With approximately seven million customers worldwide, Standard Life provides an extensive range of financial products and services aimed at meeting the financial needs of customers throughout their lives and includes life insurance, pensions, investments, banking and health-care. To support these services, Standard Life’s IT organization maintains a variety of applications ranging from complaint handling, to workflow. To support these applications properly, they must provide timely enhancements and bug fixes—a key corporate role in maintaining customer satisfaction.
Like any insurance company, Standard Life is governed by regulatory agencies. In the U.K., these regulations are enforced by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which monitors, among other things, whether customer complaints have been responded to in a timely manner. If the complaint handling application was down, for example, Standard Life would be unable to respond to customers in a timely fashion, the FSA could impose fines and the bad publicity could result in loss of credibility with Standard Life’s customers.
Because deployment of applications is lengthy and complex, conducting the process manually is open to human error and could lead to a non-functioning application being deployed. To diminish the time it takes to deploy an application and reduce the possibility of error, Standard Life chose to seek an automated solution.
Standard Life’s Notes development environment was set up like many others, with developers submitting details of new databases or database refreshes to an administration team. The administration team would then carry out the steps required to promote the database to production. Though this process was intended to protect production service and maintain a manageable production environment, it was problematic:
- Deployment took three days – and sometimes more
- Mistakes were often made during deployment, usually due to communication problems or because the process was manual
- Developers tried to include a number of enhancements in a release because of the hassle of deployment, often delaying the release of simple enhancements
- Developers had to repeat almost the same communication for each database refresh, wasting valuable time
- A developer and administrator were required for after-hours production refreshes, with a similar backup-in-place process early the next morning
- The developers didn’t like the hassle and lack of control, while administrators didn’t like performing what they considered to be a low value database refresh task
Finding a solution to these problems had been considered by the IT department on numerous occasions, but the prospect of developing and maintaining a bespoke automated system could not be justified due to the time and cost involved.
The Teamstudio Solution
After meeting with Standard Life to ensure a clear understanding of their environment and requirements, Teamstudio visited their Edinburgh offices to install and configure Build Manager. As a financial institution, Standard Life are especially concerned with the security surrounding their build process. So, although pleased that builds would be quicker and of a higher quality, they were happy that Build Manager could be configured to allow developers to promote applications while allowing administrators to control what steps were being performed during those promotions. To ensure accountability, Build Manager also maintains a detailed record of what builds have been performed and what activity took place in those builds. As a result of using Teamstudio Build Manager, developers and administrators at Standard Life use fewer resources on application builds, though builds occur more frequently. The setup of a new database still requires the involvement of the administration team. However, when the application nears completion, it is setup based on the test template, allowing developers to perform a controlled refresh via Build Manager when a production-ready version is finally available. This simplifies the final release and allows the developer to focus on development.
Teamstudio Build Manager allowed Standard Life to gain control of database refreshes and easily organize deployments at more convenient times. It shortened the development/test/ deployment cycle, allowing developers to deliver enhanced functionality more frequently. Now, they typically need only one person to perform production deployments, allowing them to redirect valuable administration resources. Once a build process has been created for an application using Teamstudio Build Manager, that particular build is no longer considered an issue. Support risks have been reduced. With Teamstudio Build Manager, steps required for promoting a given application are now documented, allowing the build to be performed by someone not even associated with the application. Teamstudio Build Manager also provides a detailed log of all deployments, giving Standard Life a more accurate picture of all promotion activity.
The cost of creating an automated build system internally was prohibitive. Implementing Teamstudio Build Manager was a cost-effective solution. Teamstudio Build Manager’s return on investment was based on approximately 500 deployments a year. Six months after Teamstudio Build Manager was installed, 533 promotions had been run. Of these, 324 were to production. “Currently, not all developers are using Build Manager,” said Cochrane. “But that will change.”