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Staying Ahead of the Game With Continuous Delivery

The need to develop better software faster is leading financial organizations to continuous delivery (CD), a practice pioneered by SaaS companies like Salesforce.

Today's financial organizations face immense pressure to provide customers with online and mobile capabilities. Modern, tech-savvy consumers demand the ability to file insurance claims worth tens of thousands of dollars through a mobile app. They switch banks because their "old-school bank" lets them deposit checks only in person. Not surprisingly, roughly 86% of the US population filed their tax returns online in 2013. The financial services industry is rapidly evolving through consumer expectations for technology innovation driven by better software. And the need to offer better software faster is leading financial organizations to a new development practice: continuous delivery (CD).

The "new normal" for financial services
CD was pioneered by software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies such as Salesforce.com that needed to push multiple production releases out every day to be competitive. It's a software development discipline where early feedback, automated builds and tests, and incremental deployments can dramatically speed up product and application release cycles while maintaining quality and stability -- allowing companies to release software and updates quickly and reliably when they are needed. This is important to companies in the financial services industry, because they are under extreme pressure to distinguish themselves from competitors with time-saving services while controlling costs and responding to ever-changing regulatory requirements.

A great example of CD being used in the financial services industry is Intuit, the company behind the TurboTax personal and small-business finance software. CD helps Intuit react quickly to ever-changing laws and maintain support for its software during tax season, when demand rises exponentially. Having an established CD pipeline for TurboTax enables Intuit to develop, test, and deliver software updates rapidly while leveraging the latest secure and agile cloud technology. CD has also helped the company bring down internal silos to encourage cross-product collaboration, making Intuit more open to sharing best-practices across its organization.

Keys to continuous delivery
Whether an organization is already using CD and seeking to leverage its benefits further or jumping in for the first time, there are some tried-and-true keys to success. Here are five best-practices that distinguish companies doing CD well.

  1. Think beyond the code: A delivery pipeline should treat all assets, including nonsoftware ones, as first-class components. This includes artwork and other elements. If these additional artifacts are not tracked along with the rest of the application, it might affect the quality of the product at release.
  2. Automate, automate, automate: In a highly automated environment, changes can be integrated immediately, and failures can be returned quickly to the development team for correcting. Automation eliminates manual and ad hoc processes, and it enables predictability and repeatability.
  3. Make everything fully visible: Improved visibility leads to increased quality. Having a complete catalogue of changes across teams and projects helps companies predict and measure the potential impact of future updates. Sharing a common view of assets reduces errors and ensures that conflicts are discovered early -- rather than right before shipping.
  4. Track every change: Just as the best forensic labs have a "chain of custody," traceability reinforces best-practices in development and deployment. Recording every change, event, and transaction is hugely valuable in situations where a rollback to a previous version may be required. Top companies apply this chain-of-custody approach to all aspects of software application management.
  5. Put it all in one place: Companies need a "single source of truth" across the enterprise. Creating one can yield immeasurable results because it sets up a unified repository for all assets. This supports virtually unlimited scaling. If assets and artifacts are distributed across multiple locations and multiple stores, then the risk of introducing errors and missing delivery deadlines increases. Unifying the collection and management of assets reduces complexity and supports a dynamic, innovative environment.

The market pressures that organizations face today are enormous. Customers are less patient and less forgiving than ever, and the risk is perhaps greatest for financial services companies, which often struggle to balance innovation with security and quality. They might need to make fundamental changes to their offerings at a moment's notice based on the latest consumer whim. Their teams are called upon to provide hackproof software and respond to the latest security threats on a daily basis. And they're expected to do all this without sacrificing quality, with no room for downtime or failure.

By leveraging continuous delivery, financial organizations can rise to the high expectations of today's customers. Those that don't are less likely to be around for the next wave of innovation.

Christopher Seiwald is founder and CEO of Perforce Software, a privately held company with headquarters in Alameda, Calif., and international offices in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada View Full Bio
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