Friday, August 2, 2013

Business Enablement through Release Management

Ever since IT became self-aware (no, not like Skynet in the Terminator) it has been striving to make itself more and more efficient.  The “Aha!” moment for every IT organization comes when it realizes that business thinks it is too slow and delivers little value.  After much introspection, new promises are made, commitment to customer service is renewed, processes are modified and streamlined, resources are trained, and so on…  Everything runs great for awhile only to be repeated a couple of years later.

In the recent years, when the technology became more business user friendly, IT organizations realized that the best thing they could do for the business was to let it have a piece of the action.  “Business Enablement” became the thing to do.  The idea was to let the business users actually make changes to some parts of the IT systems.  According to James Taylor, a thought leader in the decision management space, “business enablement means putting the business users, those who understand the business and how it needs to change, in a position to make the changes they want and need without IT being a roadblock."(

Many organizations have struggled with enabling its business users in the way James Taylor describes it.  Many have tried, yet many have failed.  Those that are successful not only introduce the right technology solutions but also modify many of its processes to ensure that business users can actually do what they need with little or no IT involvement.  Simplification and streamlining of the processes, automation, and modernization are the keys to a successful business enablement initiative.  Introducing the right business enablement technology is, of course, beside the point.

Typically, the biggest obstacle to making business enablement work well is the IT Release Management process.  It is often too rigid and cumbersome, requires a small army to execute, and takes a long time.  Business doesn't want to wait months for its often simple changes to be moved to production.  This is not what business enablement is all about.  Yet, IT, rightly so, doesn't want to let anything get into production without proper testing and validation.  And here, at these crossroads is where most business enablement initiatives die.

But there is a way to solve this…  The simple solution is to provide a shortcut to production for most if not all the changes made by the business.  The diagram below depicts a high level process for achieving this.

It really doesn’t matter what tools are employed or what types of changes are made.  This process should be able to handle most situations.  The idea here is simple.  To streamline the movement of business artifacts from development to production, several steps need to be taken.
  1. Establish a Business Development Environment, a location where business users can make changes to elements of IT systems under their control and test the impacts of these changes 
  2. Once the changes are ready, provide an automated way to execute as many regression tests as necessary to validate that the changes do not impact any existing systems 
  3. Enable an automated way to execute performance / load tests to ensure that changes do not adversely impact established NFRs 
  4. Ensure stakeholders validate that the changes do not break current systems’ functionality 
  5. Upon successful completion of all the tests, provide an automated way to deploy changes to production
Ideally, this process should take a few hours, a couple of days at the most.  It should shortcut the existing Release Management process that normally takes weeks to complete.  The goal is to introduce changes into production as quickly as possible.  Of course, not every change is eligible for such first class treatment.  The basic guiding principles for a shortened release management lifecycle should be:

  • If a change is confined to business owned elements only and no changes by IT are needed, the change is eligible for the streamlined release 
  • If any IT changes are required, the regular release management process should be followed

While this process is simple from a high level perspective, there is a lot of hard work that needs to go into it to make it operational.  Automation of testing and release management functions is never simple, fast, or straightforward.  It usually takes months or even years to reach a point where it will cover 80% of IT systems and business functions.  Yet, without automation, the process as described above cannot work.  There is not going to be anything fast or streamlined about manual testing of business changes.  On the other hand, the culture change required to make this process work can be daunting.  Not many IT organizations will be willing to make this kind of a leap.

Business enablement can be achieved without a streamlined release management process.  However, business agility cannot.  Businesses cannot move as quickly as they can and react rapidly to a changing business climate without a way to introduce changes to IT systems in days rather than months.  Those that can leverage business enablement and release management processes to their advantage will inevitably come out ahead.


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