We are moving towards an autonomous future where everything is fast. To catch up with the pace of this fast-moving ecosystem, organizations need to accelerate software delivery without compromising quality. In fulfilling these increasing demands for software, automation can prove to be a key asset.
Let’s take a 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, while one can easily scale up production in other industries by increasing headcount, it’s not usually the case with software.
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 to create builds and about 3 hours on environment management. Therefore, more than a quarter of their workweek is wasted on doing work that isn’t impactful. This is a big reason why automation is needed in software development.
The software engineers are also highly skilled and well-paid. So, it’s usually difficult for companies to scale human resources. Automation, therefore, can help organizations take care of the grunt work while freeing up software developers to focus on doing the 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 –
- A common code repository – In automated software development, there is a single common code repository where all developers place the code they write. The repository then becomes the sole source of software in the project.
- Standardized build process – Automated software development involves having a standardized build-process in place. This helps in creating and building subsequent software copies with ease. 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 common 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 by clicking a single button.
- Dynamic nature – The team often commits changes, and the working code is pushed to the master branch on a regular basis.
What processes can be automated?
Each stage of the software development cycle can be automated to some degree. In software development, one can automate the tasks that do not require human creativity, strategy, or cleverness. Automating such repetitive and manual tasks can free up 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 to what degree.
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 emailing it among stakeholders.
Although design is a manual process, it can be stored and reviewed using collaborative tools like Atlassian Confluence.
In the development process, automation takes place in the form of collaborative sharing of work by different team members. Software development is usually managed using collaborative/agile project management tools. The developers write their codes and the team’s code is generally 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 for building great software. Every piece of software needs to be rigorously tested before releasing it into the market.
Although human testers perform many of the QA operations, it’s possible to free up those resources and instead utilize technology to perform those repetitive tasks.
Initially, it may take some time to set up automated QA, but once it’s set, it can easily handle large tasks that would be otherwise 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.
Automating the deployment process gives organizations the ability to quickly move their software between testing and production environment. This helps in repeatable and reliable deployment across the software delivery cycle.
Deployment automation also enables the quick and frequent release of new features and applications without the need for human intervention.
After the software is released, there are many different ways in which the management of server-based applications can be automated. Various DevOps techniques can be used for the automation of operations including virtualization, container management, configuration management, and 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 spend more time coding
- Quickly rebuild development environments
As with any significant process, automation can also take time to get streamlined. It may be difficult to set up initially but once done, automation can offer remarkable benefits for an enterprise.