Confused.com is a price comparison Web site that depends on the ability of its development team to quickly turn market opportunities into consumer products. In 2009, the team evaluated the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 product stack. Team members are confident that its support for Agile processes and end to end automation, along with out of the box testing will significantly cut the time it takes to get new products to market. Business Needs
Established in 2002, Confused.com was the first online price comparison site in the U.K. Since then, hundreds of sites have emerged as consumers look for the best services or product deals online. User expectations are high, and customers are quick to drop their search of a site that’s slow or difficult to navigate. To remain competitive, comparison sites have to offer customers simplicity, sophistication, and high-performance—along with great deals.
Andrew Brockway, IT Operations Manager, Confused.com, says: “In the last few years, competition from other sites has increased. It’s crucial that we protect our market position and present products in a way that inspires customer confidence and trust in our brand. We differentiate ourselves by providing a consistently reliable, easy-to-use online experience—backed up by relevant products.”
Increased competition motivated the Confused.com development team to review its application development processes in 2008. Team members realised they needed to be streamlined to support the product teams and business goals. “We’ve always leaned towards the Agile methodology for creating software, but haven’t had the optimum technology implementation and process understanding to follow it consistently,” says Brockway. Although the business was successful—a typical day generates around 60,000 unique views for car insurance—Brockway says his team was not satisfied with the previous development environment’s speed and ability to deliver new products to market.
As part of a renewed focus on delivery, team members wanted a standardised creative environment that helped them improve development processes, from product design and coding, to testing and deployment. Confused.com turned to Avanade, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner—and winner of the 2009 Enterprise Partner of the Year Award—to complete an assessment of the company’s development environment and consequently implement a solid Application Lifecycle Management solution based on the whole Visual Studio 2010 product stack.Solution
Avanade highlighted several key focus areas: optimising the way Confused.com implements and uses its Agile processes and enhancing the technical tools available to the development team. Brockway says: “We needed to focus on the most important issue first, and for us that was optimising the development process.” Brockway’s team evaluated an early version of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010, and Visual Studio Lab Management 2010, and has now decided to upgrade and standardise its environment. “It provides the whole package, and we expect to improve the time it takes between product conception and its deployment. A crucial feature is the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) for Agile 5.0 process template, which will guide our team to applying the Agile methodology consistently throughout the application development life cycle,” says Brockway.
In keeping with Agile processes, the Confused.com development team will be able to model, code, test, debug, and deploy a product within one development tool stack, while all activities are tracked and monitored to ensure the end product reflects the business’s goal and quality levels. Team members will rely on the out-of-the-box automated testing tools, reporting and debugging features in Visual Studio 2010 to complement the Agile process. These include:
One stop integrated development environment. The Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate IDE offers integrated development tools such as Intellitrace debugging, static code analysis and enhanced profiling while fully integrated with Team Foundation Server 2010 to support enterprise level Software Configuration Management tooling and task management system.
Proactive reporting tools. Reports, dashboards, and planning worksheets all support employees to move steadily towards the development goals and hence provide clear visibility across the business, development, and operation capabilities.
Support for manual and automated tests. A set of new quality tools in Visual Studio 2010 allows for first class test planning, execution, and tracking as well as seamless integration with virtualisation of test environments using Visual Studio Lab Management 2010.
Brockway says: “The first phase of solution deployment is the architecture topology—this will finish in May 2010. Additional phases include putting in place the optimised Agile processes, a fully automated build environment, and the Lab Management tooling. In August 2010, we’ll roll out the entire Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate implementation to the whole development team.”Benefits
Confused.com is confident that with Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, it has the right tools to support business growth. By providing customised Agile implementation, it’s easier for team members to follow practices that support fast, seamless delivery of new products. “The relationship between the business and the development teams is crucial and we feel that Visual Studio 2010 will give us a significant advantage over our competitors,” says Brockway.
Increases revenue. When U.K. energy prices rose sharply in 2009, Confused.com was the first to provide consumers with the opportunity to compare supplier rates. Brockway says: “We experienced record traffic and sales at the time. It illustrates how important it is to be first to market. We’re confident that with Visual Studio 2010 we’ll capitalise on these opportunities to generate more revenue.”
Speeds up time to market. Brockway says: “With the Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate tool stack, we can automate every appropriate development stage. Compressing the development lifecycle will help us get new products to market faster and with higher quality than before.” The close relationship between the product and technical development teams is also reflected in the quality of the online product.
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Enhances productivity and output. The new solution will help Brockway’s team test a variety of technologies quickly, and reduces the potential for coding errors. “We can take advantage of new technologies—for example, developing Microsoft Silverlight or cloud-based applications—to respond to consumer demand. Previously, testing products and developing user interfaces was time consuming and complex; with Visual Studio Lab Management 2010 we can now support end-to-end processes of manual and automated testing of these new technology based applications, giving us the edge,” he says.