If you’ve worked in the tech industry for any amount of time, then you’ve likely encountered the topic of “disruptive innovation.” Clayton M. Christensen defined the term in the early 1990s as any innovation that disrupts an already-existing market and eventually displaces the entrenched incumbents in that market. With innovative companies like Uber disrupting the taxi industry and Airbnb siphoning customers from hotels, no incumbent wants to find itself suddenly threatened by a younger upstart.
To avoid disruption, many companies have embraced more “agile” business processes that allow them to adapt in rapidly changing industries. One such approach that’s seen widespread adoption recently is called DevOps. As described by the blog The Agile Admin, DevOps is a detailed framework for “a cross-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to the study of building, evolving, and operating rapidly-changing resilient systems at scale.” Put more simply, DevOps helps companies do away with the bureaucratic snags that prevent them from aggressively pivoting into new areas.
As the senior vice president of IT and engineering at a major game developer, Sean Chighizola witnessed directly how quickly an entire industry could get upended. Big Fish Games, the company he works for, launched in 2002 and focused almost entirely on developing PC games. “With the introduction and mass adoption of mobile phones, we had to pivot into the mobile arena and it changed the paradigm for how we manage technology and provide solutions for the business” said Chighizola, who’s also a member of the Society for Information Management (SIM). “So how do you build solutions to scale and support a growing catalog of mobile games? This is where we applied principles of DevOps.”
A focus on “continuous delivery”
There was, of course, immediate concern from IT, which wasn’t then equipped to handle this kind of transition. But rather than be cowed by such a challenge, Chighizola and his team set out to read the works of Gene Kim, who’s considered one of the preeminent thought leaders on the subject of DevOps. “We embraced the idea being that you should empower your product team for continuous delivery,” he said. “Certain controls should be put in place, but the idea is they deploy code anytime they want, without IT assistance.” In 2016 alone, there were over 1,500 code releases using IT’s solution.
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There are a number of structural changes Big Fish Games made to increase its output of games. For example, it embraced a model in which separate studios would operate independently from each other where possible. “They release their own games,” explained Chighizola. “The idea is for them to be completely autonomous. They have their own resources to maximize throughput and productivity.”
Platform as a service
Big Fish Games also adopted a “platform as a service” model. Chighizola recognized that one way IT could get out of the way of the product developers is by focusing on improving the platform on which the developers work and then leaving the rest to them. “We enable developers the ability to choose from multiple technology stacks, then provide them self-service tools allowing them to access their environments and release code” he said.
Providing business intelligence
Another way Chighizola’s team empowered developers was by building out a business intelligence suite of products that offered all partners robust metrics and analytics so they didn’t always need to ask IT to produce reports on the health of the systems and business KPI’s. “This way, they’re able to answer questions like, ‘How is my game’s monetization?’ or ‘Is this sale effective and accretive to revenue?’ A big reason our partners join Big Fish and leverage us is because we have an ecosystem that provides the right tools and solutions to meet the needs of their game without requiring them to go build it themselves.”
With the company focused solely on continuous delivery, Big Fish Games has been able to evolve so that it now releases hundreds of games a year. This sped-up production has led to the company’s games seeing 1.5 million downloads per day, and it boasts a library of over 450 unique mobile games and 3,500 unique PC games.
“I truly feel that we are enablers,” said Chighizola. “IT has a reputation of delivering the right solutions for the business through close partnerships. We collaborate and then the Studios become owners of their systems and accountable for that work. We allow people to make change, and in this industry, change is what makes us successful.”