Beyond agile – Continuous delivery is the new frontier in fast, cost effective and lower risk innovation

There are an abundance of conference sessions and webinars addressing optimization of user engagement with the end goal of promoting the value of publishers’ content in order to grow and retain a loyal user community. Two questions yet to be answered in these discussions are: How can you (the publisher) rapidly update your site in response to user behaviors? And how do you catch up to the trends that are dominating the mainstream media websites that current and future researchers have become accustomed to? I assert that the answer to both questions is adopting a Continuous Delivery (CD) model for online platform development. The CD model addresses the business reality, which is that changes will need to be made on a continuous basis to fully meet user needs.

Taking a step back, the CD model is a software engineering approach in which teams develop software in a way that ensures that it is ready for release at any point during the development process. CD is increasingly being used in software development because it allows for automation of delivery and allows technologists to rapidly, reliably and repeatedly push out enhancements and bug fixes with minimal risk. The primary difference between CD and agile development is that in the CD model a release is possible at any time, whereas with the agile development approach the software will be prepared for release only at periodic intervals.

What has changed to make CD necessary now?

Not that long ago, publishers were firmly entrenched in a print mindset and a significant distance from having to be aware of technology trends perceived as tangential to their business. In 2015, technology is a core component of publishing operations and a driver of business growth. With this in mind, publishers have to embrace forward-looking approaches like the CD model and make efforts to understand the benefits and recognize the potential risks. Unlike print-focused publishing that was comprised of lengthy preparations to produce a final, perfect product (and then largely left alone), CD for publishers’ digital offerings are comprised of constant updates and ongoing course-corrections along the way. As a rule, these course-corrections will not be dramatic because the updates are continuous.

DSC_0778The March 2015 STM Reportasserts that researchers are reading more, spending less time on individual articles, and that search is the greatest source of discovery, not browsing or social networks or other means. And this is where the CD model comes into play as a critical strategy for addressing changing user behaviors, including demand for faster and more complete access to most relevant content. Publishers must constantly think ahead and execute new engagement methods, personalize content to the individual, and where possible unify siloed researcher workflows with the content, e.g. incorporation of content creation tools and sharing on the website. CD facilitates innovation, encourages site refinements, and transforms the platform into a ready outlet for testing new sales and marketing strategies in that changes can be quickly evaluated and invested in or scrapped altogether depending on the observable impact.

The most frequent complaint that all platform providers hear from publishers is that delivery of enhancements is too slow and deadlines are often missed. There will always be some element of greater “need for speed”, but it is dramatically lessened with CD. The most widely used online platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are prime examples of technology organizations who have implemented CD and as a result the “time to delivery” has become an operational differentiator for them in terms of efficiencies gained. For publishers on third party platforms, CD has two direct benefits. The first is that platform improvements are delivered far faster to the publisher and not on release schedules tied to bespoke work. The second is that the platform vendor has fewer versions of the code base to maintain and smaller platform upgrades for each client, which results in overall lower cost of development and greater flexibility for new feature work.

All that said, it is not just the cloud hosted applications that have moved / are moving to the CD model. There is recognition across major organizations, like Tesla, Windows, and Adobe, that there are valuable benefits to be gained operationally and in quality of product and customer service through CD.

In an earlier post, Phill shares two examples of user-driven innovations – one was Wiley’s Anywhere Article and the other was JSTOR Lab’s JSTOR Snap. The noted difference between the products was that Wiley gathered user feedback at two specific points, pre-development and post-launch, and JSTOR Labs gathered feedback throughout the development and prototyping process. Wiley’s shared lesson learned was that they would have liked to “find a way to quickly iterate designs before too much effort had been invested” – essentially apply CD to their Anywhere Articledevelopment.

At this point, most publishers are moving from waterfall to agile and are experiencing the advantage of faster development through sprints. Take a few leaps ahead – the transition to agile is complete, and the next evolution of development is CD. Imagine being able to respond to customer needs and usage trends in a matter of days, not weeks, months or quarters. In this increasingly competitive, and even disruptive innovation environment, the ability to maintain a competitive advantage is as much about the systems and development models that publishers employ as it is about ideas. As the latest frontier in the drive towards increasingly rapid development, CD offers the ability to deploy and test innovations not only more quickly than ever but also at lower cost and therefore lower risk.

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