'The old way of building software just does not work anymore'

Digital enterprises are able to give customers a seamless experience, whether it is support interaction, sales interaction, or service-related

Ashok Vasan is Vice President for Application Delivery (APJ) with CA Technologies, and has over 20 years of experience in the technology sector. Prior to joining CA Technologies, Ashok co-founded m9 Tech Solutions, a provider of cloud based productivity improvement solutions. He has earlier worked with Dell Services, i2 Technologies and Detroit Diesel Corporation. Ashok has a MS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
CIO&L: In today’s world, how would you define a digital enterprise?
AV: A digital enterprise is one where various business processes are principally being conducted through mobile media. Such organizations put customers at the core of the changes in their business models, and are able to quickly adapt to what the customers are looking for. Digital enterprises are able to give customers a seamless experience, whether it is support interaction, sales interaction, or a service-related. For this to happen, all tasks from front-end to back-end have to be re-architected.
CIO&L: So, why do we need a new paradigm for digital transformation? What’s wrong with existing IT?
AV: We need a different way of doing things, for two reasons. The first is external: the change in the customer. Today’s customer interacts with you on multiple media and a variety of channels. Also, the consumption mechanism of the end-user is becoming predominantly through mobile. Behavioral change of customers, along with innovation is also driving change.
The second is internal: Today’s technology has many different layers—and making changes and adding new features is difficult. The old way of building software-- taking requirements, writing code, ensuring functionality and then adding the UI on top of it-- just does not work anymore.
Now, the user-experience needs to drive the entire back-end stuff. We need to make things agile and automatic--right from provisioning, to building, testing and deployment. Software needs to move to a micro-service based architecture that provides the flexibility to use basic building blocks in a variety of ways to deliver new and innovative services very quickly.
CIO&L: Do you foresee a greater industrialization of the software development process?
AV: Yes, definitely. But, I’m unable to predict by when this will happen. You already have open APIs, as well a number of sector-specific APIs and micro services. But we still don’t have industry-wide standards for interoperability and consistency. However, I’m hopeful that over time these problems will be ironed out.
CIO&L: And will this result in fewer software defects?
AV: There are a number of reasons for software defects. The SDLC methodology used in software development is structurally wrong. There was also a notion that “Developers develop, testers test”. Now that we have started doing things like service virtualization, test automation, test data management, software defects are getting revealed early on. Devops and other practices are helping develop a method of standardization that will help reduce software defects.
CIO&L: In a bid to rush products to the market, there is often a trade-off between quality, security and speed-to-market. How do you see that improving?   
AV: There is no doubt that security has to be built-in from the get-go. Right from the way you write the code to the way you harden systems. One of the critical criteria for designing a product or service offering is to decide who is going to be using it, what is the authorization, what are all allowed for access, and authentication model. Then you need to consider safeguards like encryption of traffic and data, as well as hardware and network or infrastructure related issues. So, one has to put in all the safeguards in, and test it rigorously right from the beginning--and not at the end.
CIO&L: There is a lot of talk about IT standards and frameworks. How do these fit into the agile model of development?
AV: Agile is an approach that is cultural in many aspects. People have now completely embraced the idea of continuous integration, test automation and deployment automation. Devops is a concept that people inherently understand but are still sort of playing around with it.
The good thing about agile is that relies on tools and automation—which helps standardization. At the next level we can have API standards. Then we can virtualize back-end systems, put in standard test-data sets, and establish standard requirement models that eliminate some of the errors in deployments. I think the best practices of today will sooner, rather than later, become standard practice. According to me, there is no dissonance between IT standards and agile development.

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