Agile is not a dirty word

(Image: Paddy Power)

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18 July 2014 | 0

Mobile, social media, cloud computing, skills and massive growth. These are just some of the issues that Paddy Power is dealing with, led on the technology front by CIO Fin Goulding.

Speaking to TechPro, Goulding said that the business of Paddy Power has changed from a 60/40 desktop mobile split last year, to the same proportions now in favour of mobile. As well as this change in access, the company has experienced significant business growth that is continuing apace.

The internal philosophy for the company is one of fostering change and enabling people to achieve, but also allowing them to fail. This culture is facilitated by flat hierarchies and open discussion. A good example was a meeting room that got a revamp.

The room had been kitted out with a whiteboard, table and chairs. Goulding decided that was not optimal and so he had forum-style, stepped seating installed, which not only increased the capacity significantly, but covered in faux grass, echoes the informal and yet highly focused style of the company.

As well as dealing with business growth, Paddy Power must deal with the ebb and flow of its core focus, the sports world.

Of late development had been focused on its World Cup app for iPhone, but outside of soccer, horse racing, tennis, rugby and golf are its other major sports areas. The annual racing meeting at Cheltenham presents a major spike in activity for the company, meaning that all infrastructure and applications must be able to meet such demand. This is all about being agile.

“In some organisations Agile is a dirty word,” says Goulding, as it is seen as cutting corners. This is not what Goulding believes. Paddy Power has taken Agile development to heart and even the business side has no problem with these business process methodologies.

Paddy Power’s issue is not business adoption of Agile methodologies, Goulding reports, but more about the businesses, IT split.

“The businesses is hugely engaged,” he said.

The problems come more from areas such as infrastructure, but also third party services, which often have trouble scaling.

Agile can be held up by the infrastructure side, he said. Change causes risk and Agile development means a lot of change which brings risk.

Having deployed VMware technology to facilitate private cloud architecture, Paddy Power has around 4,000 virtual machines, across 4 major sights, in Dublin and the Isle of Man, with a shared operations centre in Rome that supports some continental acquisitions.

The software defined trend is also being actively explored to further abstract from the hardware

This, reports Goulding, gives the company the flexibility it needs to meet both growth and the cyclical nature of user demand. However, as cutting edge as the internal infrastructure might be, public cloud usage, is as yet, somewhat limited.

Goulding says that in the areas of test and development, back-up and the like, public cloud services make sense, but for current production workloads, such usage is not yet envisaged. It is a possibility for the future that will be explored, particularly for flex or burst patterns, but as yet, the more easily consumed services, the likes of HR, finance and trouble ticketing, will remain as the main uses.

The software defined trend is also being actively explored to further abstract from the hardware, said Goulding, that will further facilitate flexibility and agility of the architecture.

Another issue for Goulding is skills. As the business grows at a rapid pace, getting the right people is critical. There are difficulties getting people in certain areas, Goulding reports, but on the whole the experience has been good. Where there are difficulties, Goulding said that the favoured approach is to grow the skills from within, which has benefits in terms of people being already familiar with the culture.

An important aspect of the culture of allowing failure. In the manner of technology pioneers such as Google and Amazon, small, focused teams work on projects from the yearly road map, but the culture of open discussion, Agile development and close collaboration means that when things aren’t working, decisions are made quickly and lessons learned. Failure is not only an option, it is an opportunity to learn and perform better next time.

“I’m a big fan of DevOps” admits Goulding, who likes the idea of developers “owning what they put into production”.

The old model of ‘hands off’ doesn’t work anymore, he argues.

“This can be harder on the operations world, but it is necessary,” he concludes.

 

TechCentral Reporters

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