Software development teams face many different challenges during the software development lifecycle. Some of the most common issues are critical bugs found too late, too much manual work, ineffective or late feedback, and too infrequent releases.
Fortunately, developers can now benefit from solutions and best practices called Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). CI/CD processes and solutions help to generate more value for the end-users of software and, at the same time, make developers' lives easier.
In this article, we zoom in on the business benefits of CI/CD to show you where this approach came from, what a CI/CD pipeline is, the benefits it brings to companies, and a few tips to help you build one at your organization.
Where did CI/CD originate?
When following the traditional approach to developing software, the team usually spread major releases out in time. As a result, releases occurred relatively rarely — for example, once every six months. All of the bug fixes, functionality improvements, and brand-new features were collected over a long period of time and then had to be packed and released in one massive update.
This process required a lot of preparation from developers long before the release date. Most of the time, many activities were done manually and so were prone to human error. Moreover, development teams suffered from constant pressure from the management to shorten the time-to-market as much as possible. At the same time, testing all of the new features thoroughly would be impossible.
As a result, companies ended up spending more money on fixing issues detected after the product was released.
This is how software was developed until the DevOps methodology appeared on the tech scene.
What exactly is DevOps from a business perspective?
DevOps is a process that improves communication and collaboration among different stakeholders to increase the quality of software deployment and shortens the time-to-market of new features.
We can break the DevOps model down into five key areas that you can also consider as best practices for the proper implementation of a CI/CD process:
- destroy communication silos between teams,
- accept failure as something normal,
- implement changes gradually,
- leverage tooling and automation,
- measure everything.
What is a CI/CD pipeline?
In its essence, a CI/CD pipeline is a practical implementation of the principles of DevOps we just mentioned. CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. Here's a breakdown of these services to help you understand the value each of them brings to the table.
This term refers to using automation tools to build, test, and merge code smoothly. Continuous integration ensures that code coming from different developers is error-free before it's merged into the main branch. Automated testing is performed in the early stages of software development and allows the team to fix any bugs immediately.
This is the practice of releasing software in shorter cycles, with greater frequency and speed. The idea is to release code in smaller batches — even as often as a few times per day. This makes the ultimate software product easier to update and manage.
Note that CD might also stand for Continuous Deployment, which means constant and automated production deployment of every single alteration made to the code. Ideally, Continuous Deployment happens without any human intervention. It's like Continuous Delivery but taken to a new level thanks to automation.
When properly set up and optimized, a CI/CD pipeline brings significant benefits to the entire software development process.
The business value and benefits of CI/CD
Superior code quality
One of the most important business benefits of CI/CD is the improvement it brings to the overall quality of the code. Since the development team releases code in small batches, it can be thoroughly tested — for example, by using unit testing, which allows developers to detect and fix the most serious bugs before deploying the software to production.
Moreover, the gradual change applied to the code is more manageable for developers. That's why the chances of finding a critical bug once the product goes live are much lower. Automated testing allows fixing bugs immediately, which is far less costly and easier than fixing them later on.
Since the code changes are small, the development team can release software builds faster. Essentially, this could even happen on-demand. This is why CI/CD is so important in improving the team's flexibility and ability to ship functionalities fast.
For example, when a user asks for a feature or a competitor introduces an improvement, your development team can react faster and instantly deliver the required functionality.
Cost reduction thanks to automation
One of the most important reasons why so many businesses implement a CI/CD pipeline is automation. The automation of the build, test, and deploy phases makes the life of a DevOps team much easier. It also significantly reduces the cost of software development.
By automating actions, you can be sure that they're less prone to human error and easier to manage by the team. In an ideal scenario, every single deployment into the production environment should be performed without any human intervention. This is exactly what Continuous Deployment is all about.
Another great thing about setting up a CI/Cd pipeline is the availability of instant feedback about the code for a new build. Failure is a normal occurrence, so it's worth applying the principle of failing fast. You can achieve that by automating tasks. When they identify a bug, you can fix it rapidly.
The same goes for automated deployment. When the monitored metrics indicate that there's an issue with the new update, you can automatically roll it back and protect your company's reputation from any damage it may suffer if faulty software were released to the public.
A successful CI/CD process is based on effective collaboration and communication. The CI/CD pipeline is a common framework for many developers, project managers, and testers working in software development.
Moreover, if your team follows this process, you can be sure that developers assume more responsibility and initiative. At the same time, you will spread a sense of responsibility for the software quality among all the team members. As a whole, this will increase the quality of your product.
After releasing an application, your team should monitor it for any possible issues. That's why continuous monitoring and observability should form the backbone of any CI/CD pipeline. This is how the team can monitor the health, reliability, and performance of your application — and take the necessary actions whenever needed.
Monitoring metrics also allow creating actionable insights and improving your software product further. The DevOps principle "Measure everything" can be really valuable for businesses.
Greater customer satisfaction
Ultimately, the goal of CI/CD is to make customers happy. When dealing with buggy software, your company's reputation is damaged, and customers become irritated. By shipping new features regularly, fixing bugs immediately, and reacting to feedback, you will delight the end-users of your application.
Increased business sustainability
Most businesses don't aim to win a sprint — their goal is to win a marathon. Cutting ahead of the competition isn't easy and doing it consistently is even harder. By automating manual tasks, you can prevent your team from burning down all the way before your business becomes successful.
Automated pipelines reduce the amount of manual labor and open the doors to cost savings since the people you employ are actually far more expensive than your tools.
A CI/CD pipeline comes at a significant upfront investment. However, a well-designed pipeline will position your company on the path to success by innovating faster and meeting customer needs.
Challenges of CI/CD
While Continuous Delivery is the right approach for most software development teams, some organizations find designing and building resilient CI/CD pipelines challenging.
That's often because CI/CD requires a significant overhaul in operational culture, technical processes, and even organizational thinking. It might seem too large of a hurdle to be managed.
CI/CD also calls for a significant investment in the company software delivery infrastructure that may have been neglected for many years. That's why introducing CI/CD might be even harder.
Lack of priority, budget constraints, and close-minded staff are the primary challenges organizations meet on their way to innovating with this approach.
We hope that this article helps you to understand the business value CI/CD pipeline brings to the table. It's impossible for a successful technology business to deliver products without having a plan for their deployment. By automating tasks, you can not only accelerate the time-to-market and ensure speedy feedback but also make your development team far more productive and satisfied. And happy developers are a key component to building successful products.
If you're looking for more expert advice about setting up a CI/CD pipeline, feel free to get in touch with us. Our experts have years of experience in implementing best practices in DevOps and CI/CD tooling in companies operating across various industries.