Last week, GeneXus hosted an information-packed webinar that focused on the emerging role of Automation Architects and the methodologies they employ as a part of their Conversations on Digital Transformation series. These engineers and their practices have substantially reduced development and deployment times, as well as having dramatically increased quality of deliverable. Featured guests for this virtual event were David Shen, Senior Director of Engineers for Viacom and Antonio Julio, Head of Business Development, North America, for GeneXus USA.
Central to the role of Automation Architects are continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD). With ever-shortening product lifecycles, nonstop emergence of cybersecurity threats, interdependent cloud technologies, and other well-known concerns, businesses need a means by which to rapidly release quality and comprehensive applications. With all of these technical concerns and invested parties, a key person with technical expertise and communication skills to spearhead these initiatives and that’s where Automation Architects come in.
As Shen pointed out, the prevailing practice until recently, has been for a development project to be parceled out in modules to multiple teams, each working independently on various functions and features. Using Agile methodologies, code was quality tested by each respective team and again upon merging of the assorted modules. This practice has two inherent shortcomings. Any conflicts between the independently developed components would not be discovered until after the merging of code, meaning development time was wasted on the original code along with that needed to rectify any problems. The other significant problem was that while performance to specifications was tested, evaluation/feedback from the customer was not sought until final delivery, which often resulted in substantial redevelopment, as original expectations had not been met or had evolved.
To overcome these shortcomings, Chen and his team at Viacom practice Trunk-based CI/CD. While teams are still assigned particular features to work on, they no longer do so in a siloed environment. Instead, teams remain in constant contact with one another throughout the development cycle and complete their projects in a “synchronized sprint”. This serves to immediately identify any conflicts among the modules and allows for corrective measures to be taken before plunging into a rabbit hole. Also, with Trunk-based CI/CD, A/B testing is performed throughout development and peer review/customer feedback is continuously sought.
Consequently, Trunk-based CI/CD is a dramatic, cultural shift from days gone by. Through expanding engagement with other teams and users, Shen noted “An engineer is not working for the team, but working for the company”. When successfully implemented, the results are impressive. Along with the reduction in conflicts and quicker development time, this environment also leads to fewer formal meetings – a welcomed relief to all. Perhaps most impressive of all, Shen stated that integration times are reduced by 40%.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” — Sun Tsu
Julio highlighted how CI/CD is one leg of the “digital journey” in Digital Transformation (which he detailed in a post-webinar blog post, The Digital Journey: How to Implement and Survive a Digital Strategy). While most every business incorporates Digital Transformation in their overall corporate strategy, recent research shows that many will stumble when attempting to execute that strategy. The Digital Journey is actually the tactics used to realize a strategy and often far more challenging than the development of the strategy. While it is crucial to declare that an organization intends to migrate 50% of their legacy operations within the next two years or some other proclamation of the sort, it is the tactics that will make it happen.
With CI/CD a framework for tactics is largely pre-established for every project. Teams largely know how they will proceed, so no need to reinvent the wheel with every new initiative. And as all groups become more comfortable with these practices, even less time will be required to develop tactics for each new program and its team members.
In closing, the panelists were asked how prevalent CI/CD would become and how an organization should go about implementing this structure. Both Shen and Julio strongly agreed that CI/CD would be embraced by all groups intent on disrupting, given the speed and efficiency with which development takes place under this structure.
As to how a CIO or CTO might go about implementing a CI/CD program, as with most initiatives the speakers posited that it would hinge on an array of factors. Larger businesses likely have greater resources to throw behind the initiative, but will also likely have far more legacy programs to migrate and moving parts to align. Conversely, a smaller operation may not have the personnel and funds to devote to the shift, but in most cases, will have fewer programs and personnel to contend with.
Fortunately, as Shen mentioned, CI/CD is not an all-or-nothing proposition. A business, large or small, may choose to cut their teeth on a smaller program with limited participants, before adopting company-wide and on all development programs. Given that CI/CD calls not only for changes in operational procedures, but also for a cultural shift, testing the waters with a pilot program is probably best for all businesses, so that they might recognize how best to integrate it into their unique operations.
You can view Shen and Julio’s webinar presentations HERE and HERE, respectively. And of course, to learn how GeneXus can assist with the implementation of CI/CD in your organization, by all means reach out to Antonio Julio (ajulio[at]genexus.com, @antoniojulioGX) who would be more than happy to help.
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