As digital technologies dramatically reshape every industry, businesses have to adapt quickly and cost efficiently in response to the rapid changes in the marketplace. This need for business agility has dramatically increased the volume of change for IT.  Adopting Agile methodologies and continuous integration is the first logical step in satisfying the “need for speed.” However, this tends to push the bottleneck further along the path to production.

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Software is not being deployed into test environments or released into production environments any quicker. Lack of control of the release process, poor collaboration between teams, and manual deployments are all part of the problem. Recent research indicates that by 2023, 75 percent of all applications will be released by a release orchestration tool.   This will help alleviate the problem of process disconnects between development and operation teams and meet customer requirements for speed and risk mitigation. 

So, how do you improve the quality and increase the speed of your releases and deployments without compromising environmental stability and control? And how do you streamline processes that span your development and operations teams?

Determine success up front
Through the definition and measurement of metrics centered on business success, teams can have a better understanding of the outcome of their output. What are your commitments to the business? Define success for your organization. Can you measure success and gauge your progress against these measurements? What type of release cadence have you committed to and what can you actually support? Can you measure and report on plan versus actual? What about measuring deployment cycle times? You need to develop the metrics that support what matters the most to the business. 

Integrate and orchestrate your continuous delivery toolchain
A toolchain philosophy, by definition, involves a set of complementary task-specific tools used in combination to automate an end-to-end process. There are many tools from different vendors using different APIs within the release and deployment process and there will be overlap that needs to be managed. While a common set of tools across organizations is desirable, many times you will not have the ability to control tool selection, so it’s important to have the flexibility to integrate these tools together.  

You need to ensure that your release orchestration tool can integrate with your change management system, providing linkage to change requests with complete traceability from request to deployable artifact. The release process needs to be tightly coupled with the change process to drive state transitions. Having a toolchain integration concept enables you to orchestrate and automate complex application and component automation processes across different tools and environments in a consistent, repeatable way. 

Automate your code and configuration deployments
Automate your code and configuration deployments with a single set of processes across all environments. Ensure that these deploy from the same source and the same manner across all your environments.  When the same process is used, it gets tested more often and any environmental issues will be easier to identify. All pre-production deployments should be rehearsals for the final deployment into production. The more automated this process is, the more repeatable and reliable it will be. When it’s time to deploy to production, you will be ready, which translates into less downtime and keeps the business open so that it can make more money. The real value is that when work is automated, teams are given the ability to refocus technical staff on innovating as they discover new opportunities to improve the business.  

Control and secure your release artifacts
Automating code deployments and using version control have been identified as two of the best practices used by high-performing organizations. Using version control as your single source of truth gives you the ability to pinpoint failures, easily roll back to a known state, and quickly deploy a new application. Everything required to support and run the application, including infrastructure and configuration code, should be under version control and reside in a secure release repository.

Manage preproduction environments
The effective and efficient use of test and staging (pre-production) environments is critical to a successful release deployment. Managing these environments is incredibly complicated due to the increased release velocity, the large number of applications, and the complexity of the application infrastructure stack. Lack of test environment availability and/or environment contention can delay releases and increase the cost of deployments.

Using office productivity tools (Excel or Word) does not work in large test environments. You need to be able to implement a process to schedule, manage, track, and control all test and pre-production environments in your release life cycle. Automated and self-service environmental provisioning can streamline the process to enable reduced cycle times.

Manual deployments, poor collaboration between teams, and lack of control of the release process all lead to poor quality releases at a high cost to the business. In order to achieve higher levels of performance, organizations should use an adaptive, agile and lean approach to release management.

Automation is the quickest route to high performance, increasing quality and speed. However, automation alone it is not sufficient. You must also orchestrate and integrate the toolchains, simplify the handoffs and communications between development and operations teams, and standardize on a single set of release and deployment processes.