WinOps 2018: How DevOps helped ASOS become the top online fashion retailer

Ian Margetts and Scott Frampton talking at WinOps 2018

There’s no denying that ASOS is a force to be reckoned with in the retail industry. Founded almost 20 years ago, the company ships to over 200 countries, employs 4000 people, and turns over billions annually.

In a keynote speech at WinOps 2018, technologists Ian Margetts (Platform Lead for ALM) and Scott Frampton (Principal Software Developer) spoke about how the company has used continuous integration approaches and centralised tooling to move away from on-premise infrastructure and become the number one online fashion destination.

From the very beginning of their talk, Margetts and Frampton were candid with the audience. They admitted how, when Black Friday arrived in the UK a few years ago, ASOS just couldn’t cope with customer demand through its website. The business needed to digitally transform in order to survive. “Our business wouldn’t exist today,” they remarked.

The audience was left stunned at the sheer scale of ASOS’ digital transformation journey. Since moving to Azure and re-architecting its platforms, the company has implemented processes, tools, competency measures, and shared services to empower its teams.  Ian said: “For the first time, we didn’t have project teams. This has enabled different thinking in the company.”

Describing DevOps as a game-changer for ASOS, Ian explained that implementing a shared service function has been particularly beneficial. “We can’t give everything to a platform, as people are fundamental.” As a result, it’s gone from 20 painful releases in 2011 to 3,000 in 2018.

Content is king

At ASOS, content is a major commercial driver and fundamental to customer experience. In the past, it used an out-of-the-box CMS over data centres and a project way-of-working to deliver content. But this proved to be inefficient and timely. “Just trying to lift and shift that was a death march. We couldn’t satisfy customers internally and externally,” said Scott.

Looking to eradicate this challenge, ASOS took the stop, collaborate, and listen approach. A new management team was brought in to own the CMS and turn it into a valuable platform for the company. Scott commented: “We were effectively able to start from a blank slate.”

When it comes to tools, ASOS is using Azure DevOps and Octopus Deploy to help streamline the content process. It’s also created new standards to encourage uptake and support for different languages, including JAVA and SQL.

Although these things have helped the firm enormously, Ian made the thought-provoking point that DevOps is more about culture than the tools. He said it’s about making the lives of engineers easier and said digital transformation can’t be achieved overnight and differs per organisation. He also pointed out that when you’re building for scale, there’s no such thing as out-of-the-box. ASOS started with four goals in mind: delight customers, scale and stay current, release often, and first to know.

Culture is paramount

Throughout this initiative, the firm’s ambition has been to build a world-class engineering capability. Today, more than 50 people work in the company’s IT team, holding roles such as delivery managers and engineers. To ensure silos don’t appear and everyone is on the same page, ASOS has created a culture of shared responsibility and empowerment.

It was great to see culture highlighted as a major consideration for ASOS. This is about the many, not the few; autonomy; and trust. The online retailer is building a work environment where people aren’t viewed as resources, where it’s safe for people to voice their opinions, and where there are clear accountabilities. Scott’s view is that happy and empowered people create great software.

Learn more about DevOps culture here.

During the keynote, you were given a real sense that this has been a journey full of challenges and learnings for Ian, Scott, and their team. They’ve realised that DevOps involves everyone, that digital transformation is continuous, that continuous improvement is about thinking ahead, that all the tooling in the world doesn’t help if your people aren’t supported, and that telemetry is crucial.

Clearly, Ian and Scott are incredibly proud of their journey to date.  ASOS has not only built a large onsite development team, but reached a stage where it’s taking part on many early adopter programmes and releasing every Wednesday without fail.

Looking to the future, the company will continue to bolster its DevOps culture, implement automation governance (including release management and Azure), open up the toolsets, optimise provisioning and release story, enable Zero downtime for authoring, and improve measures and metrics.

Find out how digital transformation can revolutionise your organisation in this white paper.

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