Agile programming slashes time to market for anti ID fraud start-up

Information monitoring company Garlik has used the latest rapid-programming techniques to develop its anti-ID-fraud web and database technologies in just nine months.

Information monitoring company Garlik has used the latest rapid-programming techniques to develop its anti-ID-fraud web and database technologies in just nine months.

To get to market quickly, the start-up company rejected the widely used "waterfall" approach to development, which requires the specification to be defined before coding begins, in favour of agile programming techniques. Garlik's founders first applied the approach at online bank Egg.

Garlik's service alerts consumers to sensitive personal information on the web and in commercial data­bases that could be harvested by identity thieves.

The service, dubbed Datapatrol, is designed to combat a growing trade in personal data, which is collected electronically by information brokers to sell on to criminal groups. About 100,000 people a year are affected by identity fraud, Garlik said.

Tom Ilube, chief executive at Garlik and former Egg CIO, said, "I am pretty certain that if I had taken this on using the waterfall approach it would not have worked. We were able to complete the work in nine months from a blank sheet of paper."

Ilube said the project had come together in part due to Garlik's investment in highly skilled developers, and in part due to its adoption of agile programming techniques, rather than going for the lowest cost option of outsourcing the work offshore.

"The idea that the way to maximise your development budget is to find the lowest-cost people you can is fundamentally flawed," he said.

"If you are able to reach out and attract the real experts in the software field and give them real freedom, and have given them projects that are challenging, you will get much more bang for your buck than if you offshore."

He said the approach also meant giving the team freedom to make mistakes. "Essentially what these guys did was start on software development from day one. They did go down two or three blind alleys, but they needed to feel very comfortable with that. The permission to fail was crucial."

Using traditional programming approaches would have meant spending nine months specifying the project before beginning coding, said Ilube.

At the heart of the project is a Unix datastore capable of storing more than two billion data references, known as triples. These references define relationships between people and their personal data - for example linking an individual with a bank and a bank account.

The datastore will run on a cluster of low-cost Dell servers, which will be expanded as the company takes on more customers. Garlik expects to offer the data-tracking services to hundreds of thousands of customers in the UK.

Garlik's agile programming approach

  • Working software was delivered in fortnightly cycles for almost a year, increasing to weekly cycles in the final two months.
  • Involving business people, marketing, testing and developers in every conversation, whether technical or business strategy.
  • Face-to-face conversations wherever possible, plus using VoIP to bring together the distributed team.
  • Leadership consisted of facilitation of conversations, rather than being task-driven.
  • Timing divided into two-weekly time boxes, with deliverables agreed at the start of each two-week cycle.
  • Garlik took responsibility for the outcome and did not use contractual leverage to manage suppliers.

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