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New Year’s Resolutions for Internet Retail By @Papa_Fire @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

The technology space has evolved. So have a lot of technologists

As the holiday rush is winding down, I sit here reflecting on all the companies that lost business/revenue during the busiest time of the year. Loss of business not because of technology failure, although this is always a manifestation of a problem, but because of process failure in order to remedy the failures of technology. I've offered some tips on preparing for the holiday traffic from the system architecture perspective, but perhaps I should have concentrated on preparing for the rush from the organizational perspective.

Behind the extensive downtimes I witness every holiday, I see a corporate failure to change the archaic processes to match the change in business models. Often, the companies that are the most prone to this are the companies transitioning from either a brick and mortar model or from enterprise software to web-based offering. The latter are actually transitioning from B2B to B2C model, often without realizing it. But they are not the only offenders. Even web-only companies suffer from the same symptoms. Whatever the company type is, the change must come from the top. Often, the corporate inflexibility and complacency is the main drivers behind the legacy processes not reflecting the state of modern operations.

This year, for example, I witnessed a large e-commerce site, originating from a traditional catalog company, suffer a big revenue blow during Black Friday specifically because of devaluing the principals of collaboration and shared responsibility while running a complex, business-critical web application. The owners made a conscious decision to separate the operations and development groups and maintain the traditional software development lifecycle (SDLC), limiting each group's responsibilities specific to the respective domain. And those choices were the reason why they were unable to accept orders for over 8 hours on Black Friday. Eight hours of no revenue. On an e-commerce site. During the busiest time of the year. Boom.

Shared accountability
Management of the application was a function of the operations group, however, system administrators had no domain knowledge of the application or, perhaps even worse, the deployment history or rollback procedures. On the flip side, developers also viewed the operations solely as a responsibility of system administrators, so when they were done deploying the code, they assumed their job was done. This meant that no developer was available immediately (being a holiday and all) to troubleshoot the problem.

Monitoring was also defined by business units as a function of the operations team and, therefore, adding application level monitors was not part of the development life cycle. All the system level monitors that you would expect from the traditional operations team responsible for systems only were showing no anomalies in behavior. No metrics showing application health or business rules were in place, making it difficult to pinpoint the problem in the application layer and, consequently, extending troubleshooting (and outage) time.

The development group had a defined process for modifying and deploying the code that they had to follow, preventing them from deploying quick patches as needed. They were forced to follow the standard SDLC process for a critical bug fix instead of adjusting the process to shorten time-to-market for an issue affecting millions of users and as much in dollar figures.

It is also worth mentioning a lack of automation, since packaging, testing and deployment of the patch itself took significant time because of the required coordination and hand-offs between the groups. And a lack of a rollback plan that would have allowed them to quickly back out of the last set of changes, letting users to continue shopping while developers were working on the fix. But one can argue that those oversights fall on IT groups rather than business groups, although it still falls within the domain of process failure.

The technology space has evolved. So have a lot of technologists. Businesses, however, especially larger ones, have a natural aversion to change that is often justified by risk and cost factors. However, processes are put in place for exactly that reason - to save time and money. If they don't accomplish those two goals - or worse, contributing to the opposite - they need to be changed. My hope is that in light of visible, high profile failures, businesses will make New Year's resolutions to make these changes and begin to realize that ROI of change in the right direction is worth it.

More Stories By Leon Fayer

Leon Fayer is Vice President at OmniTI, a provider of web infrastructures and applications for companies that require scalable, high performance, mission critical solutions. He possesses a proven background of both web application development and production deployment for complex systems and in his current role advises clients about critical aspects of project strategies and plans to help ensure project success. Leon can be contacted at [email protected]

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