Energy company Centrica has carried out its first corporate agile IT project, building an employee self-service HR portal in an SAP environment for 30,000 users.
Mark Tristram, agile development manager, Centrica said the SAP competency centre at the energy group’s corporate headquarters had been looking for an agile project candidate and alighted on the HR project partly because of the function’s enthusiasm.
“They were keen to get the right project delivered. It was not a case of IS doing agile to the business,” said Tristram. Centrica’s business units, which include British Gas, have agile project experience, he said, but this was their first corporate project.
Inspiring the project was a “three amigos” approach, he said. Testing, development and the business were “all on the hook together”.
Simon Evans, director at Experior, a testing consultancy that worked on the project, said that “agile is still very rare in the SAP world”. He and Tristram presented at this week’s SAP UK & Ireland user group conference in Manchester.
Centrica was looking to replace a system from HR consultancy Aon Hewitt, which remains a user of the new system. The project took 18 months, with an August 2012 go live, and comprised 10 three week development sprints, five in 2011, and five in 2012.
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Centrica’s Tristram said the company’s IT function is “not aiming to become an agile factory”, but that this project lent itself well to the agile methodology. The contrast is with the waterfall approach, where “IS [information systems] goes down a hole and comes back in a year, declaring: ‘this is what we thought you wanted’”.
“With agile the business is in the room every day”. Their motivation is that they want all business administration process to go from 40% to 80% automation, he reported.
One advantage with the agile methodology was that an initially ugly user interface was dealt with early in the process. “We would not have caught that in a traditional project. And the business will pay more attention to that next time”, said Tristram.
Experior’s Evans said: “the project was big enough to be taken seriously, but not too big. HR is slightly isolated within the SAP platform at Centrica”.
The value of agile from a testing viewpoint, at least on this project, was that “all the nasty stuff is sorted in testing at the beginning. And so we went live very quietly”, he said.
Testing is also “front and centre” with agile said Evans. “It’s not about rattling keyboards”, in isolation.
“You do want to be involved in an agile project again, once you have done one”, said Tristram. “It is hard, especially for the business, but it is rewarding.
“Take up has been high”, he said. “You’re not so much looking to save money with agile. It is more about doing the right things, in the right order. The business is very pleased [with the outcome].
“Now we have an internal SAP platform that we can control. We can keep costs down and move faster”.