January 17, 2018 / by Simplicity Itself Team / In Case Studies

Preparing for Change at The University of York

The University of York is world leading academic institution in the ancient city of York in the north east of England.  Like most universities, it has internal software delivery teams to build and maintain applications and products for internal and external use.

The core systems of the University are external vendor products, and in 2014 the university wanted to build a new advanced web interface for managing it’s module catalogue, replacing the paper system in use.

While the system could have been built straight onto the vendor products in use, the university applied good antifragile thinking and decided to build some options, to see what approach might be best.

Simplicity Itself had previously delivered technical training in Groovy, Grails and systems architecture, and were asked to visit to help them evaluate options.

Delivering Options

Simplicity Itself worked with the Enterprise Systems Group, the main software delivery unit inside York University. They were keen to expand the size and scope of software projects that they tackled and wanted to build a product internally to satisfy the needs of the project.

During our visit, we confirmed that the decision to pursue the dual delivery strategy was a good one, analysed what capabilities would be needed for building a new product, and came to the joint conclusion with the ESG that some extra resources would be needed to deliver the project in the sufficient timescales.

Simplicity Itself was then asked to assist in the delivery of the system decoupled from the vendor solution. The University uses Grails as it’s delivery technology, for which Simplicity Itself is highly regarded.

As Andrew Male, Head of the Enterprise Systems Group said “Knowing the proven expertise of Simplicity Itself and how well respected they are gave us the confidence to engage”.

More than that, working with Simplicity Itself on a delivery project was “not just about getting a product built, it was about helping our teams to improve” - Andrew Male

Simplicity Itself agreed to work with their internal teams to design, build and handover the new product, with an explicit goal being to upskill and train the teams at York to enable them to deliver large systems in the future.

The members of the ESG team were keen to develop themselves and build a large product, and while the vendor backed solution was initially seen as the default option, “the proven technical ability and reputation of Simplicity Itself gave the project extra credibility internally” - Graham Cook, ESG Team Leader.

Preparing for Change

Simplicity Itself once again visited in January of that year to perform requirements gathering, and initial architectural analysis and creating the design approach that would guide the product development. The primary goal of this was to understand what change pressures are present and how they should be handled in the system.  Applying our architectural approach to build adaptable software, guided by the Life Preserver, It became clear very quickly that the vendor system we needed to integrate with, was actually seen as a potential issue, as fairly substantial changes came through from the vendor with little warning, generating enormous maintenance ripple effects on the University IT estate.

Once identified, along with the other change pressures, we isolated them from the rest of the system, decoupling to enable the systems to move as they needed to, without causing headaches in the future.

That done, the project ploughed on, with Simplicity Itself and ESG working hand in hand using a mixture of onsite, offsite and remote team members.

Laura Hallett, Project Manager for ESG, was especially pleased with the extra burst resourcing that Simplicity Itself could provide, “We could move far more quickly using the dedicated resources at Simplicity itself”

Project delivered, abilities improved

“It was a challenge, but we would be very comfortable doing this again” - Laura Hallett.

The system was delivered on time, and on budget. The decision was made to proceed with the Grails version that Simplicity Itself and the ESG had delivered, and it went into production use in the University in October 2014.

A project going into production is often celebrated, however the ongoing maintenance and need for software to be changed is where the ability to track, understand and adapt to change shows more of value.

By applying our architectural approach, we gave the project the ability to change the varying parts without the rest being heavily impacted. As Graham Cook says - “Simplicity Itself have give us the capability to completely change our User Interface without affecting the rest of the system, if we wanted”.

He followed on to say how much he had gained from working with us - “Without Simplicity Itself, we would have delivered the project in the orthodox architectural approach, and had all the problems associated with that.  What we have learned will remain valuable for a long while, it goes far beyond what is in the textbooks and tutorials” - Graham Cook

The best result?  all of the stakeholders agreed, when york University wants to build something of this nature again, working with Simplicity Itself in this way has given them the tools and capability to do it all in house. “I feel completely confident applying all that we have learned and implemented again, I’m looking forward to working on our next project in this way” - Graham Cook

Simplicity Itself are proud to have worked with the Enterprise Systems Group to have had a positive impact in York University, and we wish them all the best for the future. This study highlights an example of one of our Expertise engagements, if you’d like to discuss your own technical issues relating to maintaining the necessary development pace, or you are finding that your software doesn’t handle change very well, contact us


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