Industrialize IT to save costs, increase speed-to-market and improve quality

Implementing and maintaining IT solutions is expensive - mainly due to the cost of scarce, highly skilled IT specialists. While developments in the global economy increase the need for cost reduction, actual costs are increasing due to the tremendous growth in depth and breadth of the technology foundation that underpins modern IT solutions. Competent IT specialists, who can effectively leverage the power offered by Microsoft server products, are becoming an ever more scarce and expensive resource. This not only drives up the costs of IT solutions, but also becomes a bottleneck that limits the speed-to-market of new IT solutions.

Looking more closely at how IT specialists actually build and maintain solutions, it quickly becomes apparent that today an essentially pre-industrial approach is commonplace in the IT industry. Even though IT solutions are based on ever more powerful standard server products - such as the .NET framework, SQL Server, BizTalk and SharePoint - configuring, integrating and customizing those server products into complete IT solutions is still mostly done in a one-off, manual approach. Quality also suffers because many of these manual tasks are error-prone and tedious.

Like industry thought leaders such as Jack Greenfield, we believe that it is necessary to industrialize IT in order to overcome the fundamental limitations inherent to the ‘craftsmanship’ approach to IT. We are convinced that this is the future of the IT industry, and that it will bring many good things to both customers and IT professionals. As a Systems Integrator specialized in the latest Microsoft technologies, we are transforming ourselves from craftsmanship to industrialized specialist.

Standardize and automate application lifecycle management

So what does industrializing ALM mean in the real world? First and foremost, two things must be realized: standardization and automation. Microsoft provides powerful tools for ALM, such as Visual Studio Team System. However, by definition these tools are general purpose. But where Microsoft has to stop, we start off.

By applying a standardized implementation structure for all types of IT solutions (MAST - Microsoft .NET Architecture Style), we achieve better maintainability of IT solutions and better flexibility of developer resource management. In addition to that, by applying the principle of convention over configuration, the MAST standard greatly increases the attainable level of automation in the Factory. This avoids much (arbitrary) configuration work for users and a lot of complexity in the Factory tools.

Using this approach, we provide comprehensive automation for common time-consuming and error-prone tasks in application lifecycle management, such as installing development machines and deploying solutions across multiple machines in DTAP environments. This results in a significant increase in productivity and quality in the ALM process.

Benefits when outsourcing or co-sourcing

For local development and maintenance the cost reduction achieved by standardization combined with automation is most apparent, due to the high cost of local labor. When outsourcing or co-sourcing (part of) these activities to locations with less expensive labor this still saves money (but less). However, when outsourcing or co-sourcing these activities another benefit becomes more prominent: grip. The standard structure for design and implementation allows for a precise specification with little effort, efficient communication, and a result that is predictable and consistent with other Factory built IT solutions.

In addition to that, the community driven guidance in context provided by integrating the Factory Wiki with the Factory Guide in Visual Studio allows for effective knowledge sharing within virtual teams – even ad-hoc or on demand. This is complemented very effectively with a Microsoft-based communication infrastructure to support the new world of work.

Build any type of solution

We observed a large overlap across different solution types with respect to what Microsoft server products are used and what best practices are applied. In addition to that, different solution types often coexist on a single shared infrastructure. So instead of building a separate factory for each type of IT solution, we decided to define a single Factory that can build:

"Solutions composed from a combination of custom .NET code and zero or more Microsoft server products".

The phrase "zero or more" indicates that we target solutions ranging from the 'traditional' fully custom solutions to solutions based on standard server products. The latter type of solutions has become predominant for Macaw’s clients; as much as possible of the functionality is bought with standard server products. The remaining functionality is then realized by customizing and extending the standard products:

Ensuring sustained, increasing value

From the outset durability was a design goal for our entire factory approach. The people and processes to continually improve the Factory are in-place. We are integrating the latest Microsoft technologies as they are applied and we capture best practices as we learn them, across all solution centers.

The Factory relieves IT specialists from the same tedious, error-prone, repetitive tasks that they encounter on many projects. Instead, they are able to focus on what is specific and innovative for the current project and customer, while the Factory provides them with up-to-date, combined knowledge and experience of their best colleagues at their fingertips.

The value of the Factory is the value of Macaw’s best innovators, who are leaders in their respective fields, realizing Tomorrow’s IT, Today. This approach brings every team closer to the level of the company’s very best combined; a dream team.

Customers who hire Macaw employees benefit from consistent high levels of productivity and expertise that - across the board - are simply unattainable for traditional systems integrators who still use a manual, one-off development approach. Customers who license the Factory for use by non-Macaw employees boost their developers with Macaw’s packaged expertise.

Recent developments in Microsoft IT have inspired us to further expand our vision. Specifically Microsoft Azure with it's new ALM features such as publishing from GIT or TFS source control, Team Foundation Service, and Azure Virtual Machines, as well as the advent of the NuGet ecosystem and the integration of the NuGet Package Manager in Visual Studio, offer great potential for future Factory versions. We see many opportunities to raise the abstraction level at which IT specialists can work, to target cloud solutions and offer factories in the cloud, and to target more team roles and application lifecycle management (ALM) aspects.