Staying agile in the cloud

What does your application methodology and infrastructure have to do with cloud application success? Everything, says one expert.

“In the past, if systems such as customer service were inefficient, only the call center workers would suffer. Now, the business at large will suffer if development cannot keep pace.”

—Tom Petrocelli, research director at Neuralytix

Agile development was invented and refined before cloud computing became ubiquitous. But, the expectations of cloud computing and the methods of agile development are a near-perfect match. They both thrive in the context of frequent updates and fast changes of direction. Given the flexibility that is integral to cloud computing, agile development is the only methodology that can keep pace.

Potential at Work asked Tom Petrocelli, research director, enterprise social, mobile, and cloud applications at Neuralytix, for more insight as to why agile development is key to making SaaS (software as a service) applications successful.

How do you define “agile”?

Petrocelli: Agile is a development methodology that helps organizations rapidly respond to changing IT needs. Development happens in short, incremental bursts called “sprints,” leading to smaller but more frequent releases.

Why is this beneficial for cloud applications?

Petrocelli: Agile is a time-based methodology. It is about seeing how many features you can roll out in short, defined time periods—say, 60 days. Then you release updates, get feedback, reassess, and start again. This is what the cloud is about. People expect upgrades to roll out in the cloud more quickly than before. They expect these new features to work. Agile provides the framework to make that kind of development possible.

What are the requirements for making agile work?

Petrocelli: Two things: Infrastructure automation and discipline.

Why is automation vital?

Petrocelli: Without the right infrastructure in place, you will not be able to sustain an agile pace of development. Small inefficiencies get magnified. If my database administrator takes two weeks to analyze a test data set over a year-long development cycle, those two weeks are not critical. If I am adding two weeks to every 60-day iteration, however, that can stall development.

Correcting that means automating everything you can, from test data to code generation. You want to focus the attention of your developers on the intellectual processes, not on the manual grunt work.

What do you mean by discipline?

Petrocelli: Everyone has to be coordinated and focused, not just the developers. Managers have to buy into this process, too, and respect the sprints these development teams are undergoing. You cannot bother them with other issues. The entire group needs to have the discipline to finish the current sprint before switching tasks.

What is at stake if you do not go agile?

Petrocelli: Everything. Your ability to compete. Your revenue.

For example, think about how many people use online banking every day. Now imagine your bank says you have to wait two years to get important new self-service features, such as mobile check depositing. You are going to become very unsatisfied with your bank and will go elsewhere. In the past, if systems such as customer service were inefficient, only call center workers would suffer. Now the business at large will suffer if development cannot keep pace.

Agile development processes give your organization the discipline needed to customize SaaS applications quickly and accurately. If you can’t capitalize on the benefits of the cloud, you will likely face productivity and integration issues that will negatively affect your bottom line.

For more information on the challenges and the rewards of effective cloud integration, read “5 Secrets of Cloud Application Integration Success.”

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