The headline made her yelp for joy. A year into the future of D-Chip, on a crisp August morning, Phoebe opened the newspaper and swiped to the technology section on her iPad. What she saw was riveting: D-Chip reborn as a star in wearable computing.
She immediately thought of the article Marc Andreessen wrote on how software transformed the enterprise. It’s true of our company’s story, she mused. The credit for making the headline a reality was due to the stressful events of the last months. Who said stress couldn’t be a game changer? As she picked absently on a plate of fruit and relished the article for the second time, she recalled the events of the past year.
Flashback a year ago at D-Chip
Remember how Rachel pitched her enthusiastic idea to Chandler? She wanted to engage six engineers in six months to build an in-house solution. A solution that would integrate D-Chip and Enogo’s systems by letting them deploy in both OpenStack and AWS and manage wearable chip code from a single deployment platform.
Chandler agreed in theory with the need for a single management platform but didn’t see the sense of doing it in-house. Why side-track from your business goals and spend months building a solution yourself when there are specialists solving this exact problem for many companies facing the same issues? After much debate, they came to a consensus. They decided to evaluate solutions from the best-of-breed products out there and transform their software development lifecycle to reflect the best agile practices. Thus was born the iTransform project.
The iTransform project
The name itself was a reminder that transforming was as much a matter of people internalizing and accepting a new way of doing things as much as it was about aligning and unifying D-Chip and Enogo systems. The first order of priority was to understand the pain-points that assailed the company. After a lot of meetings and detailed analysis, they identified key use cases from internal stakeholders, namely the engineering and IT operation teams:
Engineering personas, developers, QA, architects, all said the same things. They didn’t have access to the latest tech because it took weeks or months for approval processes to travel up the chain. Then they waited on builds and environments from IT operation teams. Most of the time, the environments in the private datacenter OpenStack cloud didn’t work properly, and deployments never succeeded the first time. It’s no wonder they took weeks or months to release anything decent.
Self-service and continuous delivery were, therefore, the most important criteria for developers, QA, and architects. Without waiting for IT admins or operations teams, they wanted to spin up build environments in test, staging, even production on their choice of pre-configured infrastructure. They wanted to consume in an on-demand fashion the latest technologies on multiple clouds. Today they were using AWS cloud and OpenStack, but tomorrow they wanted any cloud that matched their workload configuration needs best.
IT operations and system admins brought up their set of challenges. Their primary goal was to configure environments for repeatability; safeguard builds from failures and structure stable workflows. Not an easy job come to think of it. On top of this demands from the engineering teams dictated that they learn and implement new technologies in a very short time. Technologies ranged from configuration management tools, cloud platforms, storage, networking, load balancing services, monitoring services, and more. Besides when engineers wrote configuration templates as Enogo did for AWS, it was hard to figure out who owned the deployment stack. In the case of problems, it resulted in pointless blame games. So they desired a clear level of separation between code, deployment automation, and infrastructure. Technologies and cloud platforms could come and go, but IT operations remained responsible to maintain smooth workflows, stable builds, and error-free deployments.
A service catalog also met the needs of the IT operations teams. They wanted to build and manage specific platforms, runtimes and version configuration changes. Collaboration was a key factor. Many IT operations team members and engineers were experts in some but not all technologies and tools. But together in a collaborative platform, experts could contribute at their skill level and share knowledge with others. Automating configuration changes in bulk saved a ton of time. Therefore, API support for automation was high on their wish-list.
- The IT managers were important though indirect stakeholders. They often approved and handled audits, compliance, and budgetary aspects. Policies and cost management were paramount to them. IT managers needed control and oversight to implement compliant deployment policies that gave the right level of access to the right set of infrastructure on pre-approved cloud providers. They needed to set and monitor quotas and track IT spend on cloud deployments against approved budget.
After three months of evaluating proof-of-concept solutions with vendors, they zeroed in on a solution that met all of their uses cases and helped set up their current builds. Because of this, the teams were able to ship code ten times faster. It was only a matter of time before D-Chip stood out as a market leader. It was clear to the company executives what was driving this transformation.
They retired the semiconductor business and switched their business focus entirely to SDK builds of software for wearable computing. The software services for wearable chips was now way more valuable than any piece of hardware. Their customers in wearable computing now consumed D-Chip technology as a service in the cloud. A faster and efficient software development lifecycle enabled them to carve a new market niche and become the de facto leader.
The transforming story of D-Chip is a reminder for us all. When there are problems in software development, by aligning goals and helping people in different roles work together and participate in the development lifecycle, you increase the pace of innovation dramatically. It can be so powerful that it can transform the company’s core products or services.
Disruptive change doesn’t happen one step at a time. It happens with mavericks and innovators like Rachel and Chandler leading radical changes in a focused group effort. You want innovation to transform your business? Get a dedicated group of mavericks together and make it happen.
Just like mankind advanced their understanding through each cycle of civilization from the stone age up to the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, the future is heralded by the IT age of our times.