Businesses embrace software development principles in the face of disruption

The internet has wildly disrupted the business world to the extent that in today’s economy the flow of information is often the most valuable commodity. At the heart of this information economy is software, which every successful business of significance is employing well in some way, shape or form.

From retail to rockets, car rental to finance, software is king. Every successful business needs to master how it creates software, not just to survive, but to gain competitive advantage in the disruptive business landscape.

To win, businesses must implement tools and processes that allow them to write good software. As a result, the best practices of software development have become critical to dealing with the challenges, and indeed taking advantage of the opportunities, of digital disruption. The agile approach, in particular, has taken centre stage.

Much of the value of agile derives from its iterative approach to software delivery. Building incrementally and fluidly, rather than trying to do everything in one large project that cannot deviate from its original goal, delivers much more successful outcomes. Engrained in this approach is the DevOps movement, a software engineering practice that is based on shorter development and communication cycles. Both agile and DevOps revolve around taking a people-centric and team-centric approach.

“The software world moves very quickly and the shorter iterations associated with agile approaches drive that speed,” say Simon Haighton-Williams, chief executive at Adaptavist, a London-headquartered business that helps enterprises design, deliver and support their software better. “In the physical world, something like developing a new car might take years before it sees the light of day. In the software world, disruptive competitors are moving rapidly as well so the tools that allow you to move and change quickly are vital.”

With the business landscape moving so fast in the face of digital disruption, the opportunities that are identified at the beginning of a project may no longer necessarily be the right opportunities down the line. Agile approaches enshrine the ability to change direction, allowing companies to survive and thrive in today’s world.

A pragmatic approach is vital in any business pursuit, particularly one that requires a savvy use of software. Most traditional IT projects fail to meet their goals either on time or on budget, or by failing to live up to expectations. With agile, the business not only accepts that some initiatives might fail, but often embraces a “fail fast” philosophy in pursuit of the right software. By accepting that the original goal might be wrong or have changed, the team can modify its objectives along the way and deliver better outcomes.

“Every journey starts with a single step,” says Mr Haighton-Williams, “but by making those smalls steps and embracing the fact that you don’t necessarily know your end-goal in fine detail, you’re able to navigate to a better outcome. Understanding the environment in which you operate and the resources you can deploy is vital. You’ll probably fail without doing that.

“At Adaptavist, we have an internal motto: pragmatism above all else. In some ways, it’s at the core of what agile is about. It’s about recognising reality and reacting to it. This defends you against the threat of going in the wrong direction, while allowing you to be opportunistic about things that have come up in your market and sector.”

Adaptavist provides products, services and solutions to a client base that includes most of the Fortune 500. As a platinum solution partner of Atlassian, Adaptavist helps organisations dealing with the complexities of digital disruption.

Atlassian is at the forefront of the software development industry. Founded 15 years ago by a pair of software developers with nothing but credit cards to get started, it is now an $11-billion public company offering tools that are used by tens of millions of software developers around the world. Its products, including Jira and Confluence, are designed from the ground up to be intrinsically modular and expandable, making it possible for third parties such as Adaptavist to extend, integrate and automate the Atlassian toolset.

It turns out that the things which have worked well for software developers – speed, flexibility, communication, collaboration – work well for most other parts of the business

One Adaptavist client, the John Lewis Partnership, has worked with the company to build a comprehensive, scalable and resilient managed services platform for more than 2,000 users of Atlassian software. The 150-year-old retailer, which operates 42 John Lewis shops and 322 Waitrose supermarkets across the UK, looked to Adaptavist to provide better control over the entire development process.

John Lewis knew that Jira and Confluence had the potential to deliver much more, and as Claire Nelson, its methods and tools lead, puts it: “We wanted to establish the maximum value that could be gained from the tools.”

Adaptavist supplied and now runs a secure and stable managed services platform where John Lewis’s users can quickly and easily share information and access the full range of Atlassian plugins. In less than two years, the number of users quadrupled in a succession of closely managed and successful rollouts, with more than 2,000 people now using the platform in Europe and India.

“If you look at the retail sector as a whole, Fortune 500 retailers are spending $1 billion a year on IT, but are competing with competitors such as Amazon and being forced to up their game. We see the same trend across the wide range of sectors we operate in. The enterprise is having to move from deploying new software once a year towards a more continuous delivery model and making teams work seamlessly together,” says Mr Haighton-Williams.

Good software developers are seasoned in delivering what the business needs even when it doesn’t know what that is, and often in the midst of uncertainty and change. With this changing landscape now occurring everywhere, businesses are realising that many other areas of the organisation can learn from this approach.

“We will continue to support software development communities and organisations, but also we’re seeing another big opportunity happening now and in a very big way. These software development processes and approaches are being adopted into the wider business,” says Mr Haighton-Williams.

“It turns out that the things which have worked well for software developers – speed, flexibility, communication, collaboration – work well for most other parts of the business. These agile tools and approaches are being adopted in legal, human resources, marketing, finance and customer service, and this is absolutely where we’re going. The more you are agile in the business and the more that you embrace approaches such as DevOps and look at your processes holistically, the higher the return on investment.”

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