A Digital Ecommerce Transformation – The Business Viewpoint in 2010 – Part V

Part V – Start at the beginning with Part I

When I arrived at TWLER (The Worlds Largest Electronics Retailer), it was clear that the digital business teams were sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad and very sad. After a couple weeks of reading through the ATG codebase I was also sad. Sad enough that I seriously considered searching for a new job because the code was such a mess. A massive mess. We were supposed to fix this?

The business teams were in charge of managing the site, adding new items, changing pricing, removing items from the site, fixing orders, making content, creating sale landing pages, emails, etc. Everything that keeps a large ecommerce site moving, usually referred to as site operations or business ops. The business teams had created a small shadow IT organization to try and maintain stability and make changes in the only way they could with IT controlling the ATG codebase. The slogans for the shadow IT teams were things like “Do more with less!” and “Any way to get it done!”   The only recourse they had was to make changes to the UI via Javascript and use a bypass of the deployment systems to post new Javascript files directly onto the production servers. Since this was the largest known ATG cluster at more than 400 servers, this procedure was fraught with danger. Appalling, yes, but if that’s the only way to get something done than it falls within creative license.

The process to start a new project went something like this:

  1. Write an RFP for a new thing such as adding a marketplace to the browse and commerce portions of the site.
  2. Seek bids from the three IT integrators that were approved by IT.
  3. Receive bids back with one IT integrator, we’ll call them A, as the project manager and the other two IT integrators vying for delivery.
  4. Bids start at $1M and only go up. For something like a marketplace, $27M was closer to the mark.
  5. Sign the contract to start the work.
  6. Within a week, 20 onshore coordinators and 100 offshore developers magically appear and start wreaking havoc on the shared codebase.
  7. 9-19 months later, severely over budget, something resembling a marketplace appears and is attempted to merge with the existing headstream, using a branch that started 9-19 months ago.
  8. Chaos ensues as every other project delivered between that time is broken and the IT integrator’s teams start fighting amongst themselves.
  9. After another two months, victory is declared, something buggy and barely working is deployed, the contract is finished and the 120 people disappear within a week.
  10. Bug fixes are now the responsibility of the shadow IT team mentioned above, to re-engage the IT integrators to fix all the problems they created needs a new RFP.
  11. Repeat this process until spirit is broken.

Surprisingly (sarcasm) the business teams were not very receptive to a new IT-like team coming in and telling them they were going to fix everything with Agile, DevOps, Cloud and really small engineering teams. As I was told numerous times when trying to engage the business to act as the SME for the Agile teams, “heard it before, new process, SOA architecture, will be able to work magic two years from now.” “Not buying it this time!”

There’s really only one solution to this problem (besides hiring a whole new business team) and that is to start delivering on your promises. That’s what we set out to do, but the environment made it unduly difficult for us.