One Company’s Success with Test Environment Management
Sep 10, 2018
If you live in the United Kingdom, Ireland or in the eastern United States, there is a good chance that your electricity is provided by Centrica or one of its subsidiaries. With 27,000,000 customers, they are in the top 100 utility companies in the United Kingdom. This means Centrica covers a lot of territory and provides a lot of power. To keep a utility infrastructure that size functional and competitive, Centrica employs a massive support staff of 12,000 engineers and technicians.
With an operation that size, Centrica uses a lot of specialized technology and software solutions. In fact, they manage a total of 2,680 environments, 500 of which are non-production environments. Vijay, the head of the Environment Delivery Services team for the UK and Ireland, is responsible for the team that manages these environments. He has been a well-respected change advocate throughout the organization and industry. In an effort to share the secret of their success with their test environment management solution, he was recently a featured guest on a webinar with Gigaom and Plutora. If you are in the process of researching, or are even remotely interested in improving your organizations test environment management, you won’t want to miss it. It’s packed with insightful discussion and information.
Summary of the Problem
The competitive nature of today’s business environment requires businesses to maintain highly efficient development lifecycles. This environment of continuous improvement requires development teams to regularly evaluate their value streams to improve delivery performance, efficiency, quality, communications and project transparency.
Centrica was no exception. With dozens of development teams and seven test environment management teams, they had their work cut out for them. To further complicate things, they used a series of spreadsheets, SharePoint sites and Access databases to track as much detail as possible throughout the entire process. However, using so many different separate information silos created additional challenges.
With this method of collecting and tracking data, it was nearly impossible to culminate the information from the dozens of data sources quickly enough to providing any sort of meaningful value. This challenge, however, was just the beginning. A few of the other issues Centrica was faced with include:
As with any reporting process, the quality of the report is only as good as the collected data. As is the case in many organizations, team members would simply forget to record things in the spreadsheets and SharePoint sites. When they did record it, it was often not 100% accurate. If something wasn’t recorded, scheduled, or allocated correctly, team members often wouldn’t discover the discrepancy until it was too late.
Centrica realized that they had to face the hard reality that their data accuracy, flow and transparency was simply inadequate.
Usage and Projections
Centrica teams also realized that because their data was incomplete and inaccurate, they didn’t have reliable information on their environment usage. This meant they couldn’t correctly forecast future environment usage. Their usage projections and future planning were all based on their best guess, which left a large and uncomfortable margin of error.
This issue of inaccurate data was also very prevalent with their manual process of test environment booking and scheduling. This lead to numerous scheduling conflicts, incorrectly configured environments, missed project deadlines and significantly lower client approval rate.
Governance & Audits
Tracking which test was performed using which environment, and when, was always a mess when it came to trying to capture historical records for compliance and audit purposes. The data sources weren’t always accurate and they were never secure. This made it impossible to protect the results against intentional or accidental inaccuracies.
Centrica’s management teams were facing the hard fact that it’s impossible to meet compliance and governance standards if your historical data can be edited by anyone, at any time, in an unsecured spreadsheet.
The test environment configurations were requested and outlined in the original booking request. However, due to a lack of environment transparency, and a fair amount of human error, the actual environments used for testing were often slightly different than what was requested or needed. This resulted in more time spent troubleshooting, environment re-configurations, and a number of code issues that weren’t discovered until they were already in the production environment.
Identify the Needs
What Centrica needed was a bulletproof, unified test environment management solution. A solution that automatically and accurately tracked every aspect of test environment management process from start to finish, giving them 100% accurate historical information. They needed a solution that could help them follow the respective workflow for each team and project, and that would improve the repeatable accuracy and efficiency of the environment configuration and management process. Centrica teams needed a solution that would improve work-flow throughout the lifecycle and provide complete project scheduling transparency for all stakeholders. Finally, they needed a solution that could provide at least some level of automation capabilities to improve their accuracy, repeatability, work flow efficiency, gate management, approvals and on-time environment delivery.
Vijays’ research found that the Plutora Value Stream Management solution met every one of Centrica’s needs and more. It enabled them to improve their test environment management processes beyond what they were originally targeting.
With the Plutora solution, they were able to fully integrate with ServiceNow to manage the automated intake and triaging of booking requests. From there, they leveraged the Plutora test environment management function to accurately configure the requested environments using a library of environment artifacts that included test data, software versions, network loads and past, present and future states of the environments and much more.
Plutora helped to manage workflows that were configured to meet the specific needs of each team and each project. Vijay states that they were so pleased with the Plutora test environment management solution, they also opted to use the Plutora release management function, which creates a seamless project work flow throughout the entire development life cycle. With all of the phases, gates and transitions properly controlled and managed automatically, delivery speeds and quality increased.
As Vijay discusses in his webinar, there are many benefits of using Plutora. A few of those key benefits that Centrica achieved by using Plutora include:Shift Left - It has enabled them to very easily shift the identification of bugs and issues left in the software development cycle. The benefits of shifting left are earlier identification of issues in the development process. This directly results in substantial project time and money savings, and a better-quality product in production.Increased Approval Rate – With the improved delivery speeds and decreased production side issues, the client approval rate has jumped to an amazing 97%.Automatic Data Recording – With the automatic recording and data collection that Plutora provides, they are able to achieve 100% accuracy on the tracking of environments used, actual environment configurations, tests performed and much more. This makes meeting compliance and governance requirements a breeze.Improved Delivery Speeds – With the automated gate management, automated environment management and reduced conflicts and confusion, delivery lifecycles have been much faster. This more efficient development chain has led to a more comfortable delivery cadence, improved product quality and increased production stability.
Wrapping It Up
The quest to improve test environment management processes and software lifecycle delivery is a common goal with every development team and organization. The success that Centrica has achieved through the use of Plutora is a story that needs to be shared.