by Clint Boulton

True agile software development requires DevOps

Nov 15, 2016
Agile DevelopmentCIODevops

Fannie Mae has doubled its software output in the last 18 months thanks to agile software development and DevOps, which enables continuous integration and application deployment.

agile devops
Credit: Thinkstock

Enterprises are quickening the pace with which they build and roll out software to better satisfy customers who expect new features as often as smartphone application upgrades. But enterprises that wish to reap the potentially rich rewards of getting IT and business line leaders to build software together in agile fashion must also embrace the DevOps model, says Fannie Mae CIO Frederic Veron.

Combining agile and DevOps requires implementing a set of processes and automation tools that allow programmers to continuously integrate and deploy software.

“If you do agile without DevOps, it’s like you’re trying to race with a tractor instead of a car,” says Veron, who was appointed to the CIO role last month. “You can go and do the laps but it’s not going to go very fast, you’re probably going to consume a lot of fuel and it won’t be a lot of fun.”

Veron says that embracing DevOps has helped the mortgage provider deliver software in as quickly as 10 weeks compared to what was typically a six to nine month process two years ago. The accelerated pace improves time to market and reduces the risk of failure, he says.

DevOps begets agile

In agile, IT and business leaders are often co-located and meet frequently to hash out software development. This allows companies to cut time-to-market by a third or more. DevOps enables an agile methodology by automating formerly manual software development, with applications pushed into production as what’s described as minimally viable products, which are regularly refined based on user and customer feedback.

Wal-Mart, Capital One and Fannie Mae are revamping their programming cultures around DevOps and design thinking, which Forrester Research says are essential ingredients with which companies will win new customers in 2017.

Like most large enterprises, Fannie Mae’s product managers would compose and email a set of product requirements to IT, waiting several months for the application delivery. Now product managers complete agile training, partnering with IT to communicate requirements in regular meetings. Developers engage in coding scrums and two-week sprints, stringing together several to formulate a software product, such as the Loan Delivery application, a web app through which lenders submit loans.

To do this, IT leans on DevOps applications that help automate planning, code development, configuration, testing and deployment. For instance, it uses code-quality scanning tools from CAST Software to analyze software as it’s being developed and alert developers to bugs. Veron says he requires the CAST quality index must improve with each sprint before the code is pushed into production.

Veron says his team has also reduced server and database provisioning times from days to hours. Using container technology, which packages application and all its dependencies, developers move software from one computing environment to another across the company’s hybrid cloud. These changes enable IT to continually release and refine features, consistent with continuous integration and deployment practices.

Fannie Mae is seeing productivity gains ranging from 28 percent to 40 percent at nearly a third of the cost, Veron estimates. The software is also rolling out at 12 times the speed of pre-DevOps deployments and at a 30 percent to 48 percent improvement in quality. In the past 18 months, the company has more than doubled its number of software releases, Veron says.

How DevOps mitigates risk

Based on those statistics you’d be tempted to think that speed is the biggest impact DevOps has had on Fannie Mae. But Veron says Fannie Mae also mitigates the risk of software failure. By continuously tweaking and deploying software, Fannie Mae can find out what products or feature sets test well with mortgage brokers, homeowners and other parties.

DevOps enables it to quickly walk back buggy code or ineffective products for revision; sometimes Veron’s team can push out fixes overnight. “You get a better product because it’s better aligned with requirements and you get the value you expect from the software faster,” Veron says.

Veron says Fannie Mae’s move to agile has been a decade-long process, with some product groups embracing it earlier than others. But he’s also noted something of a sea change. Initially, IT pushed agile and DevOps at the product managers, pitching it as a way to solve some of their delivery challenges. But once the business lines saw the nimble nature with which their peer groups were getting software to market, they came to IT with fresh demands. “In 2016 we turned the corner and the business is pulling us more than ever before,” Veron says. And that’s just fine with Veron.

“What is important is the connection between IT and the business,” Veron says. “I feel that at Fannie Mae it is here to stay because the value is really visible, people are embracing it and we’re making tremendous progress.”