Harness CD has helped The Warehouse Group standardize the deployment process and empower their dev squads with easy integration, speed to production, and a range of efficiency features.
If you’re from New Zealand, you likely know The Warehouse Group. It’s the country’s largest retailer, with 260+ retail stores, distribution centers, as well as a strong online presence. With $3 billion in sales and 12,000 employees, the company has six core brands, including The Warehouse (TWG), Warehouse Stationery, Noel Leeming, Torpedo7, 1-day, and TheMarket. Its vision is to help kiwis live better every day and build New Zealand's most sustainable, convenient, and customer-first company.
The Warehouse Group has been focusing on building up its digital business infrastructure, including its DevOps squad, with a focus on automation, Continuous Delivery (CD) platforms, and new processes. As Matt Law, Chapter Lead of The Warehouse Group’s DevOps Chapter, put it, “We wanted to ensure that we have a consistent way of working with developers across all of our brands so we have an amount of reuse and common process across the group.” Ultimately, they wanted their DevOps squads to be able to work autonomously to support their business goals.
The squad was using Jenkins, an open source automation server known for CI orchestration. The intention was to see if Jenkins was the right fit for both CI and CD. The squad sought to improve processes and tools to support a SaaS first strategy for new work. This meant that any solutions would need to have a rich API and the capability to configure all as code. As Law put it, “We were the definition of inefficiency, because it was all completely bespoke.”
The Warehouse Group set out to improve and automate many aspects of the deployment process. Two bottlenecks stood out: testing was not integrated into the pipeline and the squad had to wait on a Change Approval Board (CAB) to deploy into production. In fact, manual testing could add up to 6 weeks, and CAB times could be up to 2 weeks to deploy to production. Combined, delivery times were very slow.
Getting DevOps squads up, running, and delivering value into production was “a huge pain,” Law said. To fully provision access to systems and create pipelines to get deployments working correctly, new squad onboarding took up to 6 weeks. New service setup for any squad took approximately 80 hours.
The Warehouse Group looked to improve internal developer squads’ time-to-value for the business. A focus area to accomplish this would include embedding testing frameworks directly into pipelines to alleviate manual effort from the squads. Law explained, “The Warehouse Group needs to be able to react in this very competitive digital world so that we can get value to customers as quickly as possible.”
As DevOps leadership at The Warehouse Group assessed these issues, they determined that they needed a platform they could instantly leverage, with built-in capabilities to meet all their needs. While Jenkins could have solved for their needs, it did not do so out of the box.
Their search began with the goal of automating the CD process, which required reviewing the service release process, understanding the testing results, and having an automated rollback mechanism. The replacement would also need to align with the cloud-first goals of the company so a SaaS solution was the obvious choice. This selection process also dovetailed with a larger internal DevOps project called “The Golden Path.” The Golden Path aimed to create a standardized, template-driven approach for creating and deploying software more effectively.
Law said, “I knew about Harness and was aware of some of the capabilities. I love the fact that it's straight out of the box with ServiceNow integration. That was one of the biggest things that we needed to get right,” Law said. Harness also had the support for deploying in Kubernetes.
Of course, they needed to do a Proof of Concept (POC). In Law’s words: “It’s one of the smoothest POC’s I’ve ever had. It was so seamless for us. The Harness team was able to prove what we needed to in two weeks. They did a lot of the work in advance to make sure customers can tick the boxes.”
Between the ServiceNow integration, API first approach, and being cloud based, Law was sold on Harness. It quickly became apparent that Harness CD would be a cost-effective and no-maintenance solution.
As part of the Golden Path project, Backstage orchestrates the provisioning of the DevOps platforms, bootstrapping the environment with Backstage, and within 7 seconds, Harness. Within about 30 minutes of creating a service, the squad has builds deployed in development and test. Previously, the pipeline onboarding process would have taken six weeks.
As 7 of their squads have already ramped up on Harness, The Warehouse Group has seen a lot of growth. The Integration Modernisation Squad, for example, has 24 services so far through Harness, and delivered about half of them into production already in under 3 months. Law said that hasn’t happened before in the company: “Harness is playing a key part in delivering value and speed to delivery.”
“We saw lead time for changes decrease from 120 hours to 1 hour by using Harness as a key part of our path to production. This gain in efficiency is key to supporting our business goals.” - Matt Law, DevOps Chapter Lead, The Warehouse Group
As one of the most important goals of the project, developer squads have the freedom to deploy into production whenever they want, made much easier with Harness enabling the ServiceNow integration. Law explained that developers have trust and ownership, leading to a quality-first approach. “This inherent trust and ownership generated by the capabilities of Harness CD is an enabler for us for our culture too. They are one of the main drivers for adopting a new application or way of working.”
With Harness, extensive training is not a requirement because development squads can intuitively and easily see the status of the deployment into the different environments – from development, test, and production, and whether they’re successful, past, or paused. Law said, “The great thing about Harness is that it's presented in a way that's really user friendly: you can see the stages, you can see what it's doing, you can see any potential errors. So effectively, you don’t really train on it because it's quite obvious.”
Harness CD has helped The Warehouse Group standardize the deployment process and empower their dev squads with easy integration, speed to production, and a range of efficiency features. Harness played a key part in propagating the necessary information from testing into ServiceNow without additional manual effort from the squads. This resulted in saving some squads 100 development hours in order to successfully deploy and deliver value to the business, which wouldn’t have been possible without Harness.
“Before Harness, we used to deploy to production every 1-2 weeks. Now, our development squads deploy on-demand. This is a game changer for our developers and for our business.” - Matt Law, DevOps Chapter Lead, The Warehouse Group
With the help of Harness, the DevOps squads are delivering value at such speed that they've now been brought into other areas of the business. Law shared: “In terms of the business, people are actually looking to what we’ve accomplished from a deployment standpoint and saying, how did you do that? Recently, I've had the two biggest telecommunications companies in New Zealand reach out. So we've been talking to them about our DevOps journey and what we've invested in.”
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