Why release orchestration is critical to modern software delivery

Written by: Drew Piland
6 min read

As software becomes more critical to business value, companies are struggling to deliver it effectively. The solution lies in the evolving discipline of release orchestration and the value management that it supports.

Automation has helped software teams to streamline their DevOps pipelines, but it's only part of the story. Most teams automate tasks independently without acknowledging their role in a broader workflow. That creates a disjointed view of the pipeline that doesn't see how tasks feed into each other.

Release orchestration manages these tasks from end to end, sequencing them into chains and monitoring their progression as part of an overall DevOps pipeline. It can also extend beyond a single pipeline, providing the same view over the entire pipeline portfolio. It is a linchpin for an integrated software delivery process that provides full visibility and accountability.

Software delivery's complexity problem

In an ideal world, companies would manage a single team with one application that it releases into a single production environment. The reality is much messier. Multiple teams work on different applications, elements of which depend on each other, which makes it difficult to align their production schedules. When they publish their applications they do so in different production environments, many of which overlap. To complicate matters further, each team typically uses its own development and management tools.

Coordinating these teams and their activities is a management nightmare. Most organizations do it on a best-effort basis, but they're flying blind. Data about the development process is siloed across these different teams where it exists at all. That creates intelligence gaps in the DevOps process, leading to incoherent workflows, inconsistency, and poor governance.

As the number and complexity of pipelines grow, the problem gets worse. This limits organizations' ability to scale.

Release orchestration to the rescue

Solving this problem means breaking down those silos to create an end-to-end view of the entire software delivery process. This should encompass all pipelines, releases, release dependencies, features, and workflows.

Release orchestration, from CloudBees' perspective, provides the complete view by ingesting data from across these environments to create a centralized view of the software delivery chain. It combines all applications and workflows into a single view that spans modern multi-cloud and hybrid infrastructures.

The ability to tie all software delivery processes together in a single view is becoming more critical for organizations. Industry analysts have acknowledged this, as they shift away from individual DevOps capability reports to focus on a platform-based approach, where orchestration plays a big role in end-to-end management.

Gartner has consolidated into two reports: value stream delivery platforms (VSDP), which focuses on software delivery execution, and value stream management platforms (VSMP), which emphasizes how well software delivery is aligned to the overall business strategy. Forrester prefers the term integrated software delivery platforms. Regardless of the name, their goal is the same: to create a single, unified view of tools and data across the entire software development effort.

This platform-based approach surfaces and prioritizes customer value, enabling organizations to measure how effective the software development process is in delivering it.

Insights and intelligence through analytics

An effective orchestration platform provides insights across the software delivery value stream. It ingests data from both automated and manual processes, feeding them into visual dashboards that provide easily digestible software intelligence.

CloudBees' platform, for example, provides this functionality in the form of out-of-the-box dashboards that enable delivery teams to gather these insights quickly. Managers can surface key metrics, including the efficiency of software shipments as measured by speed and person-hours, and how much time is spent on manual vs. automated activities, and DORA metrics.

Speed isn't everything, though. There's no point moving quickly in the wrong direction. So, an effective orchestration system helps determine whether product managers are emphasizing the right feautres for developers to work on in relevance to customer and business value.

Well-implemented platforms also scale across multiple pipelines, gathering data to identify bottlenecks across multiple release dependencies.

While prebuilt dashboards offer fast insights for the most common metrics, your software delivery platform should also be flexible to support different business goals, as no two businesses are the same. This makes customized dashboards important in an orchestration platform, to enable different stakeholders to define what is important to them.

Continuous security

An orchestration platform measures more than efficiency and customer relevance; it also tracks security. The industry has tended to burden developers alone with software security concerns by promoting a "shift-left" approach. This affects the developer experience but also ignores the need to preserve security throughout the entire software development lifecycle.

A mature software delivery process supports security everywhere, including in deployment and production. An effective orchestration platform includes access controls that ensure only the right people perform sensitive tasks. It logs who did what and when—enabling managers to check that people are following process security rules.

Audit reports with a single click

This logging capability also provides another key benefit: auditability. Real-time evidence collection delivers information about actions taken throughout the software delivery process in a consistent format, with granularity down to the individual person and object level. Auditors can generate reports instantly with a single click, rather than having to gather the information they need manually from developers and others involved in the software delivery process.

Automated auditing helps companies to meet compliance requirements more efficiently and accurately. They can do it without diverting developers from their core, value-generating work.

Don't forget the developer experience

This developer support is critical. Although customer value is a priority, companies must not forget the developer's role in the software value chain. Software's value is non-existent without experts to write the code.

Still, developer talent is in short supply, and it's getting worse. In 2021, IDC tracked a 1.4 million global shortfall in developers, which it says will reach 4 million in 2025.

Companies should support a positive developer experience as they streamline software delivery. To do that, they must allow developers to do what they love: writing code. Removing cumbersome compliance work maximizes developer value and improves their morale.

An effective orchestration platform also supports the tools that developers use to write that code. They are territorial about these tools, which they configure to meet their own working practices. Forcing them to learn new ones affects morale and drains productivity. The mission here is clear: Embrace, don't replace.

Taking the next step in software delivery maturity

An effective release orchestration platform connects software delivery to business outcomes. More than that, it creates an environment that helps to engineer those outcomes more efficiently by lowering cost and time to value.

CloudBees' DevOps management and release orchestration platform are trusted by some of the world's largest institutions as a framework to deliver this value. Talk to our experts about how we can help your company to extract the maximum value from your software delivery process.

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