosing them and strategically modifying them to fit well with the culture, value and business goals. Information Technology leaders play a crucial role to whip the magic potion to create gold. Placing the organization on par will only be possible when your Digital Transformation makes enough sense to your employees and customers.

These people can make or break any company during Digital Transformation

Apart from the countless adoptions and adaptions of various technologies & developments that take place every single day, we’ve witnessed three major industrial revolutions that have altered the way things are built, marketed, sold and used. Since nearly every ‘Thing’ is digital today, it is only obvious that the next revolution will be in the face of Technology. Enterprises will only sustain when they constantly reinvent their capabilities and strategies, not only to retain the existing customers but also to consistently acquiring new prospects.

As a result of globalization, millennial customers demand a wide range of technological capabilities combined with ease of use. Though there are a multiplicity of Tech novelties available, some companies are struggling more than expected to fight the disruptive technical expansions. Over time, some companies have successfully made the most of response time and came up with a plan to keep their position safe with a steady march in the market. For example, Honeywell (reacted quick enough to the smart-home thermostat by Nest Labs), IBM (from Mainframes to PCs for Professional Services), Samsung (Analog to Digital application-based smartphone), Microsoft (Browser disruption), Adobe (the transition from desktop to SaaS), etc. Since it is a survival-of-the-fittest phenomenon, some businesses couldn’t make it far. E.g., Blockbuster, Nokia, Polaroid, etc. The major threat is to the old players who grew as industry leaders using traditional approaches and not being able to digitally empower employees, engage customers, optimize operations and transform the products through a system of data intelligence.

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It is already established that business landscapes are changing, and adoption is inevitable to stay relevant during the shift. Even though the digital metamorphosis is for the best interest of the company, the major task is to get the entire C-suite on board with the idea. Because, practically the only way to holistically implement any new mechanism is through the complete validation and endorsement of chief executives, especially in publicly traded companies when there are shareholders, employees, consumers and other stakeholders involved. According to research from Marco Iansiti, a Harvard Business School professor three years ago, ‘The Digital Laggards will suffer the disruption caused by their nimble rivals and the only way to stay competitive is to harness data’. Making decisions based on the data and facts instead of theoretical opinions is the only way forward. The CIO plays an important role in this phase and if well equipped, he/she can be a great strength to the business.

Just like many other tech trends, Digital Transformation has also gained steam over time and the term is constantly overused irrespective of the contextual relevance. Often the vendors may exploit the gamble and make the catchphrase confusing at best. That very phenomenon may create a Cargo Cult effect and divert the businesses from the much-needed immediate action. The Chief Information Officer is always on a lookout for disruptive technologies and resolutions to fight it. The change can be initiated with the three T’s of transformation: Teams, Tools and Timelines. Creating small yet focused core teams and equipping them with the right tools while monitoring the whole process across the predefined and strategically placed timelines.

One part of the C-suite always guards the budgets and expenditures and the other part has hereditary instincts of expanding, investing and making the firm widespread. They will have to consider the major aspects of the business such as bringing down the CapEx & OpEx, infrastructure life-cycle management, improving employee productivity, maintaining customer satisfaction, and not to forget – keeping the business sustainable. Only the Tech and Data chiefs have the chance to balance both with right Digital strategies and tech-investments.

According to Gartner, CIO of digital-era needs to be proactive and involved because Tech-in-business-as-usual attitude will only risk becoming a second-class citizen of the executive suite. Driving the change doesn’t stop at Executive Leadership level. Managerial heads need to be completely on board for the idea of being upgraded from Legacy systems to the Next level Tech ecosystem. That includes training their teams, aligning technology to the business needs and constantly monitoring the improvements. Then comes the execution teams which includes the Developers, Testing Engineers, QA and Operational Teams who should be committed to quality and consistency.

Today’s market demands you to scale your apps with their needs and requires you to build new feature soon enough before the last one gets old. The systems need to integrate with their business applications without compromising the Quality. Not to forget, you need to be always ‘On’. Many tech geeks have admitted that practicing DevOps methodology is one of the few modern exercises to get Digital Transformation right. DevOps brings software and infrastructure together to accelerate software and services delivery exploiting the benefits of automation. Let’s just admit, Development and Operations teams usually work in silos. It’s an evolving collaboration that tech leaders need to nurture in order to build and maintain quality applications. But then, in the context of increasingly distributed and complex systems and tool sets, when things go wrong, accountability of incidents often remains unclear. Applying equal ownership to everyone won’t solve the problem rather makes no one responsible when an application break. It is important to create clear and specific responsibilities to each while keeping everyone informed enough to ensure reliability and quality.

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So, how do we create an effective DevOps environment that works well for the organization? We at Qentelli implement CALMS model (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement and Sharing) proposed by Damon Edwards and John Willis.

Culture is the essential part of DevOps and subsequently Digital Transformation journey. Be inclusive and make people feel participating and contributing. Encourage teams to limit the Technical debt by making the best use of Scrums. Change the traditional siloed DBAs to eliminate bottlenecks and collaboratively work towards the same goal each time.

Experts say, if you get the Automation right, one-fourth of the work is done. The major parts are to automate the tests on the Infrastructure and establish Continuous Integration, Delivery and Deployment pipelines.

Whatever you do, do it Lean. Focus on incremental improvement and strategically split the projects into small executable batches. Continuous improvement isn’t achievable if constant monitoring and measurement aren’t in place. Monitor the internal processes, such as the time taking for the committed code to be pushed to production, release frequencies, failure rate, and recovery time.

Sharing might not be caring but it is curing for sure. Iterative learning and Knowledge transfers among the contributing teams will make a huge impact on the culture.

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The continuum starts from Digital Enablement, Optimization and moves towards comprehensive automation using intelligent self-adaptive systems. Taking the light of proven methodologies, it’s not too late to implement DevOps into your projects. Bolt it seamlessly into the current programs by starting with one or two projects with low-risk elements and expand it based on the results. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on Digital Transformation (hardware, software, and services) has soared past $1 Trillion in 2018. The pace of substitution in digital transformation is exponential. Born Digital companies are stepping in with a new challenge every day. It’s important to stay alert and updated to keep yourself ahead in the race.

Kick start your Digital Transformation journey before your competitors do. Reach us to understand the Digital capabilities of your business today.

How DevOps is driving digital transformation initiatives

Companies are marching towards digital transformation with lightning pace, the reason being there’s no single business where customers don’t surf, swipe or click their way to interact with businesses in the world of application economy. This requires a pressing need to innovate faster, making innovations available for customers at a faster speed and stay ahead of the competition. There’s no second thought involved in the fact that business success largely depends on accelerating application performance without compromising on quality and performance. Thus, business success is directly proportional to their maturity in digital transformation journey.

The need for speed puts both developers and operations team under pressure to build world-class applications providing better user experience and operations fixate on providing stable production environments.

This article outlines how DevOps can help companies in driving their digital transformation initiatives.

DevOps and digital transformation initiatives

Digital transformation is about building applications across platforms and aligned with business needs to innovate fast and receive faster feedback from both business and end users and releasing applications at a fast pace. This is where DevOps comes in, to help companies accentuate their digital transformation activities by building continuous delivery, deployment, monitoring, and testing practices.

DevOps helps organizations to approach digital transformation from a business perspective to increase bottom line, improve customer experience and lower operation costs. This helps in getting development and operations team at the same platform to have an end to end visibility about the developments, deployments, production fixes, bugs, handling environments, managing releases, unlike the traditional application development practices. This enables planned releases and faster communication to act on production defects, code issues and application performance issues caused unanticipated application downtimes and rollbacks.

DevOps requires automation of all activities that are redundant, and automation can take care of them. Some of them are release management such as code analysis, continuous build, integration, and testing. This saves a lot of time for both development and IT teams in firefighting and brings a significant process change in tackling errors, rolling out features, enable faster feedback cycles with continuous monitoring and testing practices. This is because of less human intervention and more of automation being introduced with the DevOps tools and technologies.

DevOps enables faster feedback cycles imperative to expedite digital transformation initiatives by acting fast on the feedbacks received from business users and customers. Continuous improvement with DevOps is required to catapult the firm’s digital transformation journey and receiving a precise response within the right time frame is paramount.

The Qentelli Way to accelerate digital transformation

Many companies are struggling to realize the direct connection in implementing DevOps and digital transformation journey. The direct relation exists as if businesses are not innovating fast, still running on manual processes of testing, hand-offs, deploying production environments, the entire digital transformation journey will go for a toss.

Qentelli has worked with many organizations across the globe in baking and retail sectors to accelerate their digital transformation exercises and helping them outpace the innovation.

The Qentelli way can be summarized as below –

  • Quality Engineering – CI/CD, Early Automated Testing and DevOps
  • Quality Intelligence – Metrics and Analytics to understand the trends and further to Predict Quality
  • Quality Assurance – Functional, Non-Functional and Business Process Testing

Qentelli has a suite of accelerators such as MoBe (Mobile and Beyond) for all the device access and automation, FAST (Framework for Automated Software Testing), AiR (Artificial Intelligence for remediation across the DevOps value chain) and others that provide advantage to digital transformation initiatives by collecting data from various data sources and derive actionable insights to improve processes, provide predictions for incidents and auto-healing broken processes.

Our automation tools provide enterprise level test automation with DevOps first approach helping organizations to expedite their digital journey by testing fast, increase their test automation coverage and improves return on investment. Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

About Qentelli

Headquartered in Dallas, TX with global delivery teams in India, Qentelli is an Industry Thought Leader in Quality Engineering, Automated Testing and Continuous Delivery. With high performing engineering teams working in the dedicated Innovation Group, Qentelli brings design thinking to address complex business problems and enables Continuous Delivery across Enterprise IT through automation for its global customers.

ESPN Fantasy Flagged – False Start

So, like everyone, I waited all through the off season, kept up with most updates of the NFL draft Class of 2016, trade rumors, trades, some more rumors and the preseason on ESPN Fantasy application. Fantasy Sports (not the daily kinds but the traditional kind) give you bragging rights, and everyone who plays it, would agree with me that two things are crucial – Fantasy Draft day and Game day morning, when you scramble last minute to make sure your lineup is optimal using the news on starters on game day.

ESPN fantasy has been the go-to for me throughout and let me tell you, one of the best resources for me and for most people I know. ESPN Fantasy’s redesigned UI for the mobile app, web app and most importantly, the user experience changes have all been great this season. Awesome job folks! This blog post is not to undermine any of those fine aspects.

Picture this. It is Monday night. Your Fantasy team is doing great and you are winning by 0.2 points with a minute forty (1:40) on the clock with the opposition having no time-outs remaining. You clink glasses with your buddies to celebrate the win for the week of your fantasy team, suddenly content that you have a team that will take you to playoffs. Then suddenly your fortunes change; your QB takes the victory formation thrice leading to -0.3 on your score and an eventual loss!

Exactly how it went for ESPN Fantasy App. Preseason – Great, Draft process – Great, Kickoff weekend morning – Site Down! It made me wonder, is ESPN Fantasy application as brittle as bones of the particular QB that I love so much, crashing to the turf at first hit of the season??

Come on fellas! You are better than that, I mutter to myself. As I prepared myself for a last minute scramble to edit my lineup as my starting RB2 was reported “out sick”. I take to my mobile application to make amends to my game plan and line-up. I see my worst fantasy fear (second only to a first quarter injury to any of those on my starting lineup) come true. I launch the app and I see an error message pop on the screen, unable to connect. I reckon it is due to my Wi-Fi connection; I disconnect Wi-Fi on my phone and try with LTE –no change in fortunes. I wait, try, wait, try again and finally give up. I am sure you can relate to the restlessness, my Week 1 bragging rights are at stake. I cannot check my scores for all afternoon games, which was starting to bother me more. ESPN finally tweeted something to the order of “We know, hang tight”.

The technologist in me made me wonder, couldn’t one of the most respected names in the game be prepared for the kick-off weekend? I was upset at first; then I smiled, they didn’t expect as many fantasy players? Really?? I thought to myself. Cannot be true, may be its just my phone. I called a few friends and they were experiencing the same, then I noticed a hate feed growing on Twitter.

I thought this couldn’t be right; they had to be better prepared. Case in point, according to CNN, ESPN is the leader and the data published last October says they had 7.1M unique users; and just last month, they reported 1.7M teams were drafted in less than two days during their televised fantasy football marathon. So, in essence they had to be expecting this level of traffic! Since they have not yet disclosed why they went down, I can only assume they crashed due to a higher than expected load followed by functional failures of specific modules. A combination of the two seems more likely.

My reasoning is that, when they came back online, they did so incrementally, piece by piece and then the whole application. Even when they did, they were slower than normal. So it had to be a combination of the two! But again, I ask myself how can the leader in sports in general and more specifically fantasy sports miss such a thing and that too on the biggest weekend for the football in the Country?

This could have been avoided. All those wonderful folks at ESPN could have enjoyed their Tailgate parties and even the games, if they had followed some simple steps, which I call the essence of Continuous Delivery.

An application and platform redesign isn’t the easiest undertaking. It requires extreme levels of planning, collaboration and preparation. If not done right, it could mean less than optimal results when it comes to Go-time.

How to approach Continuous Delivery

  1. Continuous Delivery must be adopted! Have a Deployment Ready Build throughout the development cycle – This approach is crucial to any enterprise IT team that supports key customer-facing applications. The way to approach this is adopting Continuous Delivery. 3 Steps to achieving this:
    1. Continuous Development: Acceptance Test Driven Testing (ATDD) or Behavior Driven       Development with Continuous Integration need to be adopted for fast paced application teams. This must be the norm of application development.
    2. Continuous Testing: Functional testing and automated functional testing alone will not   cut it. Non-functional aspects of the application are extremely important in the             engineering lifecycle. It is of immense value to have early performance engineering and security engineering. Incremental load tests for each build within the lifecycle help       alleviate the heartburn teams experience when things move further down stream. Plus, it makes sense to stick to the old adage, a stich in time, saves nine!
    3. Continuous Deployment: This involves automation of several manual activities and         automated environments to say the least. Have a foolproof way of deploying releases on demand and in an automated fashion. Automated deployment is key for success in high   velocity and fast paced environments. Read here for more – Are Deployments Taking   Away Your Happy Hour
  2. Once you have this process, approach and mindset in place, next thing to ensure is a version   controlled build/binary files in Pre –prod and a strong, stable pre-prod. The pre prod must be production like; not necessarily in terms of capacity but everything else (Capacity is a nice to have). It must be guarded to be your pristine environments, just how you treat your prod, so, enforce all controls you would to prod. The benefits are multi-fold – This could be your dress   rehearsal stage, performance engineering and validation environment, security tests can be   run, roll-back binary in the event of an eventuality and much more!
  3. Agility – It doesn’t mean do everything and do it fast. The approach for enterprise must be     small, incremental changes – avoid forklifts. Make sure these builds are deployable at any       given instance. With agility, the key component is planning. Especially when you have a         customer facing application that can dent your brand image. Just like the retailers prepare     of the holiday season by testing for load at 1.5 to 2.5X of their peak holiday traffic, ESPN       Fantasy could use similar numbers for their load and capacity planning. 1.5X-2X of their peak kick-off weekend traffic. Such planning ensures less heartburn and more end user delight.

These steps sound simple enough, and believe me, they are! They are not very different from how football teams prepare for the regular season; training camps, coaching, watching tape, preseason, final prep and a Final Playbook to kick things off, which is tweaked several times during the season, to match the situations they are in. An enterprise application engineering team needs a playbook that must be based on philosophies of DevOps and Continuous Delivery. It requires tremendous amount of discipline, preseason practice (pre–prod environments) and collaboration /communication (One team, One dream) to ensure success in production (Game time).

A smooth release must be the norm; this again is very similar to the calm teams experience under champions like Bill Belichick. Pont being, the principles must be instilled across the various teams in the Continuous Delivery value chain; it must be driven top-down, enforced and built bottom up.

I hope all of you reading this were fortunate as I was with their unchanged line-ups and this is the last time ESPN Fantasy has to ever receive tweets such as this. (Image Source www.Complex.com)

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