21 Dec, 2023
Iress is a financial services institution and global team of 2,000+ people building software that helps the financial services industry perform at its best. During a period where the firm had an assertive strategic focus on acquisitions, Iress engaged Midnyte City to assist with integrating one of their recently acquired businesses. The acquisition company was a specialist provider of services to the wealth management industry including superannuation and investment management.
Midnyte City’s role was to assist with migrating the acquisition entity’s products and customers to Iress’ well-architected, robust, secure and scalable platform built on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The skills required to uplift the legacy services into modern development patterns required specialised knowledge of architecting applications in AWS, Terraform, Docker, CICD and observability tooling.
Iress is a technically mature organisation. Under the stewardship of CIO Andrew Todd, Iress spent years investing in agile ways of working, delivery speed and internal technical capability, making significant strides in organisation-wide adoption of modern, progressive software delivery approaches like test-driven development, continuous delivery and building poly-skilled, cross-functional teams with end-to-end capability and responsibility for the stack.
The acquisition had a starkly different delivery approach and culture. Most of the architecture and development decisions had been made by the former CTO, who preferred a top-down, autocratic management style and resulting culture. This put the engineering team on a “need to know” basis regarding information and decision making, creating an order-taking mindset right across the team. A result of this style of leadership and culture was limited problem solving capability within the team and a reluctance to collaborate, take initiative or troubleshoot issues when they arose.
This made the transition a deeply cultural and technical challenge for the Iress team responsible for the integration. Some of the hurdles to overcome included:
A lack of documentation made understanding the design and architecture of the acquisition platform unnecessarily complex and difficult
The acquisition firm CTO was a critical single point of failure, and a good deal of organisational intellectual property resided, and left, with him
A lack of capability in the acquisition engineering team increased the urgency of capability uplift so that the team could go on to become permanent Iress team members after the integration
The mindset shift from order-taking to empowered poly-skilled, cross-functional teams was tough for the acquisition developers to adapt to
Adopting modern software development practises like pair programming, test driven development, continuous delivery and writing documentation was a steep learning curve for the acquisition developers
The Midnyte City team supported the acquisition company’s development and operations teams in migrating to Iress’ AWS platform. In order to deploy services on this platform, uplift was required in how the acquisition teams built and deployed software. Some of the initiatives the Midnyte crew led and supported included:
Leveraging Iress’ existing patterns to introduce Infrastructure as Code to the team, and ensuring all infrastructure deployments and updates to the Iress platform were managed as code (all the acquisitions infrastructure had been deployed manually via the AWS console)
Migrating to new CI/CD deployment tools, including improvements in how software is built and tested, and integrating into Iress’ automated security and compliance toolset to provide a better view of the applications security posture
Introducing the use of containerisation to test and deploy applications, and moving away from long-lived deployments
Improving, and in some cases creating, documentation for the applications that have been migrated, ranging from troubleshooting tips to high level architecture diagrams
Introducing new observability tooling and patterns to provide teams with better visibility of the health of their applications as deployed in the new world
Work breakdown and planning for the service migrations, as the acquisition teams were upskilling in many new technologies and ways of working
Upskilling and coaching teams in modern software development and agile practises
The engagement was initially focused on the migration of as many applications as possible within the time constraints. Due to the differences in platforms and approaches to work between Iress and the acquired company, our goals became focussed on helping the teams become self-sufficient in deploying and running software on the Iress platform. In addition to this, the Midnyte City team supported the acquired teams in moving from a waterfall development approach to agile ways of working.
The benefits the acquisition teams gained can be summarised as:
Accelerating Application Migrations: Successfully migrated four applications (serving production traffic) to the Iress platform, resulting in fully automated deployments and reduction of risk with security and compliance tools
Technology Upskilling: Facilitated the teams in learning new skills across all the technologies in use in Iress (including Infrastructure as Code, build pipelines, Docker, shell scripting, AWS and observability tools). By the end of a six-month engagement, teams were confidently deploying and running applications in production with little to no support
Agile Ways of Working: Coached teams in adopting Iress’ agile ways of working, as well as their approach to new problems and tracking and measuring progress as a team. This largely included instilling a collaborative, open approach to solving problems, and collective learning through knowledge sharing sessions, showcases, and pairing
Improving the technical capability of the team, while simultaneously making big changes to the ways of working was a huge challenge for the acquired company’s development teams. It took diligence and regular prioritisation and communication with team members, and across teams, to ensure we were investing time and energy into the most valuable outcomes for Iress.
The two main goals were to teach the acquired development teams “how to fish” with agile ways of working, and to migrate workloads to the Iress platform. We succeeded in migrating four applications, and starting these teams on their technical upskilling and agile ways of working journey. Iress will see compound returns on this investment with the new team's increasing ability to accelerate the application migration work.
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