We were pretty excited to hear from the folks at the Hartville Group about how BuildMaster worked for them. The Hartville Group made the switch to BuildMaster to streamline their deployment pushes, they sat down with us recently and gave us the inside details to how that shift happened, and how their experience with BuildMaster has been since then. Plus, it gives us an excuse to put pictures of puppies and kittens up on our site.

Tell us about the Hartville Group:

Founded in Canton, Ohio in 1997, the Hartville Group provides pet owners with affordable and well-designed pet health insurance plans. Our plans help pet owners pay their veterinary bills in case of accidents, illnesses, and even for wellness care, like regular check-ups. Our innovative and comprehensive approach led to being selected as a strategic partner by the ASPCA for pet health insurance. Our passion for pets has driven our leadership in the field and in the groundbreaking use of information technology best practices.

What lead to you considering BuildMaster?

As a firm, we’ve enjoyed pretty rapid growth in terms of clients and revenue, but this rapid growth has brought complexity and increased risk that demands speed and nimbleness within our software application portfolio.

As a company with very rapid sales growth, operating procedures and business practices haven’t always been well defined and have frequently changed dynamically as we expand. Requirements have not always been available or as clear and granular as we would like.

Flexibility was essential but tedious and manual processes have kept the application lifecycle from fully realizing its potential while presenting a risk to our continued business growth and our customers’ satisfaction. Being an insurance company, we also operate in a highly regulated environment that brings additional scrutiny from our internal compliance department as well as from external regulatory bodies. These regulatory reviews increase the drag on the application lifecycle while simultaneously increasing the urgency for accuracy, both initially and when repeating similar process changes.

So you recognized you needed change?

Exactly. We looked into BuildMaster because it took way too long to push things. If a change were made in 4 applications and then propagated across three separate environments, our team needed to change and manage 12 different configuration files for each release. Each configuration file represented a bunch of extra work for our team. Since each developer was responsible for their own updates, they both had to track down and record all of the various passwords, paths and other configuration differences that were relevant to their current software update. They used to write push- plans, documenting potential repercussions and ramifications along with what files were changing. This entire effort would require 4-8 hours time not spent on development but on tedious bookkeeping exercises so that they could review it all and, hopefully, avoid a mishap. Plans were never kept up to date and more wasted effort was expended reinventing the wheel for every push.

“BuildMaster is our virtual expert, so why hire one?”

Before discovering BuildMaster, We’d already embraced the agile methodology and used Microsoft Server and Microsoft SQL-Server, but recognized that agile wasn’t enough. I actually thought long and hard about Cruise Control for a while, but realized that then we would have needed a Cruise Control expert on staff devoted strictly to managing the tool, writing scripts and NOT contributing to the development effort at all… and then when that person left, we’d be stuck. Besides, who wants to learn a custom configuration and scripting language on top of their day-to-day duties? With BuildMaster, we don’t need a build expert. It’s so easy to use and its self-documenting nature helps us spend more time adding business value to the Hartville Group rather than on bookkeeping and administrative chores. BuildMaster is our virtual expert, so why hire one?

Were there any specific features about BuildMaster that lead to your adopting it? How has your team used BuildMaster?

The implementation process for BuildMaster was quite easy and transparent to the organization. It is so self-explanatory. Once we got one app up in BuildMaster, we used it as a sort of template and went to town bringing every other app under BuildMaster’s control. The network admins were a little nervous at first, but once we moved our first application into production through BuildMaster, they relaxed. Implementation for the database administrator (DBA) was a snap since our developers developed their own database design/changes as well as related stored procedures.

All the DBA needed to do was review and approve their changes, and run their scripts at the appropriate time. The testing and feedback process was also streamlined. Within 90 days, we experienced tangible impact. We saved 160 developer-hours across 40 builds in a single month. I predict the savings and impact will scale up as we add developers.

“Within 90 days, we experienced tangible impact. We saved 160 developer-hours across 40 builds in a single month.”

What benefits does the outcome of this project ensure for end-users? Have you noticed changes in culture since deploying BuildMaster?

With BuildMaster in the mix, the speed and quality of testing increased while reducing the inherent risk of application change with complete transparency to the testing team. Now testing is completed earlier. Stakeholders’ perceptions have changed and they have more confidence in the software, in the process, and ultimately, in us. With BuildMaster’s automated approach, builds can be pushed on demand with the click of a mouse. Consequently, pushes contain smaller, more easily tested chunks of code changes that, in turn, allow testers to work more quickly with no waiting and with greater focus than when they had to test “the whole enchilada” all at once. In addition, tester feedback increased in quality and specificity yielding higher quality software releases overall. As a result, management can properly focus on marketing, compliance, customer and competitive challenges rather than worrying about the build.

Since BuildMaster is self-documenting, our team no longer worries about the bookkeeping. We appreciate having more time to develop software with greater productivity and less day-to-day hassle. The stress when pushing to Dev is noticeably cut. We experience “peace of mind” knowing that BuildMaster helps us avoid fatal mistakes that used to come from accidently changing the wrong application, server or database. We know that it even helps us avoid the “accidental double-click”-no more deleting everything! Overall, the development team is much less interrupt driven. In fact, the entire IT organization, including developers, testers, network administrators and database administrators spend less time stopping and restarting their work in response to build-push-deploy problems since BuildMaster has eliminated that ugly fact of life.

With BuildMaster, the team can push on demand at any time whenever they need. There is no more worry about a late afternoon push turning into an all-night session because something broke or was forgotten. Manual push to Dev used to take between 15-30 minutes for every push. Now it takes just 30 seconds. It doesn’t cost us anything to push now. Last month BuildMaster saved us a developer-month over 40 builds.

The quality of the build and the application portfolio has improved with configuration files and the push process under BuildMaster control. Everything is in its proper place and every step happens when and where it is supposed to happen resulting in a successful deployment every time. Since every build is documented and repeatable, management has confidence knowing that all things are getting done without worry or a lot of manual verification. Now the development group can report with certitude what we are working on and what took place over the last quarter.

“Morale is soaring as everyone gets “more stuff done” with less hassle.”

Software releases are consistently smooth and error free and occur at an accelerated pace keeping up with the demands of the business. Morale is soaring as everyone gets “more stuff done” with less hassle. Developers no longer need to keep all of the build and deploy details in their head since BuildMaster captures, documents and manages every last detail. Most importantly, BuildMaster has eliminated the fear and risk of making rapid, competitive changes to our application portfolio. Freed from the worry that the build and deploy process will fail them, they can act decisively and with more swiftness-exploiting their application portfolio as they deliver superior customer satisfaction and business growth thereby. Nimble software development and deployment is a reality at the Hartville Group through BuildMaster and the business impact shows it.

Do you have advice for others considering BuildMaster?

Well, as I mentioned, it’s so easy to use and its self-documenting nature helps us spend more time adding business value to the Hartville Group rather than on bookkeeping and administrative chores.

Thank you very much. Would you recommend BuildMaster to others?

Without a doubt!