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Business and Technology Insights

Discovering DevOps for Utilities: Assurance as the Game Changer

 
January 10, 2017

Limited resources and complex processes are two attributes that have characterized and dominated the utilities sector. As customer expectations surge, and markets become fiercely competitive, utilities companies are being forced to accelerate their pace of innovation.

For example, in the power sector, intelligent grids and smart meters are driving operational efficiencies like never before. The variety of devices calls for system support across multi-channel platforms websites, mobile, the Internet of Things, and even social media. With multiple dependencies across upstream and downstream processes, Oil and Gas operations are tricky. Activities such as deep sea drilling demand unprecedented safely levels, which in turn requires always-on steady processes, and collaboration between multiple on-field, plant and offshore back-office teams.

Hence, development and operations teams in the utilities businesses can no longer work in silos. They must collaborate not once in a while, but continuously. The traditional departmental walls must be broken, because they are not just departmental barriers, but operational hindrances.

From the CIOs perspective, traditional software development and testing cycles, managed by disparate development and IT teams, cannot keep pace with these demands. Multiple teams must work collaboratively, and involve all stakeholders not on a need basis, but from the outset. There is a strong case for utilities companies to embrace DevOps. However, the existing models are so entrenched and deep rooted that DevOps adoption in utilities can prove challenging.

Here is how Quality Assurance (QA) can be the game changer – assurance synchronizes development and operations, by establishing a working rhythm between them. While development teams are busy creating or updating software, the operations folks ensure overall health of development, testing and production environments and systems. If this rhythm misses a note, or goes out of sync, DevOps will fail. A few keys could make all the difference between mindless noise, and in-sync rhythm thats music to everyones ears.

First and foremost, begin with People – involve all stakeholders from the outset. Initiate Agile scrums and conduct daily stand-up meetings. Drive transparency, and make everyone collectively responsible for quality and timelines. Create self-organization teams, by cross skilling development, QA and operations teams, enabling them to pitch in and wear multiple hats in pressure situations. Besides reducing dependencies, this approach also facilitates role progression. Testers dont not just test. They develop test scripts. They code. They become automation engineers.

From the Process perspective, adopt Shift-Left techniques. Develop the test plan and provision environments early. Derive functional and non-functional test scenarios from requirements, and develop the test scripts from the outset, even before a single line of code is developed. In their early iterations, the test scripts may not be 100% accurate, but will be revised as the scrum progresses. Initiate multiple scrums in parallel. Optimize team allocation and effort, by getting existing teams to close backlogs through separate sprints. Besides reducing dependency on upstream processes, this approach ensures resolution of underlying issues, pre-empts exceptions, and keeps projects in a state of continuous release-readiness.

Finally, Automation is key to DevOps success. In their new, upgraded automation engineer role, testers continuously develop test scripts as new builds are developed. Testing aspects that cannot be automated, must be left to exploratory testing, and hence manual testing will continue to exist.

As the TCS research Winning in the Digital Deluge: Assuring Software Quality in a Fast-Moving DevOps World suggests, firms can continue to work with slow, old-fashioned processes, or they can change. DevOps represents a major change in the way software is delivered, but in an environment where speed is of the essence and quality must be top-notch its the only way forward. In a digital always-on world, where customers want everything now, DevOps must make quick inroads into the utilities IT landscape. If your business hasnt yet embraced the DevOps ways of working, its time to make it top priority. DevOps is important because your devices, people and processes may be smart. But if they dont communicate and collaborate with each other, the smartness wont translate to business results.

Avijit Maity is a delivery manager with TCS' Assurance Services for an account in the utilities domain and is responsible for end-to-end delivery. He has an overall work experience of 12+ years in IT, Retail, Telecom and Utilities industries. He has worked in various technologies and has had diverse roles such as Project Manager, Test Manager, Test CoE Lead and Delivery Manager. He has established and implemented various innovative processes in these roles.