“We had three goals: reduce release complexity, shorten the deployment cycle so that it could be done in just a few clicks, and comply with new regulations.”
Manager, Performance and Industrialization Skill Center
When performed manually, application release management is among the most onerous activities carried out by IT departments. There are four disadvantages to this process: It is highly time-consuming; it is expensive; the larger the company, the more complex it becomes and there are associated risks, as it can result in human errors and loss of release control. This can have potentially disastrous consequences for operating performance and for a company’s image.
Melinda-Carol Ballou, an analyst at IDC, observes, “At a time when Agile development is becoming increasingly necessary for companies, application deployment can create a bottleneck. It slows down the release process just as sectors are in urgent need of applications for business development.”
Generali needed to reduce release complexity, shorten deployment, and shorten the deployment cycle.
The solution? Standardize and automate. This is the approach taken by the Generali Group, Europe’s leading life insurer with more than six million policyholders. Generali is also the second largest insurance group in France, with 10,000 employees and general agents. “We had three goals: reduce release complexity, shorten the deployment cycle so that it could be done in just a few clicks, and comply with new regulations,” said Cyril Thenon, manager of the performance and industrialization skill center within the Generali France Production and Services Division. In particular, deployment reporting has to comply with FARG (Financial Accounting Risk Governance) audits and the internal initiatives of the Generali Group, so as to meet enhanced traceability requirements.
The Generali application delivery calendar is extremely active, with a monthly average of 120 application changes, 200 production deployments for the mainframe, and 190 for distributed environments, in addition to several thousand batch processing runs. Generali France manages a total of 470 applications, including 120 key and 85 critical applications. The Generali application portfolio is 80% due to internal developments, hence the relevance of automating deployments for greater efficiency.
The Generali Release Deployment project was launched in 2011 with two supported technologies (JBoss and WebSphere). These were supplemented by webMethods and Sybase in 2012, Oracle, Datastage and Dollar Universe in 2013, and SQL Server and batch deliverables in 2014. “Since June 2014, all production deployments have been carried out using Micro Focus software solutions. Requests are now handled simply, quickly, and efficiently,” notes Cyril Thenon.
Generali France implemented the Micro Focus software platform in order to manage the release life cycle, post-development handover. Generali uses three Micro Focus software components:
“Serena Software (now part of Micro Focus) is a robust, easy-to-update, and open solution in comparison to our existing processes. This was a key criterion for incorporating it into our environments,” confirms Thenon.
Process automation means that complex deployments can be orchestrated in various environments within the company. The software provides end-to-end graphical design and visualization of the deployment process. In addition, reusable process models make it easier to configure new deployment processes.
The “Vault” capability is critical, as it safeguards deployment integrity. This capability allows for the centralized storage of all application packages and for the various versions to be managed. Above all, previous versions of the application can be retrieved or deployed easily to new application nodes (e.g. for a website ramp-up).
Another advantage provided by the Micro Focus Software release deployment solution is its preroll out validation ”airlock,” one which can be used by research teams. “This is a real step forward in terms of agility for our project teams at this crucial stage between incorporation and pre-production, where quality has to be controlled and human errors avoided,” notes Cyril Thenon. The challenge is ensuring end-to-end deployment control. This becomes indispensable where there are several stakeholders or a number of co-existing delivery methods, where different tools are required for different technologies, or where the results of deployments are difficult to identify, due to riskier manual deliveries.
The validation “airlock” offers a unique point of entry for all project deliverables, regardless of the technology used. Teams are provided with a repository portal for the validation of application deliverables. Packages placed in the repository are checked and a deployment report is prepared.
This unique release management solution brings greater fluidity to the process, as deployments into an environment can be performed on an almost continuous basis, utilizing a “dragand-run” system, with an option to perform of several deliveries per day (from midday to midnight at Generali). “It has streamlined the deployment process and enhanced monitoring for project teams,” stresses Thenon. “The flexibility offered by this solution made it easy for us to adapt it to fit our standards and processes.”
Implementing an application release management solution offers a return on investment almost immediately, with a very significant leverage effect. Melinda-Carol Ballou, an analyst at IDC, notes, “Eighty percent of software costs are incurred during the release and post-deployment stages. Even small improvements to process efficiency can mean substantial gains throughout the application management cycle.”
Cyril Thenon feels that the automation of application deployments offers three clear advantages: “Firstly, we have significantly reduced human errors, and quality standards are being met. Secondly, we are fully in line with audit requirements: The deployment process is measurable, repeatable and auditable. The Serena Software (now part of Micro Focus) solution provides comprehensive information on all applications moving into production, thanks to the use of a unique point of entry. Finally, the deployment teams were quick to see that this new process would make their lives easier. The technical validation phase is much more efficient, and release is of a much higher quality. This means that any authorized employee can easily transfer a validation and pre-production application, as we can be certain that no changes have been made.”
Cyril Thenon has several good practice recommendations for the implementation of this kind of release management approach. “Split the project into batches and iterate wherever necessary. Hire project staff with sound development skills and pair them with knowledgeable volunteers. Ensure that there is at least one “quick win” early in the project. This will demonstrate the value of the project to your teams, and help gain their support.” There are two very common pitfalls to avoid: “Firstly, underestimating the time required to implement standards and assess existing structures; secondly, the challenge of setting the optimal level of granularity for application packaging.”
The industrialization and automation of application deployments is a key element and a central phase in the introduction of a DevOps-style (Development and Operations) approach, which strengthens collaboration between development and release management teams. DevOps ensures an orchestrated flow from the occupational sectors to development and operations. According to Thenon, “This is the next step for us, allowing us to move directly from our Software Factory over to Micro Focus without manipulating the source codes. The goal is to make life even easier for our developers and production teams.”