Streamlining product development lifecycles with automation

Choosing the right workflow management solution through rigorous evaluation
by Mike Tucker
6-minute read
Software development room

Used by 44 of the top 50 banks in the world, as well as many airlines, governments, and healthcare and retail companies, IBM Z® mainframe computer systems are the first choice of organizations that require the highest standards for performance, security, reliability and availability.

Thousands of people at IBM support the development of IBM® z Systems® and managing the engineering workflow for such a large enterprise is an enormous undertaking. To keep releases on schedule, IBM Z platform teams must constantly coordinate manufacturing, chip design, hardware, firmware, OS, testing, defect tracking and other project threads and process massive amounts of data.

Unrelenting delivery deadlines mean that issues and errors must be addressed early in the development lifecycle. Systems must also meet stringent regulatory requirements across a variety of industry and governmental standards, so testing, validation and verification must be comprehensive.

“There are lots of government controls around export — who can be involved in development restrictions for some countries, export control licensing for others as an example,” says Chris Roberts, Architect, IBM Systems DevOps Enterprise Solutions Systems. “We have to be audit compliant and very secure. IBM is active in the open-source community, but we don’t want people looking at our proprietary chip designs. We have to isolate things, even inside IBM, so that some development teams can’t see what others are doing.”

For years, the zHW platform team relied on several workflow management tools to track development — but each had shortcomings. “One of the solutions that IBM acquired years ago was very powerful and did everything we wanted, but it was very complex and not intuitive,” says Dominic Odescalchi, Project Executive and Manager, IBM zHW Program Management. “It had challenges with usability, so people started to look at other options.”

Female engineer in server room

Enterprise-scale capability to store years’ worth of

real-time

information without archiving to provide users with faster access to testing data

IBM Engineering Workflow Management is the only tool that provides a

graphical

view of dependencies for immediate visual impact

With EWM’s integrated tool stack, key data will be readily available through connections to various team repositories. This will enable us to kick the doors wide open to automating tasks and aggregating data. It’s going to free up countless hours to focus on performing higher value activities.
Dominic Odescalchi
Project Executive and Manager, IBM zHW Program Management

Other well-known, cloud-based solutions initially attracted a strong following because of their usability features. However, scaling costs and technical support became major stumbling blocks.

With so many time-critical IBM zHW platform-related projects in the pipeline, two key questions needed to be resolved to ensure full traceability of all workflow threads: Could a single engineering workflow management solution replace the several solutions currently deployed, and if so, which solution would come out on top in an impartial, head-to-head evaluation?

Female engineer holding up chip wafer
Employee in Z Systems server room
We determined that information stored in the IBM EWM system was far more secure than in GitHub. We can nail things down in terms of who has access, which piece of source code did they touch and what they are looking at.
Chris Roberts
Architect, IBM Systems DevOps Enterprise Solutions Systems
Freedom to choose the right solution
We determined that information stored in the IBM EWM system was far more secure than in GitHub. We can nail things down in terms of who has access, which piece of source code did they touch and what they are looking at.
Chris Roberts
Architect, IBM Systems DevOps Enterprise Solutions Systems

Working across the IBM Z development enterprise, key stakeholders created an evaluation matrix chart. It presented a side-by-side comparison of workflow tools and showed which solutions satisfied and which did not meet the integration capabilities for the tools used by the team. “This was a year-long effort to make sure we selected the right tool to provide the outcomes we were looking for,” says Odescalchi. “We also had the freedom to choose the best tool that satisfied our must-have requirements.”

After receiving input from team members around the world, a minimum viable product (MVP) was defined that met the key criteria of usability, scalability, vertical and horizontal integration, security, cost, backlog prioritization, command line support, technical support, and data and dependencies management.

Although a broad cross section of IBM z Portfolio teams participated in the creation of the MVP, the project started with the zHW teams, which were committed to transitioning to the new tool for the first pass of implementation.

Based on a year-long global evaluation process, the IBM Engineering Workflow Management (EWM) tool stack was selected as the solution. “By being completely objective, and allowing the criteria and data do the talking, we were led to EWM,” says Odescalchi. “EWM was the consensus tool that we collectively agreed upon to provide the best solution.”

Of all the selection criteria, one of the most important factors was scalability. “We need an enterprise-scale solution and not many tools can support our volume of data and concurrent users while still providing the performance required,” says Odescalchi.

The zHW platform leadership team responded to the issue of complexity by developing personas for key EWM system users. “The focus on personas enabled us to achieve usability and simplicity for people inputting data as well as people consuming data,” says Odescalchi. “They won’t be overwhelmed with dozens of menu options and selections that are not relevant to their persona.”

Another key MVP requirement was that the track-and-plan and defect management systems needed to operate as one integrated environment. “We did not want those to be two disparate systems and EWM provided that singular environment,” says Odescalchi.

Due to the very large file sizes created during testing, any solution would have to support large data storage attachments. “The data has to be readily available in working storage. A lot of the other tools required archiving after only one year, which falls short of the capabilities we need,” says Odescalchi. “IBM EWM can store years’ worth of real-time information without having to archive, and none of the other tools came close to providing that capability.”

IBM EWM software will coordinate the central hub of engineering data for the zHW platform development team and works in tandem with the IBM Engineering Lifecycle Management (ELM) solution. “Some teams might be using an agile process that has a totally different workflow than waterfall, but it still has to plug in and be consumed by the other teams,” says Roberts. “Workflow customization within ELM helps the solution adapt to every team while still coordinating one view of the development data and progress.”

Finally, to ensure that hardware is ready to release, the team completes testing with the IBM Engineering Test Management (ETM) solution. “Because, again, this is hardware. You end up with a physical thing that you’ve developed. As such, things need to be well tested — and everything has to come out right the first time,” says Roberts.

Security-rich integration and automation opportunities

The IBM EWM solution will give the IBM zHW platform development team a central, scalable, traceable source of truth that can quickly report the details required by leaders, auditors and regulators.

In the integrated world of IT infrastructure, ensuring security is paramount. The IBM development team analyzed potential exposures across tools that are commonly used in the development lifecycle. “We determined that information stored in EWM was far more secure than in GitHub,” says Roberts. “We can nail things down in terms of who has access, which piece of source code did they touch, what are they looking at?”

The team can also customize workflows to securely integrate with other systems. “Being able to create fields, layouts and tabs, and adjust the workflow, is all built into the IBM tool,” says Roberts. “You’re not tied into a standard workflow. You don’t have to conform to the process, the process you select can be fed into the system.”

As projects progress, reporting gives team leaders a clear view of burn down charts, to see whether all development, deliverables and dependencies are on target to hit key milestones. “If the chip development team is going to fail to deliver a feature that the firmware team is dependent on, now they will know that. Everybody is super excited about the IBM EWM tool’s ability to provide the immediate visual impact of a particular work item. That dependency management is a huge thing,” says Roberts.

“From what I have seen, no tool other than EWM provides a graphical view of dependencies,” says Odescalchi. “When we demonstrated this feature, it resonated with the teams and they saw it as an enormous value-add.”

With data-handling power, precision, clarity and integration, EWM is expected to exceed the IBM development team’s own benchmark goals.

Currently, program teams devote considerable time to manually preparing slide presentations for status reports — reports which are obsolete by the time they are presented due to the time it takes to gather all of the inputs. However, the EWM solution will have the capability to generate dashboards to report status in real time. “Any time you hit refresh on the browser, the dashboard will get updated,” says Odescalchi. “It will reach out to the various systems, aggregate the data and generate charts or graphs. Automation will be another key aspect of this effort.”

IBM logo
About International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)

IBMExternal Link is an information technology company based in Armonk, New York. Founded in 1911, the company offers hardware, software and services in cloud computing, AI, commerce, data and analytics, IoT, mobile and cybersecurity, as well as business resiliency, strategy and design solutions. IBM’s 250,000 employees serve clients worldwide through IBM Consulting, IBM Software and IBM Infrastructure.

Solution components
IBM logo
About International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)

IBMExternal Link is an information technology company based in Armonk, New York. Founded in 1911, the company offers hardware, software and services in cloud computing, AI, commerce, data and analytics, IoT, mobile and cybersecurity, as well as business resiliency, strategy and design solutions. IBM’s 250,000 employees serve clients worldwide through IBM Consulting, IBM Software and IBM Infrastructure.

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