Diligent Embraces DevOps to Mobilize the Boardroom

Diligent knows a thing or two about power plays and decisiveness—and its smartest corporate move was to adopt DevOps.

Diligent may be the most successful cloud software firm you’ve never heard of.

The company, whose revenue topped $200 million in 2017, began in 2002 with one big idea: Digitize the “board book,” an inches-thick stack of financial and legal documents that a company’s board members must pore over before every meeting. Today, more than 12,000 customers globally use Diligent’s subscription-based service to securely distribute sensitive agendas and financial documents.

As its elite executive customer base grew, Diligent saw the opportunity for expanding its suite of software tools—an opportunity it seized in 2016 by debuting eight new products.

But before it could pull off this ambitious expansion, Diligent first had to confront a sticky problem: Its approach to development just wasn’t working. So, the company took a page from the executive playbook and undertook a massive shakeup, adopting DevOps to revamp its development workflow.

In Search of a Smoother Development Cycle

Dysfunction marred the company’s entire development and deployment cycle, according to Tricia Burke, Diligent’s VP of Production Operations.

Since 2002, the company had shipped quarterly updates to its signature software each year, but a lack of communication between development and operations teams had created problems.

“We would get releases and often not know exactly what was in them. Sometimes we would know how to release them, sometimes we wouldn’t—and sometimes we would just guess,” Burke admits.

Diligent executives realized it was time for a change. The company actively began to implement DevOps in 2014, across its entire operation.

“It was a little ad hoc initially,” Burke explains. “Then we realized that we needed additional resources in place who could focus just on this.”

Pulling back from a company-wide DevOps push, Diligent decided to test it on a single project. It chose to focus on Messenger, a newly developed tool that board members could use to exchange secure messages in real time. The company restructured its development and operations workflow for Messenger, consolidating operations into a single team.

Diligent also created a four-person release engineering team, and designated liaison staffers to attend developers’ scrums and report back to operations.

These changes meant that the development team had to change the way it operated. Before, developers could make configuration changes without answering to—or even telling—anyone. “Now, if you want to change a configuration item, you have to talk to the release engineering team,” says Burke.

The switch created more-stable releases. Smaller releases created fewer bugs and got fixes and feature support to our customers more quickly. Our ability to quickly deliver more products has greatly contributed to our growth and increased our revenue.

— Tricia Burke, VP of Production Operations, Diligent

Customers Reap the Benefits

With better coordination between development and operations teams, the dev process not only became smoother—it also became faster. Now, instead of four major software updates per year, Diligent deploys updates every Friday across its product line. Each update includes a mix of bug fixes and “under the hood” improvements, as well as code preparing for future feature releases.

“The switch created more-stable releases. Smaller releases created fewer bugs and got fixes and feature support to our customers more quickly,” Burke says. “Our ability to quickly deliver more products has greatly contributed to our growth and increased our revenue.”

An added benefit: The development team is able to trim its technical debt, a term that wasn’t even in Diligent’s vocabulary five years ago. Now, Burke’s team builds time and effort into its workflow to pay down technical debt with under-the-hood changes that support future innovation. Deployments are roughly 70 percent code supporting new features, 15 percent bug fixes and 15 percent technical debt fixes.

Better Security for the Boardroom

Thanks to its DevOps approach, Diligent can integrate security testing into the development process earlier.

“As things are moving from development to QA to staging, they have to comply with our standard configuration for security at every step,” Burke says, adding that using a private cloud to deploy its services has also helped to keep Diligent’s software secure.

“If you’re a developer and you’re not using our standard configuration, then you can’t release your code. There has been some handwringing as a result of that, but it puts us in a better place,” she says.

All of these changes have created a platform for growth at speed.

“Diligent has been able to move from a one-product company to a multiple-product company,” Burke says. “That level of scalability isn’t something we would have been able to achieve without DevOps.”

Danny Bradbury
By Danny Bradbury | May 14, 2018