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April 6, 2014
ShipConstructor

ShipConstructorRelease_Blog

SSI products have evolved over the last 25 years but so has SSI’s release strategy. ShipConstructor used to release new updates and hotfixes very regularly (multiple times a day) to meet our clients’ needs. However over the last few years we have intentionally decreased the frequency of releases. By doing so we have significantly improved the quality of each update which directly impacts our clients by allowing them to update more frequently and gain the improvements of the new releases earlier.

If you look at the frequency of our releases over the history of SSI (Albacore Research Ltd and then as ShipConstructor Software Inc. and finally SSI, we have gradually slowed the number of releases, especially if you consider the number of releases we used to do back in the good old days (2000’s).  I am not certain of the record amount of releases we had in one day but there is a SSI legend that admitted to sending out over ten releases in a 24 hour period. This is not why we call him a legend 😉

For the most part, reducing the number of releases was intentional because SSI’s products and services were evolving as well as our clients’ needs where changing.  The success of SSI’s products allowed many of our clients to grow by enabling them to design and build vessels in a very short time frame with meeting their deliverable requirements.

Just before the period where SSI identified we needed to change how we offer our products and services, we just completed a full rewrite of our flagship product suite ShipConstructor. This total reconstruction of ShipConstructor was a very ambitious project and was new territory for any software application at the time. Combining a RDMS (SQL Server) using DDROM with the AutoCAD foundation unlocked many new opportunities for SSI and our clients, but more importantly paved the way for future growth.

During the first couple of years after we released the software we still had a lot of work. We had the normal issues of working out the kinks of the new platform but also we had a huge increase in the number of feature requests. This was not surprising because the new platform of ShipConstructor opened the door to enormous possibilities which we are just scratching the surface of.

With all these requests coming from our clients and our goal to complete the most amount of features as possible, we soon realized that our new platform was building a lot of technical debt.

Technical Debt is metaphor to explain the idea that when you are implementing features quickly and taking shortcuts by avoiding proper software design principles you are accumulating Technical Debt in your product. This Technical Debt may not be seen by the users of your software but over time, implementing new features and improvements will take much longer which therefore is the cost or interest you pay on your debt.

The accumulation of this Technical Debt does not make for a sustainable product which is why over the last few years, we have really concentrated on paying off this debt but more importantly to build a better environment which allows us to develop new features and products of high quality with significantly less effort. As of today we have a pretty modern and sophisticated system allowing us to test builds daily on customer projects and workflows which allows us to catch any issues much earlier in the design phase. As with any industry catching issues earlier is much more efficient and allows us to be significantly more productive ultimately benefiting our clients and in turn SSI.

So what does this all mean?

More frequent releases without sacrificing quality and stability.

Closing Remarks

SSI has always provided frequent releases and updates to our software products, especially when compared with other vendors in our industry. However I believe that times are changing and we need to improve the frequency and quality of these updates. To do so we first needed to focus internally in how (tools & process) we develop our software but also how we collect information from the industry and translate the requirements into tangible features in our products. Overall my goal is to give our clients the improvements they need as quickly as possible and have them focus on designing and building ships.