Markets, competitors, and your business are constantly in flux. How quickly can you get new features, fixes, and functions in front of users?
While there are multiple software-related factors which can impact business agility, two key ones are development speed and deployment cadence (frequency).
In this blog, we’ll discuss the difference between development speeds and deployment frequencies, and how automation helps.
More frequent deployments are not agile development
We’ve all learned that bad things happen when SAP systems go down. Often, the business cannot trade without SAP, and its deep integration with other vital internal and customer-facing systems can have disastrous consequences when systems fail. That’s why SAP deployment cycles have traditionally been approached with a heavy amount of caution. Companies may deploy SAP change once or twice per year because that’s simply the quickest they can do so with confidence.
Lots of SAP teams who want to be more responsive to customer requirements are looking to increase their deployment frequency. More frequent deployments get change in front of users more quickly, and are also easier to manage. There are fewer code conflicts because developers are more likely to be working on code that is already live, and there is less change to approve for each deployment.
But obviously SAP teams can’t simply start deploying more often without changing anything else (because of the bad things I’ve just mentioned). To safely achieve more frequent SAP deployments, automation is essential. Without automation, change management is complex and time consuming. Typically, manual processes are needed to make up for a lack of visibility into the development process and spreadsheets are used to track and sequence transports to try to avoid code conflicts, overwrites, overtakes, missing dependencies, and all the many other things that can go wrong. The process will involve many meetings with developers and others in the business.
Using automation there is no need for spreadsheets, emails, and manual documentation to track and manage change and deployments. Everything’s faster, from approvals to testing to the deployment process, which enables releases to be more frequent.
That’s wonderful news. To safely deploy more often – to be agile – we just need the right automation. That’s true, but while increasing deployment frequency makes you more agile, it’s not the same as agile development. Many organizations have retained their traditional development process despite deploying more often. Daily SAP releases deliver value much faster, but improvement is limited if cycle times are still long.
What is agile development (if it’s not deploying more often)?
An increasing number of firms are also transforming their development process to ‘agile’ to accelerate change. Agile development breaks requirements down into smaller user stories which can be delivered within the bounds of time or human resources (depending on your chosen approach). The agile methodology enables frequent reprioritization, which helps the business to respond rapidly to changing requirements. It also accelerates feedback, so any problems and opportunities for improvement can be addressed quickly.
Agile development aims to deliver working software sooner. It can be a strong motivator for faster deployment times because companies can reduce the risk and complexity of deployments by reducing the amount of accumulated change in each one. Additionally, it’s desirable to deliver changes that users need as soon as possible.
Companies that use agile development often deploy more often as a result, but not necessarily. Their deployment cycle might still be every few weeks. And in some cases, frequent incremental deployments are simply not possible. Large projects, such as a migration to S/4HANA, can be streamlined with agile development, but still need a critical mass of finished software before it’s worth deploying.
Combining agile development with a higher deployment frequency
The most agile firms adopt both agile development and a highly flexible approach to production deployment that enables change to be rolled out whenever necessary.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) describes this as a strategy of “develop on cadence, release on demand”. Regardless of what you call it, or the methodology you follow, the ultimate goal is to be able to operate flexibly enough to meet differing business needs.
Daily releases are not right for everyone, for example. One of our customers adopted agile across their business, with a two-weekly sprint cycle as standard. But they found they couldn’t test and deploy everything safely in two weeks due to the size and complexity of their SAP estate. So they release SAP changes every three weeks, with alternate releases containing the work from two sprints. Companies with large, sensitive, or highly regulated systems might even be more comfortable sticking with infrequent deployments for most change, even though it is ready to deploy earlier, but benefit from the option of deploying on demand in certain cases.
How automation accelerates SAP delivery
To be truly agile, it’s important for an organization to be able to develop software quickly, and also release it without undue delay. Accelerating both processes enables the organization to respond to market and customer demands with greater agility.
Using SAP automation helps to accelerate SAP development and deployment by removing manual effort and documentation. Transports can be automatically sequenced, even across SAP applications, and dependencies tracked in a similarly automated fashion. The use of emails and spreadsheets to manage approvals becomes a thing of the past.
Testing can be triggered automatically, increasing confidence that the right tests have been carried out, and automatically documenting the results. Quality can be shifted left, with developers testing their code before it is passed over for quality assurance, cutting iterations and rework. Most importantly, automation improves on the safety of established SAP deployment processes even as it helps to dramatically increase the pace of change.
One organization that set out to get the benefits of faster development and more frequent deployment is Vistaprint. Vistaprint has used automation to achieve the ability to effectively release on demand, with daily deployments. “Agile is in our DNA at Vistaprint,” said Mukul Agrawal, Head of ERP, Vistaprint. “[But although] speed is key, safety and security are absolutely critical. ActiveControl has given us the confidence to deploy SAP changes on a daily basis, without any issues.”
The total delivery time for SAP change is a combination of the development time and deployment frequency, so both need to be accelerated to make your SAP delivery as agile as you can.
ActiveControl, DevOps automation from Basis Technologies, enables you to automate the SAP development and deployment process, from end to end. It supports agile development and increases your deployment speed, helping to make you truly agile.
If you are interested in bringing agility to your SAP landscape, let us know here and our automation specialists will be in touch to schedule a call.