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ServiceMaster's path to an agile development twofer: Better security and DevOps business benefits

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer security transformation discussion explores how home-maintenance repair and services provider ServiceMaster develops applications with a security-minded focus as a DevOps benefit.

To learn how security technology leads to posture maturity and DevOps business benefits, we're joined by Jennifer Cole, Chief Information Security Officer and Vice President of IT, Information Security, and Governance for ServiceMaster in Memphis, Tennessee, and Ashish Kuthiala, Senior Director of Marketing and Strategy at Hewlett Packard Enterprise DevOps. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Jennifer, tell me, what are some of the top trends that drive your need for security improvements and that also spurred DevOps benefits?

Cole: When we started our DevOps journey, security was a little bit ahead of the curve for application security and we were able to get in on the front end of our DevOps transformation.

Cole

The primary reason for our transformation as a company is that we are an 86-year-old company that has seven brands under one umbrella, and we needed to have one brand, one voice, and be able to talk to our customers in a way that they wanted us to talk to them.

That means enabling IT to get capabilities out there quickly, so that we can interact with our customers "digital first." As a result of that, we were able to see an increase in the way that we looked at security education and process. We were normally doing our penetration tests after the fact of a release. We were able to put tools in place to test prior to a release, and also teach our developers along the way that security is everyone's responsibility.

ServiceMaster has been fortunate that we have a C-suite willing to invest in DevOps and an Agile methodology. We also had developers who were willing to learn, and with the right intent to deliver code that would protect our customers. Those things collided, and we have the perfect storm.

So, we're delivering quicker, but we also fail faster allowing us to go back and fix things quicker. We're seeing an uptick in what we're delivering being a lot more secure.

Gardner: Ashish, it seems obvious, having heard Jennifer describe it, DevOps and security hand-in-hand -- a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Are you seeing this more across various industries?

Stopping defects

Kuthiala: Absolutely. With the adoption of DevOps increasing more across enterprises, security is no different than any other quality-assurance (QA) testing that you do. You can't let a defect reach your customer base; and you cannot let a security flaw reach your customer base as well.

Kuthiala

If you look at it from that perspective, and the teams are willing to work together, you're treated no differently than any other QA process. This boils not just to the vulnerability of your software that you're releasing in the marketplace, but there are so many different regulations and compliance [needs] -- internal, external, your own company policies -- that you have to take a look at. You don't want to go faster and compromise security. So, it's an essential part of DevOps.

Cole: DevOps allows for continuous improvement, too. Security comes at the front of a traditional SDLC process, while in the old days, security came last. We found problems after they were in production or something had been compromised. Now, we're at the beginning of the process and we're actually getting to train the people that are at the beginning of the process on how and why to deliver things that are safe for our customers.

Gardner: Jennifer, why is security so important? Is this about your brand preservation? Is this about privacy and security of data? Is this about the ability for high performance to maintain its role in the organization? All the above? What did I miss? Why is this so important?

Cole: Depending on the lens that you are looking through, that answer may be different. For me, as a CISO, it's making sure that our data is secure and that our customers have trust in us to take care of their information. The rest of the C-suite, I am sure, feels the same, but they're also very focused on transformation to digital-first, making sure customers can work with us in any way that they want to and that their ServiceMaster experience is healthy.

Our leaders also want to ensure our customers return to do business with us and are happy in the process.  Our company helps customers in some of the most difficult times in their life, or helps them prevent a difficult time in the ownership of their home.

But for me and the rest of our leadership team, it's making sure that we're doing what's right. We're training our teams along the way to do what's right, to just make the overall ServiceMaster experience better and safe. As young people move into different companies, we want to make sure they have that foundation of thinking about security first -- and also the customer.

We tend to put IT people in a back room, and they never see the customer. This methodology allows IT to see what they could have released and correct it if it's wrong, and we get an opportunity to train for the future.

Through my lens, it’s about protecting our data and making sure our customers are getting service that doesn't have vulnerabilities in it and is safe.

Gardner: Now, Ashish, user experience is top of mind for organizations, particularly organizations that are customer focused like ServiceMaster. When we look at security and DevOps coming together, we can put in place the requirements to maintain that data, but it also means we can get at more data and use it more strategically, more tactically, for personalization and customization -- and at the same time, making sure that those customers are protected.

How important is user experience and data gathering now when it comes to QA and making applications as robust as they can be?

Million-dollar question

Kuthiala: It's a million-dollar question. I'll give you an example of a client I work with. I happen to use their app very, very frequently, and I happen to know the team that owns that app. They told me about 12 months ago that they had invested -- let’s just make up this number -- $1 million in improving the user experience. They asked me how I liked it. I said, "Your app is good. I only use this 20 percent of the features in your app. I really don’t use the other 80 percent. It's not so useful to me."

That was an eye-opener to them, because the $1 million or so that they would have invested in enriching the user experience -- if they knew exactly what I was doing as a user, what I use, what I did not use, where I had problems -- could have used that toward that 20 percent that I use. They could have made it better than anybody else in the marketplace and also gathered information on what is it that the market wants by monitoring the user experience with people like me.

It's not just the availability and health of the application; it’s the user experience. It's having empathy for the user, as an end user.

It's not just the availability and health of the application; it’s the user experience. It's having empathy for the user, as an end-user. HPE of course, makes a lot of these tools, like HPE AppPulse, which is very specifically designed to capture that mobile user experience and bring it back before you have a flood of calls and support people screaming at you as to why the application isn’t working.

Security is also one of those things. All is good until something goes wrong. You don't want to be in a situation when something has actually gone wrong and your brand is being dragged through mud in the press, your revenue starts to decline, and then you look at it. It’s one of those things that you can't look at after the fact.

Gardner: Jennifer, this strikes me as an under-appreciated force multiplier, that the better you maintain data integrity, security, and privacy, the more trust you are going to get to get more data about your customers that you can then apply back to a better experience for them. Is that something that you are banking on at ServiceMaster?

Cole: Absolutely. Trust is important, not only with our customers, but also our employees and leaders. We want people to feel like they're in a healthy environment, where they can give us feedback on that user experience. What I would say to what Ashish was saying is that DevOps actually gives us the ability to deliver what the business wants IT to deliver for our customers.

In the past 25 years, IT has decided what the customer would like to see. In this methodology, you're actually working with your business partners who understand their products and their customers, and they're telling you the features that need to be delivered. Then, you're able to pick the minimum viable product and deliver it first, so that you can capture that 20 percent of functionality.

Also, if you're wrapping security in front of that, that means security is not coming back to you later with the penetration test results and say that you have all of these things to fix, which takes time away from delivering something new for our customers.

This methodology pays off, but the journey is hard. It’s tough because in most companies you have a legacy environment that you have to support. Then, you have this new application environment that you’re creating. There's a healthy balance that you have to find there, and it takes time. But we've seen quicker results and better revenue, our customers are happier, they're enjoying the ServiceMaster experience, instead of our individual brand families, and we've really embraced the methodology.

Gardner: Do you have any examples that you can recall where you've done development projects and you’ve been able to track that data around that particular application? What’s going on with the testing, and then how is that applied back to a DevOps benefit? Maybe you could just walk us through an example of where this has really worked well.

Digital first

Cole: About a year and a half ago, we started with one of our brands, American Home Shield, and looked at where the low hanging fruit -- or minimum viable product -- was in that brand for digital first. Let me describe the business a little bit. Our customers reach out to us, they purchase a policy for their house and we maintain appliances and such in their home, but it is a contractor-based company. We send out a contractor who is not a ServiceMaster associate.

We have to make that work and make our customer feel like they've had a seamless experience with American Home Shield. We had some opportunity in that brand for digital first. We went after it and drastically changed the way that our customers did business with us. Now, it's caught on like wildfire, and we're really trying to focus on one brand and one voice. This is a top-down decision which does help us move faster.

All seven of our brands are home services. We're in 75,000 homes a day and we needed to identify the customers of all the brands, so that we could customize the way that we do business with them. DevOps allows us to move faster into the market and deliver that.

Gardner: Ashish, there aren't that many security vendors that do DevOps, or DevOps vendors that do security. At HPE, how have you made advances in terms of how these two areas come together?

The strengths of HPE in helping its customers lies with the very fact that we have an end-to-end diverse portfolio.

Kuthiala: The strengths of HPE in helping its customers lies with the very fact that we have an end-to-end diverse portfolio. Jennifer talked about taking the security practices and not leaving it toward the end of the cycle, but moving it to the very beginning, which means that you have to get developers to start thinking like security experts and work with the security experts.

Given that we have a portfolio that spans the developers and the security teams, our best practices include building our own customer-facing software products that incorporate security practices, so that when developers are writing code, they can begin to see any immediate security threats as well as whether their code is compliant with any applicable policies or not. Even before code is checked in, the process runs the code through security checks and follows it all the way through the software development lifecycle.

These are security-focused feedback loops. At any point, if there is a problem, the changes are rejected and sent back or feedback is sent back to the developers immediately.

If it makes through the cycle and a known vulnerability is found before release to production, we have tools such as App Defender that can plug in to protect the code in production until developers can fix it, allowing you to go faster but remain protected.

Cole: It blocks it from the customer until you can fix it.

Kuthiala: Jennifer, can you describe a little bit how you use some of these products?

Strategic partnership

Cole: Sure. We’ve had a great strategic partnership with HPE in this particular space. Application security caught on fire about two years ago at RSA, which is one of the main security conferences for anyone in our profession.

The topic of application security has not been focused to CISOs in my opinion. I was fortunate enough that I had a great team member who came back and said that we have to get on board with this. We had some conversations with HPE and ended up in a great strategic partnership. They've really held our hands and helped us get through the process. In turn, that helped make them better, as well as make us better, and that's what a strategic partnership should be about.

Now, we're watching things as they are developed. So, we're teaching the developer in real-time. Then, if something happens to get through, we have App Defender, which will actually contain it until we can fix it before it releases to our customer. If all of those defenses don’t work, we still do the penetration test along with many other controls that are in place. We also try to go back to just grassroots, sit down with the developers, and help them understand why they would want to develop differently next time.

The next step for ServiceMaster specifically is making solid plans to migrate off of our legacy systems, so that we can truly focus on maturing DevOps and delivering for our customer in a safer, quicker way.

Someone from security is in every one of the development scrum meetings and on all the product teams. We also participate in Big Room Planning. We're trying to move out of that overall governing role and into a peer-to-peer type role, helping each other learn, and explaining to them why we want them to do things.

Gardner: It seems to me that, having gone at this at the methodological level with those collaboration issues solved, bringing people into the scrum who are security minded, puts you in a position to be able to scale this. I imagine that more and more applications are going to be of a mobile nature, where there's going to be continuous development. We're also going to start perhaps using micro-services for development and ultimately Internet of Things (IoT) if you start measuring more and more things in your homes with your contractors.

Cole: We reach 75,000 homes a day. So, you can imagine that all of those things are going to play a big part in our future.

Gardner: Before we sign-off, perhaps you have projections as to where you like to see things go. How can DevOps and security work better for you as a tag team?

Cole: For me, the next step for ServiceMaster specifically is making solid plans to migrate off of our legacy systems, so that we can truly focus on maturing DevOps and delivering for our customer in a safer, quicker way, and so we're not always having to balance this legacy environment and this new environment.

If we could accelerate that, I think we will deliver to the customer quicker and also more securely.

Gardner: Ashish, last word, what should people who are on the security side of the house be thinking about DevOps that they might not have appreciated?

Higher quality

Kuthiala: This whole approach of adopting DevOps is to deliver your software faster to your customers with higher quality says it. DevOps is an opportunity for security teams to get deeply embedded in the mindset of the developers, the business planners, testers, production teams – essentially the whole software development lifecycle, which earlier they didn’t have the opportunity to do.

They would usually come in before code went to production and often would push back the production cycles by a few weeks because they had to do the right thing and ensure release of code that was secure. Now, they’re able to collaborate with and educate developers, sit down with them, tell them exactly what they need to design and therefore deliver secure code right from the design stage. It’s the opportunity to make this a lot better and more secure for their customers.

Cole: The key is security being a strategic partner with the business and the rest of IT, instead of just being a governing body.

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At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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