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Enterprise Release Management Tools: Plutora

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Introduction

image3Enterprise Release Management is an increasingly prominent discipline, occupying the intersection of technical release management, project delivery and change management. Its focus is on understanding and governing the full portfolio of multi-stream changes, be they quarterly ERP releases, one-off project deliveries or monthly patching.

The demands on enterprise level release managers are many: governing and managing individual releases, maintaining the forward schedule as far as 12 months ahead, making sure non-production environments are efficiently used and more. Most release managers will have built and refined an array of spreadsheets and calendars to manage everything from release scope, defect lists, release gateway checklists, cutover plans and forward schedules.

Spreadsheets and calendars can work perfectly well when there are only half a dozen releases to track across 2-3 test environments, but once this starts scaling up – especially with multiple release managers – keeping these spreadsheets up to date becomes an administrative challenge and resource drain, letting inevitable errors creep into manual processes.

This is the tipping point where dedicated Enterprise Release Management tools make their case. The initial benefits are obvious: moving spreadsheets online to offer a single version of the truth slashes administrative waste and allows for pivoted views of the same data. Common tasks or release governance structures can be defined and re-used.

Clever reporting can replace hours of spread sheet and Powerpoint wrangling with the click of a button, and this is only scraping the surface. In this review, we’ll see what else leading vendor, Plutora, has built into their tool to add some real intelligence into the process far beyond simply lifting and shifting a spreadsheet online.

Quick facts & review highlights

Version Reviewed

Plutora V 3.5
October 2014

Market focus & customer counts

Large/very large IT organisations with a strong or dedicated project delivery arm who are presently struggling with visibility of their forward release schedule, environment utilisation or quality of repeatable release activity.

Customers:

  • USA: 18
  • EUROPE: 8
  • ASIA PAC: 15

License Options

SaaS licenses available in packs of 25 or unlimited enterprise option.

Competitive Differentiators

  1. Purpose-Built and Comprehensive: Plutora Enterprise Release Manager enables all of your end-to-end release management processes out of the box. Plutora is differentiated with its capability to combine release management, test environment management, deployment management and self-service reporting in a single comprehensive tool.
  2. Enterprise SaaS: Plutora is 100% SaaS to ensure rapid implementation and adoption of the solution within your organization. Plutora scales in the cloud to meet the growing complexity of your organization as teams become increasingly distributed.
  3. Vendor-neutral integrations: To provide a unified view across all your releases, Plutora integrates seamlessly into your landscape with an open API and adapters to your existing Project Portfolio Management, Application Lifecycle, Quality Management and IT Service Management tools.

Products

  • Plutora Enterprise Release Manager
  • Plutora Test Environment Manager
  • Plutora Deployment Manager

We think Plutora is stronger in…

Conversion of simple, powerful & common tools frequently used (and easily recognised) by release managers into a web application and expanded to make the most of pivotable underpinning data.

Strong & flexible presentation of critical information, both from pre-configured views & reports, and user-built reporting.

Powerful deployment management command & control function.

Clever system impact matrix with regression-test flagging.

We think Plutora is weaker in…

As a release-focused tool, less emphasis on non- transition related IT Service Management information may mean release decisions are taken in isolation and solved problems are not learned. Plutora offers the ability to add customized data fields and comments for non-transition related information.

Not aggregating change/feature resource cost into release-level capacity monitoring (and instead doing this manually) feels like a missed opportunity.

Some medium-sized IT organisations do not have 25 users, Plutora’s minimum license. Less focus on technical release aspects such as build/integration tooling, though this is on the feature roadmap.

In their own words…

Plutora’s purpose-built SaaS solution for Enterprise Release Management, Test Environment Management and Deployment Management enable you to manage complex application releases with transparency and control. Using Plutora, organizations can deliver higher quality software more frequently to meet customer demand with no impact on downtime.

Plutora ensures high-quality, on-schedule releases by driving enhanced enterprise collaboration and coordination for all key elements of a successful release: timing, composition, status, and stakeholders across their lifecycle – with ease. Real-time dashboards show release schedules and how they are tracking according to governance gates within the release framework.

Plutora provides a unified repository for all release information where users can source data, including project dependencies, without needing to piece together the shape of a release from multiple sources. Plutora integrates with your existing IT management tools to ensure that no data needs to be manually re-entered by users.

Customers

Over 30 enterprises across the globe as of March 2015, including Telstra, ING Direct, Boots UK, News Corporation, and GSK, manage $5 billion of releases using Plutora.

About this review

This was an unusual review, since Enterprise Release Management is an emergent discipline, combining both technical release management and project-delivery capabilities, but with an operational focus.

As an emergent discipline, there are no standard ways of dealing with the inherent challenges in this field, so the assessment of quality comes both from a mixture of judgements made during the review, in-depth use* and trusted industry awards. In this last category, Plutora has pedigree: named by Gartner as ‘Cool Vendor of the Year’ in 2014.

This review was written on the basis of a maximum 2 hour demonstration of the 5 key capabilities by each of the vendors. It is not exhaustive, and some capabilities which you especially require may be present in the tools but not covered in this review. As such, if you believe that Enterprise Release Management tooling is appropriate for your organisation, it is worth speaking to Plutora to ascertain best fit for your specific objectives.

*and thus not part of this review

Assessment Criteria

  • Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & templated processes
  • Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders
  • Managing resource and environment usage
  • Using data inside or connected to the tool and built-in intelligence to help inform release activities.
  • A single tool to remove reliance on spread sheets, calendars or manual processes.

Functional Review

Plutora is purpose built to enable end-to-end release tracking in a single solution. It comprises 3 modules: Enterprise Release Manager, Test Environment Manager and Deployment Manager.

A release in Plutora comprises a number of customer-specified phases that focus on their respective exit gates, and each has a checklist of activities or exit criteria a release manager would need to have completed before moving to the next. For example, a ‘QA’ phase exit gate would be reliant on, say, Completion of Functional Testing, Completion of Performance Testing and Signed Off Test Completion Report as activities required to move to the next phase.

Once a release ‘model’ has been built using these phases and checklists, it is then very easy to clone this to a new release. According to Plutora, many of its customers prefer using this cloning approach to template their releases rather than building dedicated theoretical templates which may themselves require overhead to manage and keep up to date. The cloning approach allows a maturing release management organisation to learn and adapt quickly to changing situations – taking only the elements they know work and evolving them organically.

Additionally, some customers of Plutora also use this cloning feature and general checklist features to build operational maintenance checklists – so, although the tool is heavily targeted at the change delivery side of the organisation, it can also be of significant benefit to operational and technical maintenance functions.

The templating and checklist functionality doesn’t stop there. Implementing a release is another area often devolved to shared spreadsheets, but Plutora delivers not just a single-source-of-truth replacement for these spreadsheets, but in Deployment Manager a clever, real-time command and control capability to let a single release manager monitor, trigger and track deployment steps in multiple releases simultaneously with internal or external delivery teams.

Once the work has been put into ensuring that the individual releases are accurate, the aggregate view starts to take shape and provide value. The Plutora Enterprise Release Schedule provides a tailored view of all releases. The schedule can be detailed, showing all phases, gateways and environments, or quickly summarised into a powerful senior stakeholder view. The schedule also supports diverse delivery approaches, whether agile, continuous delivery or more traditional waterfall as well as the simple operational checklists mentioned earlier.

However release management tooling is not just about visibility of the release schedule or implementing releases effectively. Plutora has two additional features, the release capacity planner and the systems impact matrix which add data-driven intelligence to release management.

The systems impact matrix is a simple-seeming view of dependencies between systems and releases. This on its own is a useful tool, giving a summary of which releases touch which applications. But the really clever bit is how Plutora not only identifies which systems are being touched by the release, but which linked systems are also impacted thus needing a regression test. This feature alone could make the business case to purchase Plutora.

The release capacity planner is also a useful feature. It allows release resource ‘containers’ (eg. number of test cases) to be specified and tracked in an accessible and easily summarised view, letting release managers clearly articulate release capacity. However my only major criticism of Plutora is that this capacity specification is manual and performed by the release manager. Since many ALM tools with which Plutora can share data (eg. Jira) can contain the development & test effort within their own records, it would seem logical for Plutora to take in this change-level data and aggregate it into a total release effort measure (adding extra overhead as necessary for release-level activities). The overall size of the release container can still be defined by the release manager, but the usage of each container could, and in fact should come from the individual change/feature records, and Plutora doesn’t do this. Despite this, the capacity tool is still incredibly useful for discussions with the business about setting realistic delivery expectations and customized fields can be added to incorporate additional information relevant to the release management process.

The last core area of functionality is test environment management. Test Environment Management in Plutora is fairly tightly coupled with the rest of the release functionality in planning and executing releases, but there are a couple of additional features worth noting.

Plutora contains an environment request and approval tracking system to allow projects or releases to book time in specific environments. Combined with the system impact matrix described above, Plutora’s ability to ingest data from external configuration/discovery tools and the ability to define complex environment groups of related systems makes for a powerful management suite to make better use of non-production environments.

The Test Environment Manager also has its own version of the release schedule (but from an environment-centric view) and likewise can be used to easily identify & articulate over or under utilisation at a glance. In addition, by specifying those stakeholders within the tool and enabling message broadcasts, clashing stakeholders can be made aware of contentions and work to resolve the issue.

This feature actually extends throughout all of Plutora. Stakeholders, systems, organisations and more are specified when initially configuring the tool and message broadcasting can be selectively activated at release or environment level.

Finally, reporting. Plutora has obviously invested considerable time and effort in getting reporting right, with pre-configured single-page overview reports providing real value to release managers as well as keeping senior stakeholders happy. The reporting dashboard is also configurable, allowing release managers to build graphs and displays from data within the system and then combining these into a personalised dashboard. This isn’t revolutionary functionality, but it is solid and well executed in Plutora.

Verdict

Enterprise Release Management tooling is ostensibly about removing the array of spreadsheets that proliferate to manage scope, timelines, environment usage and cutover plans. Plutora not only does this exceedingly well, its also used the opportunity to add some intelligence and polish to the tool to make people’s lives easier and improve the quality of the release passing through it.

Plutora is the tool one release manager would build for another. Plutora has taken existing practices, made them collaborative, structured and business-ready, then extended them to both pre-empt and answer the most common questions asked of release managers or that release managers ask of themselves.

Feature by Feature Summary Scoring

Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & template processes ★★★★
Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders

★★★★★

Managing resource and environment usage ★★★★★
Using data inside or connected to the tool and built in intelligence to help inform release activities.

★★★★

A single tool to remove reliance on spreadsheets, calendars or manual processes.

★★★★

Scoring Key

★★★★★ – Advanced features well developed

★★★★ – Advanced features present

★★★ – Solid coverage of basic requirements with some additional/advanced features

★★ – Basic requirements covered, some less thoroughly than expected or with minor gaps

★ – Not all basic requirements, significant gaps

Last words

Plutora is the tool which, in the reviewer’s opinion, embodies the term ‘Enterprise Release Management’.

It will work well in busy, large IT organisations and whilst it has a place in supporting operations, it feels targeted firmly at the development/delivery side of the IT organisation where teams of project managers, release & environment managers and more can collaborate with tooling they already instinctively know how to use.

Appendix – Screenshots

DISCLAIMER, SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created. Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed. Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline and not as the ultimate source of truth. Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study. This is a paid review. That is, suppliers included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge. The ITSM Review © 2015.




1 Response to " Enterprise Release Management Tools: Plutora "

  1. […] In these organizations the challenge lies in supporting a diversity of approaches to Continuous Delivery Management. How does one model and plan software releases in an organization practicing both planned releases and releases on demand? And, as the industry shifts to a fully self-service, continuous delivery model how can release managers adapt to these changes and create systems to encourage good CDI governance? […]

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