The Echidna e-commerce firm installs and evolves e-commerce platforms, providing ongoing development so its clients can leverage e-commerce experiences to the satisfaction of their customers. “We apply carefully selected user experience technology, marketing and analytics abilities to our clients’ strategic goals to do this,” taking what it calls an “anti-Big Bang” approach to continuous deployment, says Mike Pierce, CTO of Echidna.
“Traditional e-commerce deployments were often Big Bang deployments that people developed on the basis that they had to pressure the business leaders into feeling like they had only one chance to pack as much scope as possible into a large software development project. That approach voids any practical innovation,” says Pierce. With that mindset, it can take years to finish e-commerce sites, and e-commerce companies can go out of business by the time they actually finish such a site, since it would be far out of date by then.
Echidna sees continuous deployment as one piece in a much larger agility play designed to ensure that businesses compete in digital economies, now and in the future. Continuous deployment is the ultimate goal of DevOps, an approach that enables the business to innovate fast enough to maintain the business’ sharp marketplace edge through acute, turn-on-a-dime competitive dexterity. “In order to do this, continuous deployment helps companies learn to develop high-quality software and deploy it on a rapid, reliable and repeatable schedule,” says Pierce.
Continuous Deployment Timelines and Challenges
Depending on the client, its needs and the features in the pipeline, Echidna deploys software to each e-commerce platform from monthly to daily, and at intervals in between those extremes. Echidna seeks to increase the degree of automation of each deployment over time. The challenge is that with so many different clients and platforms, Echidna must achieve its automation victories for each customer individually, solving similar and unique issues. “We are finding our greatest success using PaaS (platform-as-a-service) e-commerce platforms like Four51 because it eliminates a lot of the administrative overhead that is typical with deployments to on-premise platforms,” says Pierce.
The development model Echidna follows to deploy e-commerce sites affects each software component, even though components deploy at different times. “Payment system modifications require significantly different testing—more testing—and we must deploy them much less often than other components. Marketing components don’t need as much regression testing as other software modules and so we can deploy them much more quickly,” he says.
The most difficult software to move into continuous deployment in an e-commerce platform are the components that integrate deeply into enterprise systems. That is why Echidna advises business customers to use DevOps methodologies to deploy their enterprise production software at accelerated rates. When they do this, Echidna potentially can speed its deployment of the e-commerce platform components that are enmeshed with those production systems.
The Four51 Path, Through Jitterbit
Echidna connects Four51’s OrderCloud to the Jitterbit iPaaS integration server platform, a point-and-click integration tool. “This enables us to streamline further integrations and data exchanges with many of the disparate systems in an ecosystem,” says Pierce. Echidna sees increasing continuous deployment orchestration opportunities as more and more third-party application vendors become compatible with these kinds of integration tools.
Four51 enables an ecosystem of connected digital services and applications where e-commerce uses numerous disparate systems that exchange data and facilitate work streams in the enterprise in question, Pierce says. “As these systems eliminate disparities and we align them on the central integration and deployment standards that we use, there will be increasing opportunities to introduce clients to lean development practices like continuous delivery and continuous deployment.”
Continuous deployment is miles apart from what information technology is used to, especially where manual change management and change control are concerned. But once Echidna exposes its customers to continuous deployment, their managers, C-levels and boards soon begin to witness the accelerated software innovation continuous deployment provides and how this makes information technology—and the business—more nimble, both technologically and competitively.