In today’s business environment the IT team is constantly challenged to transform how it delivers services to the enterprise as it moves from static to dynamic applications and infrastructure. Ever growing business requirements and a need for greater agility necessitate IT to think about how to adapt to these changes and put measures in place to integrate such complex processes.

With infrastructure moving to the cloud, IT becomes ever more application centric. And with the increasing speed and complexity of business operations, IT needs greater agility in in application release – a task that consumes large amounts of time and resources and is critical to a businesses’ success often underpinning competitive advantage and services on offer to its customers.

Businesses need to be able to plan better, operate faster and upgrade quicker in order to compete in such a fast-moving business environment and Application Release Management is crucial to this. Application Release Management has become a top priority for CIOs for several reasons:

  • The growing complexity of IT infrastructures driven by Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) and adoption of highly dynamic cloud-based environments
  • Business pressure to substantially increase the frequency of release cycles, especially of web and mobile applications, while maintaining or reducing IT budgets
  • The need for standardisation and control over release processes to ensure compliance with industry regulations

Yet in contrast to many other functions within an organisation’s IT infrastructure, application release still typically involves a great deal of manual effort. As a result, it is both time-consuming (the setup required to deploy an application can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the size and complexity of the application) and error prone, with a significant numberof releases missing their due dates.

Application release – what are the challenges?

The current industry approach to application release has a number of inherent challenges:

  • Environment diversity: It is typical to have separate teams responsible for application deployment within various operating environments – and each team may work entirely independently of the others, leading to inconsistencies between them
  • Lack of integration: Each IT area – development, quality assurance, production – typically operates as a silo, using its own tools with very little integration between tools used by different areas. This lack of integration between departments leads to inefficiencies, errors, long communication cycles and the need for manual implementation across the disparate systems
  • Knowledge management difficulties: With so many people involved in application updates, organisations have no foolproof way to manage application knowledge across the enterprise. There’s no traceability when something goes wrong – no way to find out who was responsible for that part of the application
  • Update frequency: In a large organisation running many hundreds of applications, with each application running on dozens, or even hundreds, of servers and updates, on average, once a week, the amount of manual effort required by current approaches ends up taking huge amounts of staff time. This costs lots of money and significantly extends the timeframe required to get new applications to market.

These challenges have a significant impact on the business’s bottom line. My research (and my customers) tell me that all departments involved can spend anywhere between 30-75% of their time maintaining and managing application release.

All of these factors not only add significantly to IT operating costs, but also delay time to market. In fact, among companies that use either manual or script-based deployment, release delays are so much a fact of life that 78% of application releases miss their original due date.

In the case of internal releases, these delays result in lost productivity, as business users must wait longer to access to new features. In the case of external releases, these delays result in loss of revenues as customers are constantly in a holding pattern to access the latest updates. Either way, the effects are felt in the company’s bottom line.

The solution? IT Process Automation

Any solution that claims to address these concerns must provide visibility into the end-to-end release processes through cross-functional planning, tracking and reporting. It must fully automate the deployment of complex applications in testing and production, and it has to scale in order to support large-scale, diverse enterprise IT environments. IT Process Automation has the ability to handle each of these distinct areas.

Management on this scale must provide end-to-end automation, beginning with the critical planning stage. It must also be capable of supporting real-life enterprise environments, and therefore requires extensive scalability, reliability and flexibility.

It must provide a high degree of security and compliance. It is a real bonus if it also includes complex event processing, as that means the solution will be able to recognise problems and respond to them proactively – before end users are even aware of them – by rolling back to the previous release.

IT process automation is crucial to success

More fluid delivery models with higher service-level assurance are driving IT operations toward unified process orchestration and automation. Whether its job scheduling, run-book, file transfer, virtual machine or application release automation, IT organisations are moving from an infrastructure-centric focus to an application or workflow-centric focus.

From system management of complex enterprise applications, to fluid releases and rollbacks of multi-tiered web applications, IT process automation is the foundation for the new IT service model.

Application release can be described as the “last frontier” of IT automation. By fully automating , organisations can reduce errors, lower their costs, create a process that’s more easily tracked and audited, and get their applications to market much faster. If businesses want to retain their competitive advantage when it comes to their IT systems, IT process automation is essential to success.