A Week after HashiConf EU 2019

A Week after HashiConf EU 2019

This was my second HashiConf. The first was last year’s San Francisco show, and this year I got to head to Amsterdam for the EU edition. I’ve never been to the Netherlands, so it was understandably exciting to wait for my cue to order my Uber to the airport on Monday, very early in the morning.

This year ECS Digital had a team of three and a stand in an area called The Hub. It’s here where we spent the majority of our time, talking to people about training in all things HashiCorp, technical challenges they’re facing, and also proudly advertising our beloved hands-on Meetup series, the DevOps Playground to the fellow Londoners who made the exhausting 40 minutes long flight to Amsterdam for the show. Thanks to everyone who came over and chatted with us.

When we got to the venue Tuesday morning, something became clear very quickly. The vibe was very different than what I remember from San Francisco last year. Not better or worse, just a different atmosphere. The bare-brick walls, the stage setup, the lighting, the background music (playlist for Spotify – thanks for sharing it HC). These things immediately gave me the impression that I’m going to have a wonderful time here. (Also super excited to hear that HashiConf 2020 will be taking place in the same venue, with hopefully the same music!)

Bit of breakfast, and a good cup of coffee (I mean two coffees), and it was time for the big bangs – the Opening Keynote.

Last year’s Big Bang at HashiConf EU was Consul Connect, then Vault 1.0 and Terraform 0.12 beta in San Francisco. So it was kinda predictable that we were going to have Consul at the centre of the opening keynote. And it was.



Armon Dadgar took to the stage first, followed by Mitchell Hashimoto – Co-Founders and Co-CTOs of HashiCorp. The new buzzword to come out of their opening keynote was “Mesh Gateways and Layer7 routing” capabilities. See a detailed blog post about it here.

Essentially, Consul (and Envoy working together) are the new {load balancer, edge reverse proxy, service mesh, api gateway, vpn}. This will undoubtably prove to be a very complex undertaking for Consul, and whilst I’m sure they will handle it just fine, I do have a slight concern that it will start to become too heavy. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen…namely because Consul is my favourite HashiCorp tool.

When Mitchell finished talking about Consul, the stage (and the whole auditorium) changed from magenta to green, and it was time for the updates on Nomad.

Although it was much shorter than the Consul update, the session covered a lot of new updates for the next version of Nomad, including: Network Namespaces and Native Consul Connect integration, which will be very useful for those deploying hybrid workloads onto Nomad. I personally also like the upcoming support for Host Volumes, which is a long-awaited feature. The community will be very happy once it’s out, for sure! Check out the announcement video here.

The Nomad update concluded the keynote for Day 1, and the program continued with other presentations, food and coffee breaks. Oh, god I must mention, the food was amazing. And there was a lot of it. And I mean, a lot. If you knew me personally, you’d know I don’t take these words lightly, but if we’re being honest, there was barely an hour or two each day when there was no food or snacks or ice cream immediately available to someone who desired it. Food and tech, what’s not to love!



Day 2 started with another keynote, this time presented by Paul Hinze on Terraform. Now I must admit that I’m still on required_version = "< 0.12", and for the first part of the presentation, it felt like this is somewhat of a trend amongst users. Knowing that many people are yet to upgrade, Paul reiterated the HCL 2.0 features and other v0.12 upgrades that were announced in the beta release in San Francisco last October and made generally available in May 2019. He also went on to announce that Terraform Cloud is now officially live, providing free remote state management for individuals and small teams. The big booms for Terraform Enterprise are VCS backed Policy Sets and First-class integration with ServiceNow. See the video on this link for the full update.

The last update was for Vault, and although it was in a smaller auditorium, the updates were not small at all. New auth methods, like Kerberos and Pivotal Cloud Foundry were announced, Built-In Highly Available storage and consensus system (which will be released later this year), Dynamic UI elements for better integration for custom plugins, a new Database plugin for Elasticsearch and so on. Please see Jeff’s video here.

Although it’s not always easy to schedule these trips to conferences between engagements, I definitely did not regret making the effort to do so. Great venue, beautiful city, good crowd, professional (but not white gloves) hospitality and of course, lots of inspiring content about my favourite tools in the DevOps toolchain.

Which, come to think of it, I could probably write an entirely separate post on…maybe I will.


If you’re looking for an easy way to learn how to manage your Consul Cluster with Terraform, head this way

Daniel MeszarosA Week after HashiConf EU 2019
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Key takeaways from DevOps Deadlock webinar

Key takeaways from DevOps Deadlock webinar

On Thursday 8th November 2018, Andy Cureton (ECS Digital), Jen Thomson (IDC) and Dave Gore (Lloyds Banking Group) presented on ‘How to get past the DevOps Deadlock’.

This coming together of industry experts gave an exclusive look into how organisations are utilising DevOps. More importantly, it looked at how organisations are moving past the experimental stage to successfully adopt DevOps at scale.

This ability to get past what has been coined as ‘DevOps deadlock’ an approach that utilizes new KPIs spanning the cultural, business, process, technology and talent/staffing changes required for any business transformation that utilizes DevOps.

Accelerating the DevOps Journey

Jen Thomson drew on IDC’s latest research, shining a light on how different organisations are accelerating their DevOps journey to get to what IDC are terming ‘DevOps Determined’.

Whilst unicorns and digital natives are already starting to reap some real benefits from early DevOps adoption, Jen explains that the journey for the majority of organisations is far from over.

In reality, the journey to enterprise scale DevOps is only just beginning. Out of the 60% of organisations who have already adopted a DevOps methodology, each belongs to one of two distinct groups:

  1. Protagonists or DevOps Determined. These make up 40% of large European organisations talking to IDC
  2. DevOps Distracted. These organisations prioritise other challenges and find it hard to scale beyond the DevOps experimental stage. They make up the remaining 60% of large organisations talking to IDC

The performance gap between these two groups continues to widen, with Jen noting that 57% of ‘distracted’ organisation are at a DevOps deadlock, unable to get past the challenges and bottlenecks they face internally.

Moving past the DevOps Deadlock

Whilst DevOps deadlock is a challenge, organisations can and are successfully breaking this transformation blocker.

Andy Cureton, Founder of ECS Digital, pinpointed four key traits businesses are adopting in order to gain traction in their programs. These are:

  • Structure
  • Communication
  • The supporting organisation
  • Enabling transformation

What was interesting about Andy’s talk was that whilst he recognises that DevOps isn’t mandatory, DevOps methodologies, new tooling and ways of working are well proven. How to adopt these at scale across an organisation, however, are not.

The businesses succeeding at scale are those with a central framework, structure or program in place that is coordinating the transformation activities across the organisation.

Taking work that is completed in one area of an organisation such as a CI/CD pipeline and bottling it up to create a quick start or accelerator so that it can be simply leveraged by other areas of the organisation is critical to amplifying the return on the investment. A centralised library is typically used to capture and publicise what is available. Andy described this as the ‘secret source’ to magnifying the benefit going forward.

Another interesting point Andy raised was that ‘fear of change is a phenomenally powerful inhibitor at an Enterprise Scale’. You need to be able to sell the benefits to the individuals who will be impacted by the change of the program, on channels and in ways easily digested by your audience. The aim is to create a pull effect for the transformation rather than magnifying the inertia typically present in established organisations by not focusing on communication.

Whilst most DevOps determined look to retake control of app development and IT operations, they still need the people, know-how and business acumen to drive these changes in a way that stakeholders can buy in to. Having a partner like ECS Digital enables you to strike this balance of accelerating your transformation and enabling your internal teams to become self-sufficient so you can run on your own.

One of the ways ECS Digital is helping organisations facing the conundrum of going faster and insourcing engineering talent is through an offering called Enablement Pods. Perfect for the modern organisation looking to move past their own DevOps deadlock.

Succeeding with DevOps

Talking about a transformation might seem like progressive thinking, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Dave Gore, Engineering Transformation Lead at Lloyds Banking Group (LBG), described what it takes to get a transformation off the ground and the fundamental pillars to making that transformation a success.

Dave started by explaining that starting the DevOps conversation is mostly about the people in an enterprise scale organisation. If you are able to hold a good conversation across that community, then you’ve started your transformation off on the right foot.

To secure this crucial buy-in from all stakeholders, you need to sell the principles of the programme and set out outcomes (benefits) that it will deliver to the business. You also need to create an environment where your engineers feel empowered to create outstanding technology solutions for both colleagues and customers.

Once both have been established, you need to find something real and take the plunge! Dave explained that getting started is often the hardest part in an enterprise scale organisation. There will always be a myriad of options, stakeholders, what-if scenarios etc. Identifying one anchor point that you can scale and build from makes it an easier first step – never easy, just easier.

By structuring your programme in this way, you are giving yourself the opportunity to showcase the challenges and achievements encountered with these new ways of working, tools and technologies and continue the conversation that remains so fundamental to its success.

Since starting their journey, LBG have seen a lot happen and 2018 was no different. By following the above principles, LBG have started to see rapid adoption of DevOps methodologies across the business. And whilst these took effort to reach, they have unlocked other valuable areas of LBG.

In Dave’s words, this has made the initial commitment and investment in moving the dial on how LBG do things worthwhile, establishing positive change and building very different capabilities in the organisation today.

What are your next steps?

Whilst Dave, Jen and Andy provided exclusive insights into how businesses have been successfully adopting DevOps practices at scale, the above is only the tip of the iceberg. If you would like to learn more specifically the ways of working, tools, and technologies that could accelerate your transformation out of a deadlock, get in touch today.

If you would like to watch webinar, click here now.

Andy CuretonKey takeaways from DevOps Deadlock webinar
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Learning DevOps: Theory versus Practice

Learning DevOps: Theory versus Practice

DevOps is notoriously difficult to define.

There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that it’s not simply a skill, a tool or a process – it’s a combination of all three. More specifically, it is how these three factors interact to bring about a change in the way software is delivered. For this reason, learning DevOps is a tricky thing to talk about.

Knowing the theory behind good DevOps practices is essential, but without any practical knowledge, you’ll quickly find yourself out of your depth in your organisation’s DevOps journey. As Alfred Korzybski put it, ‘the map is not the territory’. But that doesn’t mean you should jump head-first into DevOps without any kind of roadmap.

In short, mastering DevOps requires both a solid understanding of the theory that underpins it, as well as the ability to handle the reality of DevOps in practice. In this blog, we’ll look at what this means for learning DevOps.

Theory provides the foundation, practice allows for innovation.

In a strange way, learning DevOps is similar to learning how to play an instrument: you could spend years studying the theory and learning how to read music, but if you never sit down to practice, you won’t have any idea how to actually play a piece of music. In the same way, learning the fundamentals of DevOps lays the groundwork, but without practical experience, you’ll very quickly find yourself out of your depth.

A significant part of success with DevOps relies on innovation – the theory might show you how to accomplish something, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ DevOps solution. With practice, you’ll be able to refine and adapt the theory to create a variation that suits your organisation perfectly.

By no means is this a recipe for success. You may get some broken chords along the way, but the key is to learn from your mistakes and improve. As Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla and SpaceX – says “If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough.” Ultimately, having a good handle on both the theory and practical application of DevOps is essential for organisations that pride themselves on innovation.

What is DevOps theory, and where do I learn it?

The way we see it at ECS Digital, DevOps consultancy consists of three components: people, processes and tools – in that order.

DevOps theory is concerned with the first two: people and processes. Because DevOps makes some fundamental changes to the way people within the organisation collaborate, getting a handle on the theory behind it requires completely rethinking the nature of a software company from the ground up. At its core, DevOps is influenced by the principles of agile software development – continuous delivery and integration. Shorter delivery times and working in sprints are the legacy of agile development’s influence on DevOps.

There are many resources for learning about DevOps theory all around the internet, from blogs, to social media portals, to training videos on sites like Vimeo and YouTube. However, more in-depth training focuses on theory and practice in equal measure, since mastering DevOps requires an understanding of both as two sides of the same coin. 

What is the best way to learn about DevOps in practice?

The final component of DevOps in ECS Digital’s view are the tools that underpin the software delivery processes and bring DevOps to life. Defining exactly what a DevOps tool is can be problematic, since there are many aspects of the practice that can be augmented with a huge number of tools. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for different organisations to use entirely different combinations of tooling depending on what works best for them.

Typically, DevOps tools can be grouped into some core categories:

  1. Configuration Management – tools like Ansible, Puppet and Chef make it possible to manage and automate infrastructure as code;
  2. Application Deployment – tools such as Automic and Jenkins provide the framework for continuous integration;
  3. Delivery

Learning which of these are most valuable to your cause comes with experience of the tools themselves. The DevOps training offered by ECS Digital Singapore provides the theoretical foundations and then introduces the practical concept with some of the leading tools.

DevOps courses in Singapore

Whether you’re a DevOps veteran looking for new opportunity for innovation or an aspiring newbie, ECS Digital offers a comprehensive selection of training courses in Singapore that cover everything from DevOps basics to advanced tips and tricks.

Not only do we have 12 years’ experience implementing DevOps in organisations around the world and in a myriad of different industries, we have partnered with Singapore Management University to deliver an interactive three-day course designed to give you a better understanding of the DevOps methodology.

If you’d like to find out more about developing your DevOps understanding and skills further, visit our training page to find out more about our Adopting DevOps course in Singapore.

Kok Hoong WaiLearning DevOps: Theory versus Practice
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Singapore is not DevOps ready but ready for DevOps

Singapore is not DevOps ready but ready for DevOps

DevOps is a culture that has been exponentially gaining popularity in its application and adoption in many European and American based companies. In spite of its popularity though, much of Asia is slow on its adoption, and Singapore is no different. In spite of this however, as a globalised city, Singapore is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the experience of the matured DevOps markets and spread it throughout the region.

What is DevOps?

Before any company can adopt DevOps, it is important to pinpoint what DevOps is, and just as importantly what it isn’t.

‘DevOps is automation and Infrastructure as Code’. No, it isn’t. It’s not a team either

Having automation doesn’t make an organisation “do” DevOps anymore than having a car makes one a driver. In both examples, the tool is certainly critical, but it’s part of it rather than the whole idea.


In addition to the above misconception, one very common misnomer of DevOps is having a “DevOps team”. There is no such thing. There can be a team dedicated to maintenance of the automation tools and the maintenance of the pipeline, but there is no team that is “doing DevOps”. If there exists such a thing within the organisation than they are doing DevOps wrong.

The culture of DevOps

As this subtitle indicates, DevOps is a culture. It is not a tool, it is not a team and it most certainly is not a passing fad. DevOps is the logical extension of the popular Agile methodology.

While the Agile methodology can, and has, fill entire books, for brevity, the key principles are “collaboration, flexibility and adaptability”. DevOps is all about continuous feedback and the dissolution of programming silos (groups) to encourage cooperation and quicker responses. This is carried out through the automation of as many processes as possible.

Credit: Atlassian https://marketplace.atlassian.com/categories/devops

The above infinity figure is very popular when describing DevOps. While the specific details of each section may differ from organisation to organisation, its essence remains the same; DevOps is a concept that loops back onto itself, providing a continuous process.

Developers keen on reducing overhead and improving their processes is one thing, but management must also

Continuous Integration is all about developing a pipeline that integrates the code into the shared repository often and triggering the various automated tests and builds to ensure functionality, i.e. ‘if it breaks, you will know.’ The results of these builds and tests are fed back to the developers, which allows to fix the problem, if any, or move on to other work. This facilitates the quicker feature development and reaction to market changes, which all organisations strive for.

Why DevOps?

As has been established, the DevOps philosophy has many benefits when being adopted. However, how does any of that actually help the organisation?

This is where the unparalleled flexibility and adaptability of DevOps bears fruits. The reduction of development cycle times from months to weeks, even days for the more ambitious organisations, offers an unprecedented ability to react to market forces and competitors. Rather than scrambling around in a bid to mimic what rival companies have made, it becomes possible to become a market leader, pushing new releases and updates within weeks when the market is still fresh.

Even within the organisation, the culture would bear fruit. The smoothening of the development process through automation frees up resources that can be better spent elsewhere, such as actual problems that need addressing instead of facilitating the work of others.

Automated testing allows developers to identify issues with minor code commits immediately, and with no overhead from needing to create test cases or environments. On top of that, this has the side benefit of preventing the compounding of bugs and issues to be discovered on “deployment day”, with entire weekends burnt debugging the now massive code merges.

How Singapore is not DevOps ready but ready for DevOps

Many companies in Singapore still suffer under the misconceptions of what DevOps is and isn’t. Without a strong push from the government or a market disruptor, there is no strong impetus for organisations to innovate or change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This status quo won’t remain as is however; change is the only constant. Eventually, companies will be forced to adapt or be left behind.

That being said, that companies and teams in Singapore are trying to integrate the DevOps culture is a good sign and a step in the right direction. As the regional hub and the gateway of many companies into the region, Singapore can easily lead the region with its established technology foothold and infrastructure.

Bringing newcomers up to speed

Regardless of the organisation, on-boarding of newcomers is a significant drain on resources. From the initial probationary period, to familiarisation with company culture to training in the usage of company tools, each step can be a challenge to succeed. Let us at ECS digital help you do so. The flexibility of our courses can be custom-suited to the tools and frameworks used by your organisation. Not only will students walk away with a clearer understanding of what DevOps is, but they will have a foundation of what it means to your organisation and how the philosophy and tools facilitate this.

Kok Hoong WaiSingapore is not DevOps ready but ready for DevOps
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Latest Enablement Pod offering unveiled…

Latest Enablement Pod offering unveiled…

ECS Digital announced the official unveiling of their Enablement Pod offering yesterday at DevOps World | Jenkins World, the annual gathering of DevOps practitioners using Jenkins for continuous delivery.

Understanding that business-wide transformations take time and involve multi-year programmes, ECS Digital have designed Enablement Pods to help clients effect change and realise value in the short and long term.

Enablement Pods are a collection of outcome-focused sprints that handpicks specialist teams to deliver the people, resources and capabilities their clients’ need, when they need them. These Pods help enterprises transform at scale by embedding – for short periods – in existing engineering teams to enable new ways of working, tooling and technology.

The unique feature of ECS Digital’s Enablement Pods is that they – and ECS Digital’s success – are measured against KPIs defined in Sprint Zero. By tying success to business outcomes, clients are guaranteed a real return on investment. And if ECS Digital don’t hit the agreed outcomes, customers get a return on the revenue invested.

Each additional sprint to the Sprint Zero provides an opportunity to showcase and review progress ensuring maximum value from all activities. Sprints last between two weeks and resources are dependent on specific project and sprint KPIs. Another unique feature of ECS Digital’s Enablement Pods is that their resource profile remains dynamic to satisfy the different skills requirements of sprint KPIs.

ECS Digital have begun using Enablement Pods as an essential tool to deliver transformation at scale for their prolific customers. In addition to exceeding project KPIs, ECS Digital have enhanced value by enabling internal teams so they become self-sufficient and architect solutions designed to survive tomorrow’s challenges, not just todays.


“ECS Digital’s input has added an extra level of intelligence which has enabled us to build on the capacity under their guidance. We have grown in our capabilities over these past 12 months and developed the skillsets of our internal team through additional training. If we have any DevOps or automation or platform requirements in the future, we won’t bother going to tender, we will go straight to ECS Digital.” Matthew Bates, IT Director at ThinkSmart

Enablement Pod outcomes:

  • For each £1 invested in us, we have delivered £3 of annualised savings in the development lifecycle of a Retail Bank core application
  • A 99% reduction of application environment configuration delivery timescales (from 7200 minutes to 3 minutes)
  • Increase quality of testing through automation as well as timescales of test cycles by over 50%
  • 12x reduction of application delivery cycle

About ECS Digital:

ECS Digital is an experienced digital transformation consultancy, helping clients deliver better products faster through the adoption of DevOps practices.

They are the digital practice of the ECS Group and have been leaders in digital transformation since 2003 – evolving their offerings to support their customers’ evolving needs. They believe in a better way to adopt and deliver new ways of working, processes and technology. A more valuable and outcome focused way of leveraging Enterprise DevOps and Agile testing to help build tomorrow’s enterprises today.

They’ve helped over 100 customers – including Lloyds Banking Group, ASOS, BP plc and Sky – realise the benefits of Enterprise DevOps and Agile Testing and have proactively remained relevant in the face of increasing challenges of customer expectation and market disruption. You can follow the ECS Digital community on LinkedIn and Twitter (@ECS_Digi).

Andy CuretonLatest Enablement Pod offering unveiled…
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DevOps growth is leading to a skills shortage

DevOps growth is leading to a skills shortage

Now pilot projects are complete, DevOps demand is outstripping talent availability

Andy Cureton, Founder and Managing Director of ECS Digital – winner of the 2018 Best DevOps Consulting Firm award – thinks that the DevOps industry is struggling to meet demand, and will continue to do so in the future as enterprise-scale transformation begins.

Many organisations have now completed their pilot DevOps projects successfully, which are now being or have been replaced by larger transformation programmes across the organisation.

“This is driving a sharp increase in demand for support from partners and a challenge to the industry as a whole to satisfy,” said Cureton. “The larger consultancies and outsourcers are struggling to transform themselves and develop DevOps or agile capabilities at scale, and we predict that this will lead to consolidation in the sector as demand outstrips talent availability.”

ECS is leading some of these enterprise-wide transformation programmes itself, and is rolling out a new as-a-service concept that it calls ‘Enablement Pods‘, combining DevOps, agile testing and automation. Cureton added:

“Whilst all of our transformation programmes leverage enablement rather than long term staff augmentation, we will be actively pursuing ‘Innovation Pods’ going forward. These are in effect full-stack teams: from product owner through to architect, developer, QA and DevOps. This is a key strategic area where we feel we can bring additional benefit to our clients.”

The adoption of DevOps practices will differ from organisation to organisation, and that is where DevOps consultancies like ECS come in. These business can provide advice on tools, methodologies and people.


ECS Digital’s office is based in central London

Cureton thinks that these are some of the most important traits to have in employees and partners when it comes to DevOps:

  • Pragmatic and outcome-orientated;
  • Team player;
  • Empathic;
  • Strong problem solving abilities;
  • Communication.

On the win itself, Cureton said that he and his team were “extremely proud” to have secured the top spot, along with ECS Digital’s Michel Lebeau, who was announced as the Young DevOps Engineer of the Year.

“We’ve continually innovated and evolved our services over the past 15 years to help organisations realise the benefits of adopting DevOps and are proud to be the only DevOps consultancy to offer specialist testing expertise as a foundation element of our offerings.”

He added, “Recognising the work of the team and making them feel part of something bigger has also seen a boost in team morale which is extremely important for our culture – and a good excuse to celebrate!”

The original article was published on Computing.co.uk on May 29th 2018, read the feature here.

At ECS Digital, we help customers deliver better products faster through the adoption of modern software delivery methods. We understand the pain of regulatory compliance, embracing new technology, disruptive competitors, people and skills shortages, and deliver business value through tailored Digital Transformation.

If you’re looking for help accelerating change within your business, get in touch with us here. 

Andy CuretonDevOps growth is leading to a skills shortage
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Banking on DevOps

Banking on DevOps

Andy Cureton, Founder and Managing Director, ECS Digital, looks at how, in a competitive environment, banks and other organisations can use the latest IT and business methodologies to modernise their IT systems to meet customer expectations and comply with regulations.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the banking sector, like many industries, is now more competitive than ever before. There has never been a more difficult time for the big banks in particular, with the disruption from digital innovation hitting everyone hard. Time is running out and, to stay relevant, today’s big banks need to embrace agile methodologies across their entire organisation.

Digital transformation in the banking sector has a unique set of tough challenges, both external and internal. Along with regulatory changes such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Open Banking, there is increasing external pressure from FinTechs, challenger banks and Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA), who have innovation hardwired into their culture and are more customer centric by nature – exactly where many of the more traditional banks fail.

All this set against the background of acquisitions, meaning there are now, in effect, four big banks in the UK. Customers may think they are banking with one bank but are in fact sitting on the systems of another. Take for example TSB, whose customers up until recently have been using Lloyds Banking Group’s core banking systems. This leaves banks with complex ecosystems full of legacy systems which as of now, no bank has completely got to grips with… Add issues of dealing with both structured and unstructured data, it is no wonder changing and updating systems is a complex problem to solve.

DevOps – an approach to IT where software developers and IT operations combine their skills and responsibilities to produce software and infrastructure services rapidly, frequently and reliably by standardising and automating processes –  can help organisations such as banks to address the issues they face. These challenges include overhauling and modernising legacy systems without additional risk and addressing the thorny issue of testing. To remain relevant, organisations need to change their culture one step at a time.  Challenger banks are leap-frogging old-fashioned ways of working in favour of agile practices that promote innovation. GAFA have high-performing Digital/DevOps-native cultures with levels of innovation, efficiency and customer centricity that most organisations can only dream of. But the good news is that any organisation can incorporate these ways of working into their culture and harness the power of DevOps.


The Myth of DevOps

It’s a myth that legacy issues mean DevOps practices can’t be applied, that the only solution is to rearchitect and replace. Technologies such as containerisation and data virtualisation, coupled with automation, can improve the speed and quality of change in existing systems, whilst reducing reliance on increasingly scarce and expensive specialists. The concept of containerisation essentially allows virtual instances to share a single host operating system and relevant binaries, libraries or drivers. Data virtualisation, on the other hand, provides the ability to create multiple virtual copies of a physical data set without the requirement for the same physical storage.  These virtual copies can be created very quickly and then used independently by environments for testing and even production, with only the differences to the base data set being stored.  Functionality such as bookmarking and data masking further enhance the performance and storage benefits.

Changing mind-sets, organisational culture and building confidence in new ways of working is essential to getting the most value from DevOps adoption. DevOps provides a structured way of working to improve management frameworks and reduce a product’s time to market, taking it from several months to perhaps weeks. Additionally, it can help to strengthen governance and regulatory compliance across the business whilst increasing innovation and agility.

While many banks intend to adopt new technologies, the execution is often mixed. The first step is accepting that the world of finance is changing and there is a better, different way of doing things. You are only as fast as your slowest link. Any system that is slow and process-heavy will hold back an organisation from moving at the pace their customers expect – and indeed demand – in today’s 24/7 world. If such systems are not improved they limit innovation and become a risk in themselves, as faster, more agile competitors are appearing across the finance sector.


A Better, Different Way

Testing has a very important role within the banking sector; ensuring continuous testing is taking place makes regulatory compliance easier to achieve and maintain. The introduction of automation in the testing process can actually reduce the risk of change by removing the opportunity for human error and increasing the achievable test coverage.

Getting the testing strategy right can help make the transformational changes more achievable, by reducing both cost and time taken to deliver quality software. Testing in banks is done thoroughly, but it needs to happen earlier in the Software Development Life Cycle, a concept known as “Shifting left”. Testing is typically manual, time- consuming and error-prone. This creates bottlenecks and slows down the flow of change, depleting both the time and resources available for innovation.

Automation brings additional benefits. It speeds up the provisioning of environments and data, and also delivers cost savings. Inconsistent and over-provisioned environments can result in unpredictable outages. The cost in downtime and testers’ time to fix environments is considerable when calculated over the course of a year with multiple instances, each taking two to three days to fix. Configuration management tools such as Ansible and Puppet give businesses increased control over downtime costs by using automation to ensure environments are fit for purpose; Containers provide the ability to instantly replace environments that are out of sync.

DevOps brings with it a licence to fail – but fail fast – something which is essential for real innovation to exist – with processes in place to spot, learn from and remedy failure quickly and early. In this way, teams are encouraged to be proactive, accepting and understanding of their impact on each decision or change in a blame-free environment. Failure demonstrates that boundaries are being tested and are an opportunity to learn.


The Journey to Increase Innovation and Agility

Banks are slowly changing their organisational structures and operating models to bring the business and IT closer together – although such is the risk-averse nature of the industry, that an aversion to quick change is almost built in. But it doesn’t have to be this way – DevOps is not risky in any way when properly introduced. In fact, getting the culture and working methodologies right can help to strengthen governance and regulatory compliance across the business whilst increasing innovation and agility.

Ultimately, DevOps adoption is a journey. Many organisations don’t have a blank sheet of paper to start from like challenger banks, FinTechs and GAFA. So, unless they build separately on the side, they’ll always have a heritage challenge. That challenge does, however, come with tried and tested operational processes – which typically demonstrate greater resilience and availability than their nimbler competition. This approach is being pioneered by Scandinavian bank, Nordic Nous, who are using new technology to build a new customer bank alongside the existing bank. Over the past decade, they have thrown away their legacy technologies and invested heavily in the right frameworks to adopt agile practices. Combining heritage with the agility, quality and compliance benefits of DevOps gives banks formidable capability with which to compete in the digital era.

The original article was published on Acquisition International, read the feature here.

At ECS Digital, we help customers deliver better products faster through the adoption of modern software delivery methods. We understand the pain of regulatory compliance, embracing new technology, disruptive competitors, people and skills shortages, and deliver business value through tailored Digital Transformation.

If you’re looking for help accelerating change within your business, get in touch with us here.

Andy CuretonBanking on DevOps
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Why traditional banks need DevOps to remain competitive

Why traditional banks need DevOps to remain competitive

The banking landscape is changing at an accelerating rate, and competition in the sector has never been greater. Traditional banks are encountering threats from multiple sources, all of which need to be met and mitigated head on if these banking giants are to stay relevant and competitive.

On one side there are the nimble challenger banks who boast smaller, easier to manage product sets. On another are the regulatory changes including Open Banking and the EU’sGeneral Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And the digital unicorns ofGoogle, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA) are already beginning to stake their own claims on the banking world with their innovation-driven culture, and immense worldwide customer scale and data.

The internal threat to traditional banks is no less pressing; the majority are reliant on legacy systems that are slow, bulky and process-heavy. And it is these systems that will hold the banks back from moving at the pace their customers expect and demand. Tied into this is another issue – that of skills shortages. As time goes by, legacy skills are becoming less and less available, and can only be bought at a premium.


Unlocking the Value in Legacy Systems 

Time is running out for the traditional banks; if they are to stay relevant they need to embrace agile methodologies across their entire organization – and this is where DevOps can help. It’s true that, for most banks, re-engineering and replacing these bulky legacy systems with modern technology simply isn’t feasible. In most cases it would involve unpalatable levels of risk and would require a capital investment bigger than they could withstand.

A more viable solution is to work with the systems they have, using DevOps practices and tooling to bring them up to speed. DevOps is an approach to IT where software developers and IT operations combine their skills and responsibilities to produce software and infrastructure services rapidly, frequently and reliably by standardising and automating processes. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not purely for new, startup or unicorn companies. Adopting DevOps principles and practices allows companies to unlock value in the systems they already have. It allows them to move as fast as the rest of the marketplace – so maintaining their competitiveness, compliance and, ultimately, profitability.




Changing the Legacy Mindset

In the more traditional banks, it is common for people and teams to have very set ways of working, often within distinct siloes. To ease the cultural challenges associated with the adoption of new ways of working, it’s important to involve the teams that will be impacted, and help them to fully engage with the benefits both to the business and to their own professional development.

Creating small, interconnected teams, all working towards a common, achievable goal backed by a considered plan of how to get there makes the transition much more palatable. The agility that creating these integrated, task-focused teams allows, means they can find the optimal balance between speed, control and risk management, therefore improving efficiency and reducing the time to market of any new and fully compliant products.

The key to gaining the most benefit from the DevOps way of working for any business is to understand fully what they are trying to achieve, and which elements are best placed to be transformed to help meet those goals.


Regulation vs Innovation

Since the banking crisis of 2008, regulations have grown even tougher. Banks are being closely scrutinised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority. They also have to adhere to the data management requirements of GDPR and similar regulations in other countries and regions. At the same time, the Payment Services Directive II has given customers access to more innovative and flexible financial services through third-party internet and mobile banking solutions. Keeping up with consumer demands, whilst complying with these new regulations is a fine balancing act.

Banks must keep an eye on every regulatory change, whilst at the same time innovating in order to stay competitive. The risks of a single mistake at any point in the development process, especially of core systems, could have serious repercussions.

The DevOps methodology of collaboration between business and IT teams can mitigate some of these risks. It ensures regulatory compliance is built into products from the start, and allows any subsequent changes to regulations to be easily and quickly trialled, tested and implemented. The focus on automation,which is part of DevOps, in turn provides the auditability and visibility needed to demonstrate compliance, and cuts down on the need for manual overheads – a huge financial drain on most of the major banks.


Automating to Rise to the Challenge

As well as the demands of data security and the new, stricter regulations, traditional banks are also facing competition from challenger banks and GAFA – many of whom have DevOps built into the core of their processes and systems.To rise to these demands, they need to achieve digital transformation at all levels of the bank.

DevOps brings people, processes and technology together, working more collaboratively in order to speed up and improve the quality of the development process, and take software to market faster. Paramount to this is the need to get testing practices right.

Traditionally, testing is a manual and time-consuming process, and typically prone to errors. It commands huge amounts of resource, which are unavailable for innovation. To test effectively, DevOps/agile testing processes use anonymised production-like data; data that is consistent and quality assured – that can be replicated in real production-like scenarios and automated, ensuring consistency across the data being used for each set of tests.

As well as speed and efficiency, automation also produces cost savings. It reduces the risk of human error and allows increased test coverage in a shorter period of time – which in turn reduces the number of unpredictable and costly outages, with their associated downtime while a fix is sought. The failure of TSB to migrate its customer data without serious operational and security incidents, highlights some of the worst possible outcomes.

One top five UK bank is working towards a solution where all processes are automated or orchestrated, including testing. This would dramatically reduce lead times and delays in projects and provide considerable efficiencies in their end-to-end delivery model.


A Shift in Culture

The threats from challenger banks and GAFA to the more traditional banks are pressing. And the only way the traditional banks can meet those threats head on is to adapt their cultures to suit more modern ways of working – both at a leadership and a team level.

Leaders within these big banks need to embrace and promote a culture where it’s acceptable to fail – with the emphasis on identifying, learning from and, of course, remedying those failures as quickly and early as possible. They must recognise the need to constantly embrace new ways of doing things – instilling a culture of continuous improvement and growth. One way to achieve this is by running agile ‘experiments’across multiple teams and locations. These experiments can be used to assess the benefits of new methodologies and tools whilst, at the same time, focusing on communication and collaboration across the teams.

Ultimately, DevOps adoption is a journey. For big banks the challenge is to make this journey from a cumbersome heritage system to a modern, agile way of working as seamless and efficient as possible. The rewards of doing so will be a formidable capability with which to compete in the digital era.


The original article was published on Global Banking & Finance review on May 10th 2018, read the feature here.


At ECS Digital, we help customers deliver better products faster through the adoption of modern software delivery methods. We understand the pain of regulatory compliance, embracing new technology, disruptive competitors, people and skills shortages, and deliver business value through tailored Digital Transformation.

If you’re looking for help accelerating change within your business, get in touch with us here. 

Andy CuretonWhy traditional banks need DevOps to remain competitive
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Applying an engineering mind-set to test

Applying an engineering mind-set to test

How do you continually deliver software with limited time and resources? Where manual testing has been an integral part of software development since the introduction of waterfall methodologies, this process takes a lot of time. And unfortunately, time equals money.

DevOps and automation are two ways modern businesses have responded to the need for increased speeds and agility, especially when it comes to application deployment. Both enable features to be released quicker, giving businesses the chance to react to market changes in realtime and keep ahead of their competitors.

Software Development Engineers in Test (SDETs) are an integral part of any agile transformation. They are the key to ensuring that software can be developed quickly and with confidence, building a bridge between development and testing.

Testing is a rapidly evolving field and key to good software development practices. Today, manual testing is too time consuming and resource hungry to be practical. Instead, automation enables organisations to release features and react to market changes faster.

SDETs have long been a feature of DevOps methodologies, helping to improve automation and give developers more ownership of their applications. They play a vital role in the process of shifting from waterfall models to agile methodologies and represent just how far application development has come over the years.

The problem with waterfall

Traditionally, software development used waterfall models, with progress on the project flowing steadily downward (like a waterfall) through several phases. The origins of this methodology lie in the industrial age. A factory production line has a number of stages to create the finished product, at the end of which it’s tested to make sure it works as designed.

This is fine for an assembly line but it has a number of serious problems as a system for releasing software, including:

  • Software releases are infrequent – potentially months apart – because each iteration needs to go through the entire waterfall process
  • It’s slow to deliver new features and react to requests from the business / customers for the same reason
  • There tends to be a lot of bugs in the finished product. Fixing them is often scheduled for the next release, months down the line

An agile solution

Agile methodologies attempt to solve these issues by bringing all the processes closer to the development team. This is known as ‘shift left’, instilling the idea of fail early, fail fast. The intention is to catch problems as early in the process as possible, rather than seeing testing as an entirely separate stage in the creation process.

It works. Today, software is being released faster and more regularly thanks to agile methodologies. However, this increased velocity means that organisations no longer have the capacity for a team of testers to manually verify every stage of the development process.

To cope with this, organisations need to be moving towards a modern testing strategy – with automation and SDETs as integral parts.

Why using SDETs is the way to transition successfully

Organisations already using agile methodologies such as DevOps often rely on SDETs to think differently, providing robust fast feedback to developers on how an application is behaving and writing automation code.

They are responsible for creating a shared understanding of the feature and thinking about potential edge cases or unhappy paths and asking questions that explore the features further. SDETs are also capable of looking at developer workflows to find inefficiencies. As a result of this, they will inspect and adapt the current quality pipeline.

This all-encompassing role has stemmed for a wider cultural shift, where teams own the quality of an application and everyone in that team has the responsibility to deliver a feature from inception to production.

At ECS Digital, SDETs need to have skillsets that can deliver on modern approaches to testing and for organisations that are undergoing digital transformation. This makes them an essential part of implementing the informed technical approach we take to testing and quality.

Our recent work with Global News Corporation and a world leader in the oil and gas industry demonstrates the importance of coupling SDETs with any transformation process. Global News Corporation, for example, optimised the role of a SDET whilst we helped deliver an engineering transformation. This transformation included the implementation of a continuous delivery process and culture which saw their delivery teams fully build, test and deploy within 20 minutes. Their reduction of regression test times also decreased from three hours to ten minutes and they had a healthy boost in sales thanks to an increase in their average app store rating which jumped from 3 to 4.5 stars.

Comparatively, we successfully introduced a test first approach throughout engineering and a full CI pipeline and culture for our world leader in the oil and gas industry client. This positively changed delivery across the oil trading platform, reducing regression times from four weeks to 30 minutes and providing a $50million a year saving.

What follows a successful transformation?

Our approach recommends that once clients have an agile methodology in place and feel they have made progress with fulfilling their digital implementation objectives, they can start to look at making efficiencies elsewhere. This usually comes at a time when a client’s digital agility has matured enough that the teams supporting these efforts would benefit from the recommendations of a ‘tooling efficiency’ model.

At ECS Digital, this is just one of the new models we are recommending to clients well into their agile methodology transformation, since it removes SDETs from development teams with the following key changes:

  • Developers becoming wholly responsible for the quality and testing of applications, including writing automation testing code.
  • SDETs focus on creating tools to make writing tests for developers trivial, as well as looking at developer workflow in order to increase the efficiency and confidence of the application.

We are successfully implementing this model in current client work. It’s a step up for organisations who are already running agile confidently and want to move up to the next level. It’s also a proven process for those wanting to implement agile methodologies but who need a trusted partner that offers a progressive business-first approach and a team with the knowhow to elevate their business before they do.

Transitioning to an SDET model is our recommended approach to begin in agile testing and digital transformations. Creating a communal ownership of quality is a key part of this and by bringing the traditional test and development roles closer together this is made a lot easier.

If you’re looking for help accelerating change within your business, get in touch with us here.

Efficiencies you can share across team

Kouros AliabadiApplying an engineering mind-set to test
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Why you need to embrace AI in your software testing

Why you need to embrace AI in your software testing

Testing is changing.

Automated software testing has boosted efficiency in major businesses, reduced time to market, and positively impacted the quality of delivered product for companies who’ve embraced it. But automation was just the beginning. Now there’s another step to take: Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Integrating the power and flexibility of AI into automated testing accelerates the process, further improving delivered product. Choosing not to implement AI – in a market where competitors are almost certainly finding an edge in doing so – means a real risk of falling behind or even becoming obsolete.

Software systems are escalating in complexity. Data volumes are increasing exponentially.  Software needs to be developed in a way which cleverly accommodates future demands. These things all mean that AI will one day not be an enhancement, but a necessity in automated testing.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI covers a very broad range of concepts. It reaches all the way from simple reactionary systems – possible in a few lines of code – to full-fledged and hugely complex examples like driverless cars. As a general definition, an AI system will exhibit any number of behaviours that we consider intelligent. These typically include the capacity to learn, adapt to new situations, and make optimal decisions.

While there are futuristic views of AI, which present it as a self-aware entity that will render the human element obsolete, these are rather far from fruition. The pragmatic direction in which AI is developed, is as yet another tool which increases the ability, speed, accuracy and overall efficiency of the human process – A new generation of intelligent tools complements human intelligence, and makes our technology more flexible.

Many business sectors have already applied AI to their major processes to great effect. A good example is Amazon, which has completely rebuilt its business around AI systems. Some of these are the product in themselves – the Alexa assistant, for instance – while others power a back end which sells more, reduces errors, and works more efficiently. Market intelligence firm Tractica predicts that AI-influenced trading revenue will rise from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion in 2025. AI is here, and it’s making a difference.

Machine Learning (ML) is a very promising discipline of AI which has been tried and tested in various applications within the industry, as it can be used to make predictions, detect trends and irregularities, by using statistical methods to extrapolate new information out of data, which is then used in various decision making processes.

The advancements in processing power, as well as the availability and exponential increase in the size of data, have resulted in an unprecedented increase in popularity of ML. Already a large number of data-driven companies have integrated machine learning into their business processes which can be found at the heart of retail, financial as well as social media companies.

Why test with AI?

There may be no better application for AI than in enhancing automated testing. AI-led testing can bring to light issues earlier as it analyses data as it goes – helping companies find solutions faster and reducing the burden on human testers.

Testing is never a one-time process: A set of test scenarios has to be executed at each development iteration throughout the lifecycle of any software, with the number of test scenarios increasing with each new added functionality.

Automated testing has greatly increased the effectiveness and speed of software testing, by removing the need for a human tester to repeat the exact same tests, with the added benefit of having test scenarios expressed in a consistent and formal manner. The limitations of automated testing arise from two key factors:

  • The clockwork nature of automation does not always allow sufficient flexibility to accommodate software with dynamic content and features
  • Test development often relies on the intuition and skill of the developer, and requires a good understanding of the System Under Test (SUT).

The introduction of artificial intelligence can greatly reduce the effort and complexity in analysis and implementation associated with software testing, as well as the quality of the tests by leveraging the ability of a tester to analyse a SUT.

Fuzzy logic is a technology that has found application in situations where the effectiveness of conventional types of logic is limited, and can be found at the core of many AI technologies. Its strong potential in testing is due to the ability of fuzzy logic to produce valuable results in problems riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity.

AI augmented software testing can result in improved test quality, faster delivery, and an end to clockwork testing. Most importantly this analytic and data-driven approach has the potential to change the nature of the automated software testing process altogether.

Things to consider

Like any process improvement, the benefits of AI have an allure that makes it tempting to jump in immediately. Not embracing AI means the potential of your business taking a back seat whilst you watch your competitors soar.  There’s no doubt that it’s an essential move, but it’s one that needs to be handled with care. The way AI is applied to testing processes must be systematic and intelligent in itself.

AI cannot solve every problem. Instead, it is important to discover and analyse those problems it can solve, and to understand the requirements and impact that introducing AI into your systems will have.

Rush into implementation without proper research and consideration, and you could end up investing time and money into a solution which is not appropriate for your business. Fail to invest in the proper training and documentation, and you risk your testers losing touch or using the new technology incorrectly. For AI to improve automated testing, it needs to be fully understood.

ECS Digital’s QA team has long been working with and developing AI processes to augment automated testing. Its internal AI group have also been educating staff and promoting good development practices throughout the company.

As both AI users and consultants, ECS Digital are uniquely placed to inform our clients on the right way to implement AI in their testing processes. AI doesn’t come off the shelf – it needs to be tailor made to suit you.

ECS Digital have the expertise and experience to advise exactly how integrating AI and automation can help your business and can recommend the solution that best fits your needs.

Get in touch to discuss how you can revolutionise your testing process.

Babak TakandWhy you need to embrace AI in your software testing
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