Agilifying the release cycle of a business-to-business service

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Why go fast when you can go hyper-fast?

Customer needs are nearly impossible to predict when developing new products. However, if your product development process is agile enough, you may be able to respond to customers’ arising demands on a short notice. The importance of reaction time much depends on the business and the competitive environment. The tougher the competition and the lower the cost of switching service providers, the more pressed you are to react in a timely fashion. While every software company nowadays markets themselves as lean, agile, nimble and fast moving, how often do these slogans realize in everyday operations? Do some companies really have special tools to accelerate development?

Nordcloud Solutions secret overdrive switch

For several years, we’ve been helping energy management company Enegia to maintain their competitive edge in the digital channel. In late 2014, Nordcloud Solutions came along to co-create a new cloud-based reporting platform EnerKey. During our collaboration, we’ve been lucky to witness and grasp several opportunities for structural change in the development process. In under three years, many things have happened. Nordcloud Solutions experts have participated in renewing the architecture. The changes towards a micro-architecture have enabled splicing the back-end development to smaller sections which can be independently developed. This has consecutively sped up the front-end development as well. Automated testing is another must-have feature. It enables the confident delivery of new features in short intervals. After its launch in mid-2015, the service has landed on a smooth development flyway.

There were 7 releases in 2015. 32 in 2016.

Senior project manager Kimmo Kinnunen from Enegia counts that in the past 12 months the development team has been able to release 20 major feature releases plus ten bug fixes! This speed has far exceeded earlier expectations of quarterly releases. And there is no going back. Kimmo describes the situation as follows: “We’re now able to move things quickly from designer’s desk to development and production. There is no need to revisit old ideas ten months after inception and try to recall what we were thinking. The pipeline goes so fast and we will focus on improving production features rather than redefining designs before a major release.”

There is no secret switch

With Enegia, Nordcloud Solutions has not pulled any single extraordinary magic trick. Our software architect Mikko Kärkkäinen has been working on the project for over two years. He attributes the vices of the current process to several development decisions. “Our thinking is focused on doing the minimum viable thing. Starting with small releases and doing consecutive releases that extend and augment the MVP. Behind small releases, we have a microservice architecture that is the enabler for developing small, individual features. And of course, there’s test automation and continuous integration in the development environment that help to get these smaller tasks done fast. ” Mikko says. Smaller, more frequent releases force everyone to think differently. But it is also more rewarding as the individual development tasks are completed, and even released in a matter of days, not months.  

The only way is forward

We’re on a good track here. I can’t imagine slowing down, but then again, we have no need to go much faster”, says Kimmo Kinnunen. The new platform development is slowly but surely catching up previous generation service in terms of feature scope. The old service is expected to retire next year as Enegia team with Nordcloud Solutions and another contractor has pushed some 20 new feature releases to the new EnerKey platform. The transition is not only about replacing outdated technology, but also exploiting the benefits of speed: “We’re finally able to address customer requests in a more timely fashion. If we decide to prioritize a new feature, it can be a matter of weeks to its release on the new platform and with the current process. If the release of a new feature after its design and development is delayed by several months only due to slow release cycle, this will negatively affect the return-on-investment”  Kimmo recounts.
Lassi Likkanen
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Ilja Summala
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Ilja’s passion and tech knowledge help customers transform how they manage infrastructure and develop apps in cloud.