Enterprise agility has rapidly become one of the most crucial variables for a business’s long-term resiliency. With the COVID-19 pandemic, never-ending disruptions to the global supply chain and nearly every industry’s typical processes flipped upside down, there has never been a more important time to prioritize agility than now.
While the rewards of agility are high, organizations are struggling to implement key technologies and adhere to the methodologies that can get them there. In fact, the 14th Annual State of Agile Report notes that 59% of organizations are following agile principles, but only 4% of these organizations are getting the full benefit. But the ability to adapt quickly, seize new opportunities, and reduce costs is critical for survival in the ever-evolving and hypercompetitive digital age.
Agility is about adapting quickly to changes and increasing productivity. Importantly, agile methodologies are not agile themselves and therefore will not magically transform enterprises into agile organizations. Instead, the focus needs to be on practicing the correct principles to become truly agile. With this in mind, let’s look at how two of these critical principles—programmability and observability—can increase productivity and allow for innovation across the business.
Programmability describes the capability of hardware and software to change and accept a new set of instructions that alter its behavior. Let’s look at each of these two forms.
One way programmability is used is to connect analog devices with software, for example, software-supported network routers. More recently, programmability has been extended to use networking to control the hardware involved and bridge with software systems. The rising popularity of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) has increased the demand for programmability and brought concepts, such as infrastructure-as-code (IaC), into the realm of reality.
The other use of programmability is to extend existing software capabilities. The two most widely known examples of this are application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs). Using both approaches, a developer can extend the default capabilities of an existing program. The rebirth of APIs as business APIs has significantly extended the introduction of programmability into application software systems. The approach is particularly popular with application service providers since it enables end users to extend and customize the core capabilities provided by a product or service.
Connecting Agility and Programmability
So how are these two concepts connected? Agility requires a foundation and the right kind of environment to provide optimal results. Programmability is an enabler for creating an adequate path for agility. An organization with highly programmable components increases the ability to automate repeatable tasks. Let’s look at two scenarios: a business use case and a technical use case.
Programmability in Business
When a purchase order (PO) arrives, the customer care representative must verify the organization’s ability to fulfill the request and then create an order in the back-end customer relationship management (CRM) system. Traditionally, this process has required a good deal of manual effort: first, extract the PO data; then verify the details using other systems or spreadsheets and, finally, type the data into the CRM system.
Programmability in a Technical Environment
In a typical technical use case, software developers will finish writing code; quality assurance (QA) engineers have to test the release; release engineers have to verify it and the DevSecOps team has to deploy the released artifacts. Similar to the business use case, this technical workflow has traditionally required extensive, tedious, manual work.
However, the process becomes significantly more streamlined when the development organization makes the environment programmable. In this case, once developers commit the code, the automation flow will kick in, exert the committed code, run through the life cycle stages and deploy it into production.
Through automation, which is enabled and extended by programmability, organizations can streamline their repeatable tasks and provide more time and space for users to work on essential or innovative tasks.
Now, let’s look at the implementation details of the two use cases.
Programmability in the Digital Supply Chain
In the business use case, the automation of a workflow, such as PO processing, is treated as part of a modern digital supply chain initiative. The systems, messaging and data involved in such a flow are linked together using integration technologies.
Integration approaches first involved point-to-point connections and then evolved to the use of centralized enterprise service buses (ESBs). More recent, modern approaches have centered around API-centric, integration microservices and integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solutions that use decentralized models and cloud-native technologies.
Now, organizations build or acquire digital platforms by combining APIs, integration and security technologies to create digital supply chain flows. Critical to the success of any digital supply chain is the ability to select systems with built-in API capabilities and enable existing systems to expose applications and services as APIs and make the entire enterprise programmable.
Programmability in a Secured Software Supply Chain
In the technical use case discussed earlier, DevSecOps automation provides the foundation for automating various aspects of the software life cycle. Here, development tools, testing tools and governance-related tools are all connected using a pipeline.
IaC and automated build servers are two popular technologies used in automating such flow, which we call a secured software supply chain. Puppet, Chef and Ansible are widely adopted IaC scripting languages while Bamboo and Jenkins are popular build servers. However, as the DevOps space has evolved with cloud-native and decentralized technologies, GitHub and GitOps are also playing a vital role in building effective pipelines.
Similar to the business use case, the components involved here need to connect to the build pipeline, and therefore the programmability of each element involved plays a significant role in automating the workflow. Furthermore, in order to build a comprehensive pipeline, the code quality, unit test, automated test, infrastructure provisioning, artifact building, dependency management and deployment tools involved have to connect using APIs and extend the required capabilities using IaC.
By analyzing both the business and technical use cases, we have a clear idea about the impact of automation and how it is enabled by programmability. However, we have missed one important element: observability. Let’s examine this here.
The environment created by automation and programmability provides a good playground for teams to be practice being more agile, experiment with new ideas and take them to production rapidly. While agility increases, the responsibility of running healthy systems that provide a continuous digital experience is vital.
Observability helps detect and predict issues using analytics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Modern cloud infrastructure provides a certain level of observability at the operational level. Meanwhile, some modern programming languages, such as BallerinaLang, have built-in support for application-level observability associated with the specific language. When working with languages that lack this functionality, developers will have to either use a third-party tracing library that is compatible with the programming model or directly insert observability instructions along with tracing and debugging instructions.
Enterprises today are on a journey towards agility as they seek to optimize their digital strategies. However, organizational agility needs to catch up with project agility—and then, with each individual’s agility—to be more effective. This is the concept of “structured agility,” which is being fueled by “two-pizza teams” or self-organized teams.
APIs are the foundation of programmability, which makes it possible to connect analog and digital systems, as well as extend software systems. Programmability increases the speed of delivery, enables an enterprise to become “composable” with high reusability and allows a flexible environment by opening it up for innovation—the core principles of agility.