Release management is the process at the end of software development cycle or SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle), governing release planning and management. In sectors such as retail and large-scale distribution, this activity has embodied a crucial function, especially in 2020. The latest data from the Digital Innovation Observatory in Retail, promoted by the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano, highlighted the impact that Covid-19 had in particular on two sides: the enhancement of e-commerce and the digitization of physical processes. Within each of these two macro-areas, the pandemic has increased technological implementations ranging from the strengthening of the logistics infrastructure to the analysis and integration of cross-channel data, from the development of messaging apps and social networks to self-scanning systems and innovative payment methods. This spread of implementations made release management change its role: from a discipline limited to the IT-sphere to a strategic role for the business itself.
The first benefit of release management: the customer satisfaction
The close link connecting IT and business makes it clear how good are the benefits release management brings in segments such as retail and large-scale distribution. The first one concerns the improvement of customer satisfaction and, consequently, of the levels of customer engagement and loyalty. Today, consumers not only have access to various physical and digital purchase channels, but they interact with the world of commerce and with distribution chains using a series of tools such as prepaid cards, fidelity cards, cash-back cards. Being late in the release of the solutions revolving around these new consumer behaviors means the loss of market share, as well as offering applications with problems potentially compromising the user experience. This is why IT must move in the same direction as the company mission, making sure that release management acts as a sort of drawbridge between innovation and the operation part.
Faster releases and a reduced time to market
This relationship between development and operations focusing on release management is no news. If you think of the DevOps method scheme summarized with the infinity symbol, the release is positioned precisely as a link between development and operations. What has changed, if anything, is the need to reduce release times and lower time to market in sectors that are experiencing a radical digital transformation such as those of retail and large-scale distribution.
The second benefit of release management in support of these economic sectors, therefore, is the ability to help respond quickly to market demand, shortening release times by the automation of some phases of release management such as testing. The faster iteration thus guarantees greater speed even in the face of a higher frequency of releases.
Governance and coordination with release management
The third benefit of release management for the retail and large-scale distribution industry is twofold. On one hand, it is carried out in the governance of the architectural complexity deriving from multiple environments. On the other hand, it plays in coordination with all the actors involved in the software development cycle. These are two interconnected aspects that require a unique method to prevent the development area from proceeding in random order without following, for example, the ITIL standards, providing for a series of rigorous steps before each release. To that risk contribute both the exponential growth in the number of applications and the underlying infrastructure heterogeneity (on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud). Release management minimizes this risk as it offers, in the context of governance extended to all release activities, full monitoring and control over timing, roles, approvals and performance indicators. Another reason why retail and large-scale distribution today cannot do without it.