Dan Rosenbrock Fri, Oct 9, '20 11 min read

Dan Rosenbrock: Reflections on adopting DevOps practices in highly regulated environments.

Every business needs to balance constraints like budget, capabilities, and resources with ambitious growth targets and operating at speed. At Jade, our goal is to balance these things in a way that allows us to continually deliver value to our customers through innovation. And this rings true for all aspects of our business – from our custom software development arm to our highly regulated products such as Jade ThirdEye, automated anti-money laundering software.

For more than eight years, the Jade ThirdEye team has built, delivered, and supported a very competent, technically sound software product; its customers are pleased with the flexibility it offers to meet their compliance obligations. 

However, with more growth and constant changes in the regulatory landscape on the horizon, we realised that if we invested in our testing and deployment processes, we would dramatically lift the productivity of the team to deliver more value to our customers, more frequently. 

Speeding up the testing and deployment process with DevOps and automation

After a review, it was evident that we would see a significant return if we evolved our approach and doubled down on an investment in DevOps, the practice of combining software development and operations teams through automation and process refinement, Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD).

“CI/CD enables the two teams to work as one,
so developers can do what they do best… develop!”

The automation aspect is extremely valuable here too, as it spares developers (or anyone for that matter!) from most of the mundane, repetitive tasks involved with testing and deploying. This means that developers can spend more time applying their knowledge and experience in solving problems or critiquing their work - ultimately ensuring that they are delivering the intended outcomes for the business and their customers.

Key outcomes from the DevOps initiative

By moving to a more modern CI/CD platform, we helped the Jade ThirdEye team reduce over twenty build and deploy scripts to a handful of generic steps. While this removed the need to know specific scripting languages, it still does require a decent understanding of how the CI/CD platform operates. As CI/CD practices become more and more mainstream, this poses far less of a continuity risk to development teams, since multiple employees can facilitate the process if required. 

“If one of the Devs is sick or away we can
still proceed and meet our objectives.”

The overall productivity of the development team has since noticeably increased. Prior to the DevOps project, the team was deploying to UAT every ten weeks. Deployment can now take place multiple times a day. On top of this, there is now a shorter feedback loop for improvements, tweaks, and fixes, which can be actioned on the day without restarting what was a very time-consuming, manual process.

“We were deploying every ten weeks,
now we’re deploying several times a day!”

Significant automation has been implemented, which includes automating the execution of several tests (Unit tests, integration tests, security tests, end-to-end smokes tests, and end-to-end regression tests) across the build or deployment stages.

“Automating multiple tests has
removed an entire two-week sprint.”

The implementation of dashboards and automated reporting has given the team more significant insights into how they are performing and which areas they can focus on or improve.

The development environment infrastructure now closely matches the UAT and production environments. What’s more, the new tooling interfaces that are better and easier to use, reducing the learning curve. This allows more of the development team to be involved and acquire greater knowledge of the CI/CD process.

Three final takeaways for your improving DevOps journey

DevOps practices are NOT set-and-forget projects

The issue with businesses implementing DevOps practices but not resourcing them properly is that development pipelines evolve. It’s also easy for developers to get distracted. Remember, the very reason why DevOps methodologies are introduced is so developers can focus on developing and the day-to-day maintenance of the CI/CD process.

Therefore, it is highly recommended to have an experienced DevOps engineer on hand. The DevOps engineer’s role is to oversee or facilitate various tasks such as pipeline refinement, extending the capabilities of the pipeline, and making major changes to the CI/CD process, should the projects change direction, e.g. moving to Kubernetes or introducing Docker. Ultimately, DevOps engineers play a key role in determining the quality of success of each project.

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Be mindful of change management

Should you undertake a similar project like this, which will have significant productivity benefits for your business, you need to consider what impact the changes will have on your team.

Before going into the project, the Jade ThirdEye team were reliant on a few individuals for certain aspects of the build and deploy process. Thanks to the investment of automation and various DevOps practices, several people can now facilitate the necessary steps in the build and deploy process, if required. While it makes sense for a business to derisk a situation like this, it may also raise some concerns with people around their job security.

“Will I still be needed if a lot of what
I’m doing is going to be automated?”

Most will probably not even think twice about it, but it’s better to take caution. It is crucial to address this as soon as possible to make sure your people understand why the change is happening and what they will be able to do as a result. So, focus on the positives, how they can now use their time, and the value they will now be bringing to the business and their customers. It’s surprising how far a little empathy goes.

DevOps brings compounding customer success

The outcomes that arise from DevOps practices is very similar to compounding interest - the benefits you realise as a result of the increased deployment cadence quickly add up.

For Jade ThirdEye customers, increasing the number of updates and features within a certain timeframe means they can comply with greater confidence. On an altruistic level, they can better protect the community from the harms associated with criminal activity, since they can identify and investigate suspicious activity with greater confidence and accuracy.

Being part of projects like this is very rewarding because of the material difference they make. If you want to see similar improvements and efficiencies in your business, we’d love to talk.

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