Working Agile with Ocean and the development of SmartBase™
The Agile approach to software development promotes flexibility, empowerment and collaboration within an organisation; central values that ensure value is optimised throughout the development process.
We won’t go into The Agile Manifesto in detail here, but its core tenants were formulated around 20 years ago and are summed up in these four statements:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
You can think of Agile as a ‘bottom-up’ approach that’s focused on researching the software user needs, maximising the learnings and reducing the cycle times (iterations of software) needed to improve the product and process.
Agile evolved because the old way of making software could be slow and wasteful.
The actual users of software weren’t always deeply consulted, it took years to develop specifications and documentation before usable software was created, updates would then be few and far between.
Often by the time a solution was delivered the operating environment and user needs had evolved – and so the ‘solution’ was either not very user friendly, or worse, obsolete on delivery.
While understanding the internal challenges of organisational environments, we work on simplifying the challenge and creating a system that allows optimised delivery.
Based on our 25 years of experience working in Defence, we partner with clients to navigate the organisation’s procurement and security needs. We work closely with the chain of command and partner with users, allowing them to take an active role in developing a system that is a better fit for them and ultimately benefit the organisation as well.
This is well articulated in the development of our latest product, SmartBase™ MRO.
The development of SmartBase™ MRO
SmartBase™ is Ocean’s secure, next generation technology and service platform based on our proprietary xPRO™ technology. MRO (Maintenance, Repairs and Operations) represents a unique configuration of SmartBase™ designed with and specifically for specialist maintenance teams working in complex, high security environments.
MRO is a modern SaaS (Software as a Service) application that leverages the power of the cloud to allow rapid development and regular deployments. We utilise the latest front-end frameworks and Azure cloud components.
Let’s break down what all that means at a high level:
In the past, organisations would need to resource their entire IT infrastructure. The burden of large, complex and high security systems necessitated greater financial investment in order to fund hardware and support teams.
When software was delivered on-premises, usually for client/server applications, it generally required a very manual installation through software that needed to be physically delivered. Besides the large costs of having to furnish a large IT function in each organisation, there was often a disconnect between hardware and software and so as new features rolled out the hardware infrastructure may have grown out of date or become incompatible. Implementing changes could be slow and costly and logistically challenging.
Cloud infrastructure changes this for the better. The software is somewhat less dependent on the hardware being used and the responsibility for managing the continuity of service falls back onto the software vendor and cloud service provider. It means you access the application via the internet, and updates and improvements can be delivered frequently and seamlessly.
Furthermore, using an infrastructure like Microsoft’s Azure Cloud means both the vendor and the client benefit from the dedicated resources that Microsoft invest to ensure their cloud is secure. Rather than every company building a world class data centre, Microsoft can just specialise and build the absolute best data centre in the world and we can all focus on what we do best.
What this means for our customers:
- Flexibility – our product can easily scale to match your needs, allowing SmartBase™ MRO to support both small and large organisations.
- Agility – we can release features continually, reducing the amount of time customers need to wait before they see improvements in the product.
- Performance and Security – the cloud provides access to cutting edge hardware and world class security that an organisation would not be able to replicate in an on-premise environment.
- And finally, when we talk about front-end frameworks, this means the presentation layer of information is decoupled from the data layer. There is more flexibility to improve the user experience without requiring a complete rebuild of the application.
- It’s this tech-stack that allows us to move quickly and easily.
What does it look like when we partner to ‘work Agile’?
Agile has brought with it an entirely new way of working. If you’ve seen workspaces covered in post-it notes there’s a good chance the words ‘scrum’, ‘sprint’ and ‘burn-down’ are being thrown around as well. We’ll skip the jargon here and simply outline how it works once we partner with an innovation partner to develop a new feature or product.
Software Engineering Lead Dirk Driessen explains, “Once we have approval to work directly with the prospective software users, we start with an inception phase, this usually kicks off with various workshops. The workshops are best done face-to-face as it allows us to understand the broader context in which people work, however If we aren’t able to be on site, we use tools like Zoom or Microsoft teams – again it’s about working within the organisation in whatever way they are most comfortable.”
These workshops focus on two key themes: understanding the problems customers have and validating that our solutions solve those problems. Each week the activities we run can change, but they are always tied to those two themes.
Dirk explains, “At Ocean we work in short cycles of about two weeks. At the completion of each cycle we demonstrate what we have built to customers, generating real time feedback and ensuring the product maintains fit for purpose. In these showcases the customer has the option to pivot and change their mind if an original feature is no longer deemed desirable.
For example, one week we may ask the customer to explain their business process at a high level and then recreate that process in SmartBase™ MRO. Another week we’ll do a deep dive into a problem space that is a high priority for the customer, followed up with wireframes of a potential solution. Our Product Manager attends all sessions and uses customer feedback to maintain a product roadmap.”
Roadmaps are an art, not a science, but broadly speaking the Product Manager judges the value of each feature against the complexity to build it and then uses criteria to determine what features will benefit the maximum number of users.
Dirk concludes, “Based on what we have in the product and the feedback from the customer, we work on the next highest value thing. Every two weeks we also discuss how we improve our processes.”
This means at Ocean we are constantly improving the way we operate, while using feedback to work on the features that are the most valuable to our customers.
Agile ways of working allow the team to effectively respond to changing priorities. As we learn more about our customers, the road map changes, and the team works on the most valuable features.
SmartBase™ MRO, Agile from inception.
Projects that our customers traditionally undertake can be up to five years long, from conception to end users using the solution. As a contrast, we are showcasing features to customers every other week and have the ability to update the product every day.
SmartBase™ MRO is one of the first products that we’ve actively developed with our customers in this way.
The cycle time between concept inception to the feature in the hands of end users is dramatically shorter. As a result, Ocean can gather feedback and learn directly from the end users, adapting future features to better meet their needs.
By continually releasing small features, the product adapts and changes, which leads to a better product than what would be created in the traditional approach. By working with our innovation partners, we really can say we’ve developed a product that is fit for purpose.
Trust is the key
We have over 25 years’ experience working in high compliance and security environments.
This experience provides gives us a deep understanding of the constraints customers face and what we need to do to adapt our process. Data sovereignty and security is paramount, so we have adapted our architecture to suit these requirements.
Our account managers work to develop strong relationships at all levels of the organisation and seek to understand the needs of the organisation from the procurement, strategic and user level.
We’ve seen first-hand how the approach outlined above has benefited our customers. In response, we’ve launched our innovation partner program. Read more about the program and how you can take part. Gain exclusive access to new features and products and help shape the future of Ocean’s software.
SmartBase™ delivers an unprecedented level of coordination and situational awareness unachievable with traditional systems across the globe today. With better communications, increased Situational Awareness, greater use of automation, the risk of human factors incidents is reduced and, hence ground and flight safety are both improved.
- Increased personnel and capability readiness
- Improved safety
- Improved response time
- More confident decision making
- Improved overall base efficiency & effectiveness
- Improved ROI for contracted flight training
- Web based, operable and supportable from deployed locations
Ocean Software is a global software provider supporting customers from various industries, including over a dozen militaries. Its credibility, capacity and products continue to evolve in line with customers and technology. Its products meet the needs of industries with specialised workforces operating complex equipment in high pressure and evolving environments who need to stay ahead of future organisational impacts.