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June 16, 2017

How to deliver complex digital products, manage DevOps & and large scale change

Digital Transformation is all the rage. So to find out about the challenges and how to manage change, CBR's James Nunns spoke to Tim Russell, chief product officer, at Perforce.

By James Nunns

JN: What is Perforce and what do you do?

TR: “Perforce enables the largest technology development companies to innovate faster, deliver quality products and secure their intellectual property by providing products that bring order to complex product development efforts.

“Perforce is best known for its highly scalable version management and collaboration platform that securely manages change across all digital content – source code, art files, video files, images, libraries – while supporting the developer and build tools your teams need to be productive, such as Git, Visual Studio, Jenkins, Adobe, Maya and many others.

“With our acquisition of Seapine in 2016, Perforce also now offers complete project lifecycle management tools to accelerate a project’s delivery cycle by managing requirements, project tasks, test cases, source code, and other artifacts in a seamless workflow.

“Founded in 1996, Perforce has over 250 employees and six offices worldwide.  Customers include Pixar, NVIDIA, Adidas, Ubisoft, Samsung, Salesforce, Sony, VMWare, Disney, Intuit. The company headquarters are in Minneapolis, MN, but the company has had a strong presence in the UK and mainland Europe for most of its history.  The company was acquired by Summit Partners in early 2016.

“Our customers typically have DevOps teams that require massive scale, visibility and security along the development lifecycle.  European customer Scania is a good example of a customer at the forefront of DevOps adoption.  As well as enterprise software, Perforce is also strong in certain verticals, such as media and games development, healthcare, semiconductor and embedded software for electronics (such as automotive) and financial services.”

JN: What are the biggest challenges you are trying to solve?

TR: “As companies in all industries develop software and technology products to drive their business competitiveness and customer experience they struggle to maintain a rapid pace of development, high quality and security. This is particularly the case as development and operations (DevOps) teams grow larger spanning multiple geographies and as technology and software products grow more complex with multiple dependent parts.

“Perforce’s Helix versioning platform delivers the collaboration and security capabilities organizations need to bring order to these large scale projects resulting in faster time to market, better quality and protection for key intellectual property. By versioning all digital assets across multiple large distributed teams, Helix has the proven track record to deliver results.

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“The addition of Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) to the Helix portfolio provides these organizations and teams the visibility into and traceability of the complete development process. With this visibility teams can focus the efforts of their valuable development, test and delivery teams on meeting project requirements and testing areas that have the highest risk of quality gaps. In short, Helix ALM provides the guideposts and dashboard enabling projects to achieve maximum efficiency.”

Read more: The intelligent approach to business growth
JN: Updates to software seem to be coming thick and fast, what kind of challenges does this present to developers?

TR: “The complexity, the volume, plus the drive towards continuous delivery, continuous integration and testing all makes for a software development and management environment that is increasingly hard to keep track of, let alone have any control over.  While this may not matter to an individual developer, the interdependencies of any software project these days means that no developer can work in isolation.  We have customers with developer teams of hundreds to tens of thousands distributed across continents. Developers are under massive amounts of pressure to innovate faster, yet at the same time are expected to maintain the same levels of quality, at a relentless pace.

Tim Russell, chief product office, Perforce

“Leaders of these large scale development efforts are discovering multiple challenges largely based on enabling independent creative work untethered by rigid processes while delivering innovation and quality on a predictable time scale. The democratization of IT has extended to the developer who is inclined to find and adopt the latest open source tools without an understanding of how the tools efficiently combine the creative work of hundreds to thousands of development, test and operations contributors.

“Perforce Helix has a demonstrated track record of bringing order to distributed teams through integrations with popular development tools like Microsoft Visual Studio, Jenkins, Eclipse and Jira. We will soon announce new capabilities that dramatically extend the scale of some of the most popular development tools – stay tuned.”

JN: What are the consequences of incorrectly managing digital content, for example version control?

TR: “Without effective management over the entire digital content creation and delivery process, it becomes very difficult to continue a high pace of innovation delivery at scale – particularly in cases where multiple product versions are deployed simultaneously.

“Effective version control accelerates product delivery by enabling content creators and developers to know with certainty the purpose of previous changes – no trial and error or guess work.  As we say at Perforce, knowing your single source of truth and having absolute visibility into the use of each technology bit leads to predictable delivery, quality and protected IP. Loose, inconsistent and limited granularity of change tracking will likely lead to delivery challenges particularly at scale.

“Finally, making sure that the records exist to satisfy regulatory or standards requirements must extend to the digital asset level.  For instance, if the full history of the software development processes associated with a project is not readily accessible, and if an auditor or regulator demands to see that information (as does happen), then that can mean deploying people for days, weeks or even months to dig back and find it, possibly not completely successfully.

“Ideally, organizations need to have complete visibility of the entire product development process, including anything that is software or digital, with a ‘single view’ across all contributors, providing a documented, traceable ‘history’ of a project, as well as a view of the current status (who is working on what, where and how).

“Version control is the perfect foundation for this ‘single source of truth’ and we’re already seeing most organizations taking this view too.”

Read more: DevOps – Fad or Here to Stay?


JN: In your experience, how often is the management of technical change done incorrectly?

TR: “Organizations are wise to consider the growth in scale and scope of projects as they define the methodology and tools that will support the project. Understanding how tools scale in multiple dimensions – size of repository, size of files (thinking about graphics and other binary file types), number of developers, number of geographic sites, rate of change, etc. – is essential to keeping projects on track for the long term.

“There are examples of extreme scale development teams investing large sums and effort to customize or build their own tools to overcome limitations in what is usually open source tools. Most organizations do not have the resources to invest in bespoke tool development, but at the same time have similar challenges at a slightly smaller scale. These organizations should carefully consider the tools and environment chosen to support their DevOps processes”.

JN: What would be your top tips to businesses undergoing a digital transformation?

TR: “As I mentioned earlier, all companies are becoming technology companies. I recently heard about the leader of a major auto manufacturer state that they were no longer an auto manufacturer, but a technology company in the auto industry. Software and technology hardware is becoming an essential part of every company’s business and in some cases it is becoming the primary business.

“Of course my top tip would be to use Perforce Helix as the foundation for their technology development efforts. It delivers the proven performance, scale, collaboration, and IP protection capabilities to drive successful technology product development.

“More generally, organizations and teams need to carefully consider their choice of methodologies, processes and tools to ensure long term success of their digital initiatives. Cost is often a top consideration in choosing platforms and tools leading to adoption of tools that do not meet the long term requirements of the project and then increasing costs to figure out how to fill in the gaps with bespoke tool development.”


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