We are moving towards an autonomous future where everything is fast. Organizations need to stay relevant in this fast-moving ecosystem, by accelerating software delivery without compromising quality. The increasing demand for software can be fulfilled through automation.
Let’s look at the role of automation in software development and delivery.
Need for automation in software development
“You can mass-produce hardware; you cannot mass-produce software; you cannot mass-produce the human mind.”
This quote by the famous American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku describes how software development is different from other disciplines. Software development is a highly creative activity that requires efficient designing, organization, strategy, and attention to detail. Developing stable software requires personnel who are highly skilled.
These days, organizations try to increase the headcount of software developers to speed up delivery. However, in other industries, production can be scaled up by increasing headcount, but not in software industries.
Moreover, traditional software development is a process that is slow, wasteful, and fragmented. If we consider an average software developer, the person spends 4 hours waiting for tests to complete, 3.5 hours creating builds and about 3 hours on environment management. Therefore, more than a quarter of their workweek is wasted working on something that isn’t impactful. This is a big reason why automation is needed in software development.
Software engineers are also highly skilled and well-paid. So, it is difficult for companies to scale human resources. Automation can take care of the grunt work while freeing software developers to focus on high-impact work.
Automation can help organizations take care of as many repetitive tasks as possible.
Characteristics of software development automation
An automated software development process is characterized by the following:
- Common code repository – In automated software development, there is a single common code repository where all developers place the code they write. The repository becomes the sole source of software in the project.
- Standardized build process – Automated software development involves a standardized build process, that helps create and build subsequent software copies. It also allows every developer and tester to use the same process for obtaining the current software version.
- Quick build process – Since the software package building process is quick, it allows testing and implementing fixes multiple times.
- Automated build process – To obtain the current version of the software, one doesn’t need to perform many manual actions. A developer can easily download the latest code from the repository and start the build process.
- Similar testing environment – Ideally, the testing environment resembles the production environment.
- Automated software production – In properly developed automated systems, pushing new changes to production can be done by running a single script or clicking a single button.
- Dynamic nature – The team often commits changes, and the working code is pushed to the master branch.
What processes can be automated?
Every stage of the software development cycle can be automated, to some degree. In software development, one can automate tasks that do not require human creativity, strategy, or cleverness. Automating such repetitive and manual tasks can free human resources to put their efforts into more critical operations.
Organizations are beginning to use robotic process automation to automate repetitive tasks in almost every aspect of the development cycle. Let’s discuss some processes that can be automated, and the extent to which they can be automated.
Requirement management can be automated through various collaboration tools like IBM Rational DOORS Next Generation or Atlassian Confluence. Using such tools, different team members can write requirements without having to do it manually in a word processor and then email it among stakeholders.
Although the design is a manual process, it can be stored and reviewed using collaborative tools like Atlassian Confluence.
In the development process, automation is in the form of collaborative work sharing by different team members. Software development is managed, using collaborative/agile project management tools. The developers write their codes, and the team’s code is stored in a central source code repository.
This central repository can track versions and resolve any conflicts, that may arise from more than one developer working on the same piece of code.
Quality assurance (QA) and testing are important components of building great software. Every piece of software needs to be tested rigorously before releasing it into the market.
Although human testers perform some QA operations, it’s possible to free up those resources and instead utilize technology for those repetitive tasks.
Initially, it may take some time to set up automated QA, but once done, it can easily handle large tasks that would be daunting for developers. This can also help get the products in the market with fewer bugs and less downtime.
Moreover, automated testing requires less time and money than manual testing.
By automating the deployment process, organizations can quickly move their software from the testing to the production environment. Repeatable deployment of the software delivery cycle, can be handled through deployment automation reliably.
Deployment automation also enables the quick and frequent release of new features and applications without human intervention.
After the software is released, the management of server-based applications can be automated, in various ways. DevOps techniques can automate operations, like virtualization, container management, configuration management, monitoring, etc.
Benefits of automated software development
By automating the areas listed above, an organization can gain many benefits that make the software development process more streamlined. Some of the benefits include –
- Reduced human errors
- Improved software with fewer bugs
- Accelerated results
- Reduced business expenses
- Faster feedback
- Developers can spend more time coding
- Quickly rebuild development environment
As with any significant process, automation takes time to get streamlined. Automation may be difficult to set up initially, but after completion, automation can offer remarkable benefits for an enterprise.