Digital Factory: Feedback From Saint-Gobain – Aari
In an era when data management and digital technology are critical to a company’s growth and competitiveness, the digital factory is THE solution for delivering digital products within a company.
Cellenza has created a series of new and original posts about these “digital factories” in partnership with Microsoft. After looking at Why and How to Create a Digital Factory and reviewing the Strategy and Vision of a Digital Factory, we are back to share a testimonial from Saint-Gobain, a global leader in sustainable construction and high-performance solutions.
Jean-Charles Quantin is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at AARI. This new Saint-Gobain business provides a pure software as a service (SaaS) solution for electronic appointment booking in the event of car damage, specifically glass breakage. Aari decided to adopt the digital factory working model in the spring of 2020.
As CTO, Jean-Charles Quantin is responsible for setting up the platform’s architecture and security, implementing improvements to the solution, and interfacing with AARI’s clients’ information systems (IS). Defining a digital factory, strategy, governance, budget, and so on. Today, he discusses his thoughts on what a digital factory is and his experience organizing and operating this structure that generates innovation and value for its customers.
What Exactly Is a Digital Factory?
In my opinion, a digital factory is a team dedicated to creating digital solutions for many customers. This requires three things: small teams, agility, and innovative solutions, which means native full-cloud solutions in our case. The goal is to add value and provide industrialized solutions to all our customers.
Why Did You Create a Digital Factory?
We needed a digital factory at AARI. The business solution required a high execution speed, quality, and agility. We could not afford to use a conventional solution for what we had in mind, so we soon decided to develop a SaaS solution. By implementing a digital factory, we started with the best practices.
What Strategy Have You Implemented Within Your Digital Factory?
We chose a solution-based strategy. So, instead of having streams for each project, we have streams for each solution, with a global Product Owner. We are using a Scrum methodology to deal with the global backlog. The idea is to have multiple solutions that revolve around the platform. We chose a central digital factory with real product governance to manage priorities between solutions and the digital factory’s production capacity to achieve this. The business team, dedicated to product governance, is made up of AARI General Management, a global CTO, and a global Product Owner.
In General, Who Are the Active Participants in Your Digital Factory?
Our digital factory combines a variety of profiles. Firstly, a trio provides overall platform management: AARI’s General Management, the CTO, and the Product Owner. This group is involved from the beginning of the product’s development. Then there are the User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) teams, which lay the groundwork for the developers. DevOps is a big part of these teams. There is a strong relationship between development, run, and deployment, and all parties involved work independently on the solution from build to run. Finally, there is one more participant: security. The central Saint-Gobain IT departments provide us with security engineers. They contribute to product governance and play an essential role in the digital factory. They are part of the team.
More Specifically, Which Parties Are Actively Involved in a Project?
We tend to talk about solution streams rather than projects in our digital factory. The delivery team handles these. It works with the business (or product ownership) team, which plays a central role in bridging the gap between customer needs and the delivery team. The latter works 24/7 to meet and clear the backlog.
Is There More Than One Level of Governance?
We take a bottom-up approach based on field feedback about demand. Even if some security vulnerabilities arise at all levels, the governance/business side makes 90 percent of the decisions. Naturally, the Aari solution was presented to Saint-Gobain’s shareholders, and we are adhering to the Group’s global business approach. Our actions are consistent with Saint-Gobain’s strategy, focusing on end customers and digital solutions. On a more tactical level, Aari’s General Manager decides where she wants to go and is extremely flexible in her choice of customers and strategy: we offer several different solutions with varied client typologies. As a result, we strike a balance between the solutions and the needs of the business. We have a lot of leeway because of the methods we have chosen.
Which Methodology Do You Use in Your Digital Factory?
We use the Scrum methodology with two-week sprints for both the build and the run. We put in a lot of effort when launching the Ops part, and we pushed everything related to builds and automated deployments, which now require less energy, to the extreme. The UX/UI element is done simultaneously: to be included in a sprint, a story must first pass through the hands of the design team, which allows for a preview of the future sprint ahead of time. Security is also part of the basic design, but we have to constantly evolve our practices to meet the requirements dictated by the Saint-Gobain IT department or advised by Microsoft. We chose a straightforward, easily reproducible architecture with a stable platform. Of course, we work a lot with APIs and serverless solutions. There are no major difficulties with a stabilized core architecture other than security requirements and recommendations. Tactically speaking, we operate opportunistically: architectural and security issues are organized upstream, in parallel with the backlog, and when a new feature to be developed allows us to do so, we slip in these technical improvements (refactoring).
Have You Created a Shared Toolkit?
We mainly use two platforms in our digital factory. We only use Azure for the runtime architecture and Azure DevOps for the build. We also manage the whole board, Scrum, ticket management, and pipelines on Azure DevOps.
What Are the Links Between This Platform and the Existing IT at Saint-Gobain?
This is an interesting point because we are dealing with a digital factory entirely focused on creating a native cloud, serverless, zero trust network, and SaaS platform, with very little interaction with the Saint-Gobain legacy (we still have some links because we have internal customers). So we have some integration, but it is similar to what we have with our external customers through APIs. In terms of cloud consumption, we choose to be independent from Saint-Gobain: we are fully managed and hence completely autonomous, with no third party between the cloud provider and our own DevOps.
How Are the Saint-Gobain Digital Factory Budgets Managed?
Our digital factory has its own budget because it was created within a business unit. This means it has its own fiscal year with an annual budget projection. Each fall, we meet with our decision-makers to discuss which solutions we want to add to the platform over the next year and how we want to spread them over time. We then increase the digital factory capacity based on this forecast. It’s piecemeal budgeting. This gives us an overall picture of the team’s size for the coming year without sacrificing any flexibility in resource allocation. Finally, to streamline it, we regularly review our Azure consumption with Saint-Gobain, via the Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE).
What Challenges Did You Face When Setting Up Your Digital Factory?
There was no need to persuade the business side because that is where the need for the digital factory arose. On the other hand, the biggest challenge was the technical platform, for which we had high hopes. There was the cloud deployment, DevOps, and, most importantly, security, which was the most difficult task. When we first started, the central IT department’s processes were not fully cloud friendly, and we had to convince them about these updated practices. Ultimately, it worked out well: the IT department was highly responsive to what we wanted to do and helped us immensely. Another crucial aspect is that our platform is multi-tenant, with clients from all over the world, so rights management was essential. Microsoft supported us with zero trust, strong authentication, token management, and other features. We also used internal security tools and hired an external pentesting firm to assess the platform’s strength. This allowed us to establish a robust, flawless platform with the security teams. To do this, we modified each of the standard hardening rules (perimeter security) to turn them into dedicated zero trust rules!
What Results Have You Seen Since Implementing This Digital Factory?
We built a platform and found our first internal and external customers in eighteen months: this is our greatest achievement! We have also noticed results in terms of stability and resilience. The platform is running and is being closely monitored, but having a product that works and delivers without any problems is a natural source of pride. We have not experienced a single instance of downtime since the launch!
Now That Your Digital Factory is Up and Running, What’s Next?
I am not worried about the digital factory. We need to pay special attention to the aging of the platform to maintain a robust, resilient, industrial architecture over which we have control. We are also keeping a close eye on developments in the digital ecosystem to ensure that best practices are incorporated into the digital factory. Our next challenge will be to keep inventing novel solutions while maintaining the same speed, control, and quality from start to finish. We will move toward microservices with unique developments and shift up a gear on the platform’s service orientation. The other challenge is to share these practices with the other digital factories in the group since we know they can be extremely beneficial to others!
I wholeheartedly support this strategy. We are building living solutions: a living product on the living organism that is the cloud.Jean-Charles Quantin – Aari CTO at Saint-Gobain
More about the Digital Factories
Your need more information about Digital Factories? Read our series of content on this topic:
- Why and how to create a Digital Factory?
- What is the Best Strategy and Approach for Your Digital Factory?
- How Do I Organize Teams in a Digital Factory?
- Digital Factory: Which Technical Foundation?
- Financing and Budgeting for a Digital Factory
- Digital Factory: Nexan’s Experience