Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Application Development Done Right

In a previous article, entitled DevOps as the Ultimate Panacea?, I described how developing code without thinking about the current needs of the end user as well as the future needs once they've become accustomed to using your application ends up not only frustrating them but also can result in customer churn and ultimately lower revenues.  In this article, I'd like to describe something simple that I came across today that shows a definite degree of effort to do quite the opposite.

Recently, we had a severe snowstorm, one with blizzard-like conditions, which is unheard of in central New Jersey.  Being responsible adults, my wife and I went to the grocery store to stock up on essentials (read:  chips, chocolate, etc.) in case we get stuck at home.

As we were ringing up our order, the cashier mentioned to us that the store has a mobile application.  Since both of us are in technology oriented professions, we were skeptical about the need for a grocery store mobile application.  But then the cashier told us two things that immediately caught our ear:

  1. The application will allow us to search for a specific item and, if the location where we shop carries the item, it will also tell us in what aisle and where in that aisle the item will be located.

  2. We can associate digital coupons with the application so that we don't have to worry about collecting those strips of paper that spew out whenever we scan our loyalty card at other grocery chains, much less keep them organized, etc.  All we need to do is scan a single QR code at the register; the appropriate coupons are consumed and the savings automatically applied to our bill.

These two features are enough for us to justify the 25 minute drive to this particular chain, which is something we've only done once every two months at best in the past.  This is in spite of the fact that there are two major chains (without digital capabilities like the two items mentioned above) currently within 5 minutes of our house currently.

Although it's possible for these capabilities to have simply "sprung from the head of Zeus," it's more likely that the software development methodology facilitated this wonderful end result.  Implementing methodologies such as Test Driven Development and Behavior Driven Development provide a constant feedback loop to give the developers a chance to see user behaviors in near real time in order to make changes as needed.

Of course, this feedback loop is useless without a mechanism to deploy new builds of applications fast enough to keep up with the rate of change in the development of the applications in question.  This is where release automation comes into play.  A fully implemented, fully automated CICD process is essential for ensuring that companies can develop at the "speed of change" so that they aren't overtaken by their competition.



While our grocery bill won't do much to add to the bottom line of this particular grocery chain, if you multiply the effect it's had on us by the number of people like us who are hearing about this for the first time, you can see how this could have an impact over time.  And this is possible only because someone took the time to consider the shopping experience; how it could be improved in a very real way for their customers; and then provided the necessary structure internally to give the development teams the ability to fully realize their vision.

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