Last year, we took a long hard look at our internal processes and decided we could be doing so much more when it came to integrating expertise and knowledge across different projects. With this in mind, we created our new SysOps team. This is how it works and why we’re so excited about it.
SysOps is a term that’s been floating around for decades. It’s been repurposed and reappropriated as the technological landscape has shifted over the years. Whether it’s old mainframe systems of the 90s or the cloud infrastructure of today, it’s a chameleon-like term that has proven stubbornly resilient and able to change with the times.
At hedgehog lab, we’ve adopted the term SysOps for a new team that combines our Systems Architects (the Sys) with our Dev Ops experts (the Ops) to help better solve our clients’ problems. It’s got very little to do with common definitions of SysOps, and everything to do with getting our most experienced people solving the right problems as early as possible.
We’ve got an untold wealth of experience in all sorts of weird and wonderful systems and providers, including payment platforms, CMS options and analytics services, so we came up with a way to get all that expertise to the client upfront.
It’s about advising, it’s about consulting and, ultimately, it’s about finding creative solutions and delivering market-leading digital products more efficiently for our clients.
The SysOps ethos.
At hedgehog lab, we began applying this approach to all our clients from Q4 in 2018. It asks three central questions before we even begin development on a project:
- What are the best solutions to solve the client’s problems?
- What does the current technical infrastructure look like?
- What is the best platform and architecture to build the solution on?
The SysOps approach also gives us a helicopter view of all the projects we’re currently working on and have worked on here at hedgehog lab, allowing us to see where we can bring in knowledge from elsewhere.
This has the double-benefit of potentially speeding up development by allowing us to tweak and adapt pre-existing approaches, while also allowing us to further expand our expertise in areas that we know well.
Most importantly, it involves getting some of our most experienced people together in a room with the client, sometimes before we’ve even started working with them, to provide invaluable insight about what solutions might be best and how we think their specific problems could be solved.
The SysOps approach in practice.
Say, for example, a client in the financial services sector comes to us to develop their first consumer-facing stock trading app. A particularly fiendish challenge considering not only the regulatory hurdles but the technical ones too.
The first thing you’re going to need is a method of pulling up-to-the-minute stock prices from global exchanges to the app. Does the organisation already have its own APIs set up to do this or do we need to explore third-party options?
Our SysOps approach will consider this question before any ideation or development work has begun with our Systems Architects exploring our back catalogue of features on historical and current projects to see if we’ve implemented this functionality before.
If we have, then great—we suggest its implementation to the client and potentially shrink the timescales of their product roadmap in the process. If we haven’t, we highlight alternative solutions and caution about any potential timescale impacts.
A consumer-facing app would pose other problems that the SysOps approach could help to mitigate too. For example, new users would need to have their identities verified for regulatory and tax purposes when signing-up. Again, we’d look at whether we already have an API or solution that we’ve used previously or what options for identity verification are out there.
Similarly, when a user signs up their data has to be stored somewhere. Nowadays, this is invariably in the cloud, but which cloud infrastructure provider would be best? We delve into what the company is already using (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud?) to work out how this new product’s systems will integrate with it, pointing out any challenges or hiccups and hopefully further speeding up the development process.
These are just a few examples of how our SysOps team can help to identify connections across projects, find creative solutions to common problems and help to deliver better value to our clients.
What’s in it for our clients?
We’ve already mentioned some of the benefits that the new SysOps team provides for our clients, but when it comes down to it it’s all about solving their problems before they even become problems.
It’s also about:
- Delivering digital products efficiently
- Being honest and open about potential costs
- Maintaining our high-quality standards across projects.
By identifying pain points such as the necessity for a tech stack that we don’t currently support or integration challenges for specific architecture, we can be frank at a very early stage about potential bumps in the road and nip problems in the bud before they spiral into bigger issues.
It also means we can be upfront and realistic about costs and budgets, eliminating the risk of cascading problems causing price shocks later in the project and ultimately delivering best-in-class products on time and within budget.
What’s in it for hedgehog lab?
Happy customers, of course! But more than that, it also allows our teams to work more efficiently and, by having a satellite-eyed view of every project, our Systems Architects are able to bring in knowledge from other projects. Which helps to enhance knowledge sharing and massively cuts down on duplicated work.
We did this previously of course but on a more ad hoc basis. By fully baking it into a set process we’ve already clawed back countless hours of development time and unleashed untold cost efficiencies.
It also allows us to spot opportunities that may have slipped through the cracks previously. If clients repeatedly require the same functionality or middleware, it could actually be more cost-effective for us to build our own off-the-shelf solution and use that rather than relying on third-party APIs.
As with everything, we’re continually honing and perfecting our processes as we go, but we’re already enjoying the significant benefits the team has brought to current projects, as are our clients. Keep your eyes peeled on our blog for more insight and findings from the SysOps team.
One of our SysOps team, Stephen Jefferson, recently explored strategies for optimising AWS S3 storage costs in a popular blog post.