The Importance of Software Configuration Management for Portal Projects

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The Importance of Software Configuration Management for Portal Projects
Many enterprise organizations treat large scale portal projects like regular application development projects. This potentially leads to many downstream negative impacts affecting the maintainability and stability of a portal environment. A common pitfall that many organizations fall victim to, is the lack of the proper software configuration management (SCM) processes for their portal projects and on going support models. Much of this is due to the perception that the skill sets required for a portal implementation are the same skill sets their current non-portal application implementation teams’ possess, leading to higher downstream costs.
So how can organizations stop themselves from over spending on future maintenance and enhancement costs? Well, aside from replacing your traditional application development team with an expert portal team, there is a rather small investment that can be made up front to help with the transition. Our team’s are strong believers in the proper creation of software configuration processes and practices but let’s not go overboard, there are other factors that play into the successful deployment and maintainability of a portal such as portal governance, but proper software configuration management is most certainly a key success factor.
You may be asking yourself why it’s important to consider the up front investment of the creation of proper SCM processes and when exactly should these processes be created. Typically, once the implementation of a portal project begins, there is a rather substantial amount of time spent configuring the infrastructure that is going to be used to support the portal environment from development, to test, to staging, to production. We strongly recommend that the creation of SCM processes occur as a parallel activity. This provides you with three benefits:
  1. It will help accelerate the return on investment of your portal investment and don’t forget the downstream risk and cost mitigation as a result of the creation of these processes.
  2. By doing these activities in parallel, it will reduce design gaps between the environment configuration and SCM processes. In one of our recent customer scenarios, they had set up their environment prior to establishing SCM standards and began development. When it came time to deploy the solution, they came to the sudden realization that their environment did not match their deployment methodology. This directly impacted the application’s performance and at times rendered the application unusable.
  3. Assuming you are using subject matter experts (SME), you can blend your current environment and software teams with the SMEs. This will help with knowledge transfer and will also help give the SMEs the proper eyes on both the organizational and technical environments within your organization.

What is Software Configuration Management?

So, we’ve established the benefits of why SCM and why create SCM standards early. But what is it? The act of creating SCM standards can be grouped into two primary activities; Release Management and Code Promotion, and the Creation of a High Level Infrastructure Architecture.
Release management and code promotion focuses on code deployment and testing, auditing requirements, business processes and, code and configuration release (note that this is specific to portal).
High level infrastructure architecture focuses on answering questions like:
  1. What database will be used for this portal application?
  2. How will we be performing user access and authentication?
  3. What kind of network infrastructure will be configured?
  4. How will we handle disaster recovery?
Ok, I’m convinced, but what kind of people do I need?
This blog post would not be complete if we did not tell you what kind of team would be required for this crucial step in your portal initiative. We’ve typically provided customers with a team of three. Not all of them would be full time and the time spent would be highly dependent on the complexity of your organizational and technical environment. Here are the profiles of those individuals all of whom should have multiple years of experience with an enterprise portal:
  • Software Architect
  • Knowledgeable and experience in portal implementations
  • Enterprise application design and development experience
  • Portal experience
  • Software Developer
  • Experience working on structured enterprise application development projects
  • Enterprise Portal experience
  • Experience working on enterprise development teams with regimented code and configuration release management processes
  • Integration Architect
  • Experience in network infrastructure
  • Experience with server configuration
  • Experience with setting up enterprise architecture, E.g. Failover, load balancing, etc..
Let’s recap.
  1. Creating proper SCM standards and processes early in your portal project is strategic and can provide you with downstream risk and cost mitigation
  2. This activity should be performed in parallel with the configuration of your technical portal environment to accelerate the ROI of your portal investment
  3. The team performing this task should be subject matter experts and should be blended with your existing non-portal application team to transfer knowledge around best practices and to gain experience with a portal project