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Agile app development: instant gratification for customers and developers

Global interest in DevOps methodologies is phenomenal, says CA's Chris Rowett.

Global interest in DevOps methodologies is phenomenal, says CA's Chris Rowett.

Time is not the only factor that's of the essence in rolling out new apps in an application economy: quality, security and customer experience are equally crucial. By taking an Agile, iterative approach to application development and involving customers in the process, the need for instant gratification is met for customers, developers and even the business. This is according to international CA experts speaking at the CA IT Management Symposium 2016, hosted in partnership with ITWeb at Vodacom World in Midrand yesterday and attended by 1 500 IT professionals.

Chris Rowett, Senior Vice President, DevOps solutions at CA Technologies, attracted a standing room-only crowd for his DevOps session. Global interest in DevOps methodologies is phenomenal, he told ITWeb on the sidelines of the event, and the interest shown in Midrand is in line with international trends.

"DevOps was introduced as a separate track at this symposium only two years ago, and the sheer numbers in the track this year is remarkable. It underlines the huge interest we're seeing globally. It's happening everywhere. These topics are now right at the forefront of what people are thinking about."

In South Africa, customers see they need to take a new approach to surviving in the application economy, he added.

The app is the brand

Organisations face stiff competition from both traditional competitors and digital disruptors, says Rowett, and the company with the best apps that deliver a slick experience, wins over more consumers.

"Companies face two major problems – consumers today are choosing digital channels to interact with brands. So the brand of the company is now defined by what customers see through the quality of the brand's software. In addition, it is now much easier for customers to use digital channels to switch their allegiances with brands. So organisations have to be able to innovate faster through software, they've got to deliver on a more regular cadence, and the quality – and therefore customer experience – has to be outstanding.

"DevOps is part of a new way of organising the business and IT to enable us to meet some of those challenges. Because fundamentally, the challenge we're facing is – how can we get the business idea developed, tested, released and then consumed at outstanding quality as quickly as possible as regularly as possible and as cheaply as possible."

"Companies can no longer wait 12 months to bring new apps to market, he says. "Now they have weeks, not months or years. Now we're saying: we have to take an agile approach – we need to break the project down, prioritise, and release fast and often." To do so effectively, companies need to understand the customer in order to understand the order in which they should ‘drip feed' the new capabilities, he notes.

Customers drive app dev priorities

The integration of customer feedback into the process is becoming increasingly important, he says. "Data is king now – we need to understand not just how our applications are doing in production; we need to understand our software pipeline, how our customers are consuming the revenue generating and customer delighting services and we need to use the feedback loop to help us prioritise what we do."

The need to delight customers is putting extreme pressure on IT executives, says CA's Ken Adamson.

The need to delight customers is putting extreme pressure on IT executives, says CA's Ken Adamson.

"If people are getting a poor experience, they rate the app poorly or complain on social media. Everybody can tell. There is a value to that, because if we're now getting direct feedback about the application in real time, that becomes part of the product roadmap. If the customers are all complaining the app is slow, we're going to focus on performance for the next release. So the product's owner can use the real time data from the app store and social media to prioritise what is released to market to delight customers."

Instant feedback for devs

Ken Adamson, VP Product Management, Infrastructure Management at CA Technologies, says the need to delight customers is putting extreme pressure on IT executives. "Customers ten years ago were more forgiving about availability and response time, but thanks to social media apps, the bar for enterprise apps has been raised so high that the pressure on IT operations teams is incredible. They are going to have to change their entire DNA to keep up," he says.

He sees strong interest in Agile and DevOps methodologies to help business drive new revenue opportunities and remain competitive. Now is the time for them to clearly understand the definitions of Agile operations and DevOps, then they need to assess what processes in development and infrastructure monitoring must be aligned with these new approaches, and business models must be changed to enable Agile, he says.

The pressure on IT operations teams is incredible. They are going to have to change their entire DNA to keep up.

This process could start small, he says, with a department launching a new product or process and using it as a model. "Learn and fail fast will be important in future," he says. "The idea is to go through an iterative process, keep validating with customers to see if they're on track, then release that application."

Validating throughout the development process ensures the application stays in line with changing markets and customer requirements, he says. "Customers we spoke to said this approach took a while to get used to, but once they started seeing the results and the fact that customers love the interaction, it helped them understand there should be a partnership between customers and developers. This drives them to want to be more agile."

He adds: "CA itself went from Waterfall to Agile years ago – it was very gratifying to work on something, show a customer the feature, and know we were on the right track. If we weren't, we could make a change and two weeks later show them we'd made the change, which made them happy."

"Before Agile, we hoped we were working on current data, but the problem was that these processes required a lot of planning upfront, so by the time we'd get started on development, the market and customer opinion may have changed," he says. Partnering with customers and constantly assessing feedback throughout an iterative development process keeps both developers and customers happy, he says. "Once developers and their companies experience instant gratification of Agile, it's all Agile from there on," Adamson says.


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