GuardIEn at Schuitema

Schuitema - Company Profile

Schuitema is a retail and wholesale company based in the Netherlands that owns supermarkets and also provides retail support to independent retailers and associated stores. Schuitema operates approximately 70 supermarkets and provides goods and services to nearly 400 independent associated food retailers, operating under the trade name C1000. The C1000 franchise formula, introduced in 1981, is the one of the most successful franchising and support management approaches in the Netherlands today.

The ongoing challenge to the Schuitema Logistics and Information Technology division is to assist in the continued growth and success of C1000 within one of the most competitive and demanding parts of the retail sector.

In early 2005, as part of the drive to maintain competitive advantage, the Gen support team was tasked with optimising the in-house applications development process for Gen; specifically to raise the visibility of change management and, by extension, to reduce the time required to deploy code changes into production without any errors.

As a development group with over 10 years of experience using Gen, there was perception that the maturity and complexity of our applications combined with the growing expectations of customers were being constrained by our ability to deliver changes on time, first time - especially out of pure development into early test stages. Our increasing use of parallel development streams to get all the work done was not helping either.

From these realisations came a clear set of requirements…we needed to

a) provide a change management process with clearly defined job responsibilities, workflows and actions;

b) ensure decision making about testing and deployment was placed at the lowest possible organisational level and

c) automate as much of the deployment of our changes as we could.

We decided to implement IET's GuardIEn configuration management tool connected to our Gen AIX/Oracle CSE. It allowed us to quickly document our preferred way or working and clearly separate out roles and responsibilities: from the high level release management work of our Planners, the assignment of Change Requests by the Team Leaders, to the working of those individual changes by our Developers. Within a short space of time we had a clear and secure approach for documenting changes to the application and versioning our Gen source code.

Following discussions with IET, GuardIEn was also configured to fully automate the deployment of changes by the Developer's action of setting a GuardIEn Change Request to status 'Development Ready'. Setting this state initiated the creation and execution of a GuardIEn System Update that automated all of the steps (migration, impact analysis, code generation, FTP, installation etc.) required to successfully deploy into one of our 3 testing environments - remotely across both our Windows, UNIX and JVM testing platforms.

In a single year we took one of our largest applications (over 1300 load modules, nearly 1000 screens) and implemented over 200 Change Requests using nearly 3000 System Updates across multiple Gen models.

Our new approach quickly won approval from our development teams who had previously been sceptical. Suddenly they were progressing into our 3 test environments with no direct intervention in the deployment process: they'd set their Change Requests as 'Development Ready' and by the next morning the code would be deployed and ready for testing. As an additional benefit it was soon apparent that implementation errors encountered during the build phase, previously managed with a lot of manual effort, had been reduced to negligible levels.

Using some pre-GuardIEn measurements on the activities of the 10 developers and support staff on the pilot application we made comparisons with the metrics after one year of GuardIEn use. We conservatively estimated a figure of 5% productivity gains for development staff. With the additional savings from the automation of model management and deployment activities, we saved 3,400 man hours per annum over our previous approach - equivalent to nearly 2 members of our 10 person team. Schuitema was repaid its investment in GuardIEn within 18 months.

Since then Schuitema has embarked upon a major componentisation and "fat-client" re-engineering of a core system with the assistance of Gen partner Jumar Solutions. The requirement was to modernise a large application development system to make it more flexible and responsive to customer requirements in an increasingly competitive environment. The task was significant with nearly 22 models within each development stage requiring significant conversion and testing. The number of models grew to 50, to be reduced to 25 again at the end of the project. GuardIEn was used throughout the project and proved essential - providing the mechanisms and controls to allow fault-free rapid deployment of our changes across all components during the re-engineering phases. We actually reduced our model management effort to a single individual as many of these tasks were completely automated by GuardIEn's robust migration facilities and huge code deployments were reduced from weeks of previous effort to less than a day. GuardIEn undoubtedly ensured the project was successfully completed within the timescales required of the sponsor.

In conclusion, GuardIEn more than met our expectations for tightly controlling the development phases of the original project in a clear and manageable way while fully automating the deployment process - winning approval from our Sarbanes-Oxley audit. Deployment was also improved with a significant reduction in build errors - thus freeing up a lot more time for developer testing and so improving software stability into the later stages of each launch.

The significant re-factoring exercise on our main application has since demonstrated such a project to be near impossible without GuardIEn's control and deployment facilities - the alternative is manual, error prone processes that extend project timescales and require significant staffing to achieve.

Some technical challenges remain, but our overall experience has been very positive and we are now actively looking to expand the scope of the initiative to incorporate and control the non-Gen components of our applications. Other projects within Schuitema are also planning to use our approach.