Maximize your CI/CD pipelines to get functionality into the hands of business users faster

Do you lead a technology team? Have you been asked to produce more features in less time? Is your team expected to deliver more functionality to business users at lower cost levels?

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

What is CI/CD?

Today, I’m going to share some insights on how to do precisely that. The concept is called CI/CD, or continuous integration and either continuous delivery or continuous deployment. There are three steps in this model: continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment.

Continuous integration means that multiple developers can work in an environment simultaneously.  Continuous delivery means that when a piece of functionality has been coded, it automatically goes into a registry and is tested immediately, without any extra intervention. Finally, continuous deployment means that releases automatically go into production once they pass a predefined testing threshold.

The intent of designing a CI/CD pipeline is to automate the application-software delivery process to get functionality out quicker, more effectively, and at lower costs. Although there are many reasons to begin a CI/CD initiative, let’s look at the main reasons for driving a CI/CD orchestration and automation business case.

To recap:

  • Continuous integration = multiple developers working together
  • Continuous delivery = changes automatically uploaded and tested
  • Continuous deployment = automatic deployment once code passes testing

How does a CI/CD pipeline benefit business users?

There are a lot of benefits to building a continuous-delivery pipeline.

The first and most apparent benefit is automation. By automating and streamlining your pipeline, you save costs and free up resources to do higher-value work.

The second is continuous testing. Instead of engaging in testing and starting that process, much of the CI/CD environment testing is automated. It happens automatically without human intervention.

The third is accelerated and consistent delivery. It’s essential to make sure that deployments are moving to production as fast as reasonably possible. We have to be careful to remove roadblocks that others might have added. For example, we need to remove extra approvals or any dependencies or hindrances that would prevent functionality from reaching end users once it’s been validated to be working effectively. Once code has passed our defined threshold, we want that functionality immediately available for our user base. This is what’s meant by a continuous CI/CD pipeline. We often hear that almost every environment has a pipeline, and they are fully automated. I don’t believe it. Start asking questions of your engineering teams, and you’ll realize that more of your release—not less—is manually orchestrated.

How does continuous integration work?

One of the most important concepts involved in designing effective CI/CD pipelines is continuous integration.

The idea around continuous integration is to ensure you’re able to release functionality constantly. Continuous-integration environments are designed to support multiple developers working on the same code base at the same time.

This means developers continually update code, merge different code branches, and consolidate and tweak their code. This way, they ensure that all that functionality works at the same time. This process, while tedious, decreases integration testing at the end of the process—in effect, shortening the lifecycle to move code into production (build, test, deploy).

Huge benefits result when this process works seamlessly. The testing process is accelerated, and the time saved ultimately speeds up the overall deployment process. If things are working, that’s great. We quickly move that functionality into production. However, if things aren’t working or appear broken, we’re going to remediate that functionality and codebase immediately. The benefit here is we’re not having a QA test when we know things don’t work. We’re saving end-to-end time in our pipeline.

With continuous delivery, we’re trying to get functionality tested as quickly as possible. We’re not waiting for QA or testing to pick up where developers left off. Instead, the process flows continuously.

Here’s specifically where the work gets done:

  • Continuous integration: build, test, merge
  • Continuous delivery: auto release to repository
  • Continuous deployment: auto deploy to production

What’s the bottom line?

As with continuous-delivery the concept of continuous-deployment, is to get as much functionality live as possible once it’s working. Continuous delivery automatically moves code into a repository and continuous deployment moves it into a production region—a region available to users to consume. That might not be your final destination. It might be a staging location or an interim environment. But it’s trying to get that functionality out as quickly as possible.

There are tons of CI/CD products to explore—from Jenkins to Travis CI. Here are some of the big hitters.

  • CircleCI: rapid software publishing, runs using containers or virtual machines, easy debugging, very customizable.
  • TeamCity: JetBrain’s build-management and continuous-integration server, runs in Java, integrates with Visual Studio and IDEs
  • Bamboo: a continuous-integration server, automates software releases, runs batches of tests in parallel, quick feedback, creates images and pushes it into a registry
  • Codeship: hosted platform, multiple deployments, easy select AWS instances, size, CPUs, and memory
  • Wercker: docker based, microservices, GIT integrations, GitHub, GitLab

As you consider leveraging CI/CD pipelines in your environment, remember, don’t get bogged down in the details. The entire purpose of automating your development pipeline is to get functionality out to your end-users faster, more efficiently, and at a lower cost.

If you found this article helpful, that’s great! Also, check out my books, Think Lead Disrupt and Leading with Value. They were published in early 2021 and are available on Amazon and at http://www.datsciencecio.com/shop for author-signed copies!

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!

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Peter is a technology executive with 19 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to CIO.com on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.