DevOps at full throttle: Car manufacturers on the digital fast lane
DevOps is not just something for Silicon Valley enterprises or small start-ups. Even traditional industries like the automobile sector can start using a DevOps approach to make sure they aren’t left behind in the digitalization race. Mark Levy, the Director of Strategy at Micro Focus, shares his insight on the subject.
The story of the automobile is one of innovation. What began as a carriage without horses has been constantly reinvented over time. In Henry Ford’s halls, production achieved the status of mass-production because of assembly lines. The introduction of the car shaped entire cityscapes; the once elite vehicle became a means of mass transportation.
New demands for flexibility have emerged and resulted in station wagons and vans. Headrests, safety belts, and increasingly stable bodies ensured increased safety for the occupants. Last but not least, electronics also found their way into cars. What started relatively modestly with fuel injection and ABS has now opened up fantastic new possibilities. The automobile of the future is no longer driven by hand; now, artificial intelligence takes the steering wheel. Digital systems provide entertainment while driving and offer services that go far beyond transportation.
In a digitized world, the manufacturing sector of the economy can no longer limit itself to bringing material products onto the market. Traditional industrial companies are now suppliers of software. Every new car contains not only the work of engineers and technicians, but also the work of IT specialists. Navigation systems are a thing of the past as today’s cars can already stay in the correct lane, maintain a specified distance from the vehicle in front of them, or even park independently. Naturally, these new functionalities also influence brand perception. Today’s car manufacturers cannot afford to implement bad functioning digital systems and risk losing a reputation built over decades. Only those companies that can keep pace with digitization will survive on the market.
Agility vs. legacy
Agile methods and DevOps are magic words of the digital economy. The new work approach is intended to make the development and provision of software simpler, faster, and safer. However, what was right for companies founded in Californian garages a few years ago does not have to be the right thing for everyone else unconditionally.
Consider this: for a long time, industrial companies looked at software not as a product but as means of production. Those legacy systems of the past are still working today, although they are usually not suitable for a comprehensive use of DevOps. For a long time, companies developed their mainframe applications with an architecture which does not allow fast changes with a simultaneous productive use. The mainframe applications are also the subject of very strict, industry-specific regulations. Hence, a complete business logic conversion is too risky, very expensive, and ultimately too cumbersome. This is why legacy systems continue to exist.
To optimize mainframe environments with DevOps
Commonly, the golden mean is the best solution to this problem as it also is in the case of DevOps methods in a traditional industry. It should not be denied, but one should also not believe the false conclusion that the structures of a company can be changed just as easily as with small start-ups. Now, companies are also facing the task of making the mainframe process fit for the application of new features.
There is also the issue of cross-platform deployment, so that apps can access COBOL applications on the mainframe. Companies must decide which processes they wish to maintain or change and what tools they want to use for this task. The DevOps-principles can remove obstacles between different areas of software development. It can also be helpful with the initiating of a continuous optimization.
DevOps in the car
Now, how can these aforementioned methods can be used profitably for car manufacturers? There is more complex software in vehicles nowadays. It needs to be kept up to date. Outdated software is a good way to have a lot of unsatisfied customers. For example, a navigation system that does not have access to the latest data is an annoyance for the customer. Companies must also react as quickly as possible when it comes to security related issues.
The implementation speed of new features can also become a very decisive and competitive factor in an ever increasing, fast-moving world. Thanks to smartphones, customers have become accustomed to new features being added later through “over-the-air” updates. However, car manufacturers are also competing with dedicated IT groups for their connected cars. Now, the brand’s own systems must keep pace with this update cycle.
DevOps can help with this issue. Shifting from rare major updates to minor frequent ones has been a paradigm shift in software deployment. The advantages are numerous. Thanks to continuous delivery, all systems are always up to date. This is essential for self-driving cars, which people trust with their lives. Ensuring application security through solutions such as Fortify also complements the integration of the development process into security environments.
The so-called “shift-left” concept for testing new software ensures that security gaps can be detected and eliminated in advance. This eliminates the risk of fatal intervention with consequences, like a vehicle takeover as a result of a criminal attack. In addition, new features can be quickly switched off again or improved upon depending on the customer’s desires. On the other hand, product ideas which are met with great enthusiasm by users can be further developed in a more targeted manner. DevOps is like free instant market research.
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The wheels keep on turning
Despite its futuristic approach, there is still potential for development for today’s self-driving cars. According to a study by Frost & Sullivan, prototypes of flying cars are expected to conquer the skies within five years. Companies must adapt to increasingly changing markets by dynamically aligning their internal structures.
Additionally, the increasing software demands of customers must be addressed. Companies are now expected to respond to requests in a timely manner. With implementation of DevOps principles and with consideration of existing and well-functioning structures and systems, even large industrial groups such as automobile manufactures can keep up with the digital revolution.