06 September 2015

Release Automation – The Customer Perspective

A blog by Sean Davidson, Extra Technology’s Continuous Delivery Specialist.

Many organisations want to improve the speed of application deployment, shrink release cycles and reduce problems - they have realised that this can only be done by automating the process.

Why typically do customers decide to implement release automation?

Sometimes it is as simple as the customer realising that they are a hostage to fortune, with a multiplicity of scripts maintained by a single person. Potentially business critical systems will have a single point of failure and be very vulnerable, if that person is for any reason no longer around.

Perhaps the most compelling reason is that an automated system simply means more releases more reliably, thereby circumventing the traditional IT trade-off between speed and quality. With release automation, speed does not come at the cost of quality – they can both improve dramatically.

But we encounter customer concerns as well:

As the latest release of software is extremely important to a business, they will tend to use their best and brightest on the task - yet often this process is very tedious and time consuming, tying up top people on menial “donkey work". Automation will free these people up to concentrate on more suitable, higher level, tasks appropriate to their skills and interests.

Another common concern is that a manual script-based system has high maintenance costs and overheads. Scripts are complex, prone to bugs, and often highly focussed and inflexible.

A release automation software system, with the backing of a major player like CA Release Automation, is very attractive to a business because they know there will always be a pool of experienced engineers out there to help customize the product - and they have the backing of a large software firm.

Lastly, cost is always a concern, but in exchange for an initial investment, release automation reduces repetitive regular costs, as well as the risk of extremely costly outages – to both a company’s finances and reputation.

So, with all the advantages, what downsides do customers perceive around release automation?

Well, change is always an issue in a corporate environment, indeed in any environment. Scripts and existing manual processes may be perceived as doing a reasonable job and working relatively smoothly. Therefore in some cases, there may be some concerns about moving to a new automated approach – “Can the product really do what it says on the tin?”

Often this is countered by an internal catalyst for change in the form of an exec sponsor - perhaps a forward-thinking CTO, with a vision of the benefits of release automation with which to overcome internal resistance.

Operations staff may be concerned that automating the testing cycle will do them out of a job. But as we’ve seen, these employees can be released from lower level tasks and put to more productive use in other, more appropriate and interesting, areas. Our project team can help senior management communicate this to their staff and allay any fears.

In closing, it is worth considering the application of release automation in smaller organisations.

Many may consider themselves unsuitable candidates for release automation, due to several factors:

- Not enough kit to run the necessary test environments
- Insufficient test data
- Limited access to administrators to set up test environments
- Lag/delay in making test environments available
- Limited access to testers

These organisations can still benefit from release automation by using other solutions, perhaps CA Service Virtualisation, where an affordable ‘workstation pack’ can simulate a large-scale test environment instantly and make it available to developers and end-users without the need for extra kit, administrators and dedicated testers … but that is a subject for another day.

Sean Davidson

Sean Davidson is Extra Technology’s Continuous Delivery Specialist, with responsibilities for Release Automation, Service Virtualisation and other DevOps technologies. Sean has worked for a number of global investment banks and hedge funds, and has extensive experience in software development and related technologies across multiple platforms.

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