Explaining the tech behind the new ‘one Co-op’ site

We talked about our work to bring each Co-op business area under the coop.co.uk url in our post One Co-op, one website. In it we explained why we’re doing this and our progress so far. To recap: in the past, having completely different websites for Co-op Food, Insurance, Funeralcare, Electricals, Ventures and Legal has worked ok for the business. However as the Co-op changes we’re finding this inefficient as well as expensive, and the online experience for customers and members is visually inconsistent.

The thinking behind our work isn’t revolutionary but the cultural shift is.

This post explains the technical reasons why moving to a single url will help save time, energy and money. Plus it describes how we’re doing it.

Slow to build, expensive to run

Before we could start designing the pages people see and the content people read when they visit a Co-op website, we knew we needed to build a sturdy infrastructure.

We looked at what we already had in place and found that our many individual sites were:

1.Slow to build

When building websites, it’s standard practice to create different ‘environments’ for the team to test new content and new features on before making the website available to the public. Most teams will use 4 of them (development, testing, staging and production) and each one of these takes time to build. As it was, we had 5 sites, all with 4 environments. This meant that not only was our infrastructure slow to build, it was also expensive in terms of colleagues’ time.

2.Expensive to run

Aside from the environments, the costs include hosting (where each website lives on the web), and subcontracting third parties to maintain the sites (writing copy, adding it to the site, updating it as well as looking after site security). In most instances, Co-op colleagues didn’t have access or permission to make changes themselves.

We needed to find something more sustainable – something cheaper, quicker and easier to update.

The solution: what we’ve done

When we’ve been explaining what we’ve done to non-technical people at our show and tells, we’ve borrowed an analogy from Docker – industry leaders in this kind of work. I’ll paraphrase.

Let’s think about the most sustainable infrastructure we could build for the content across our businesses to ‘live’ in.

At the moment, many websites from across the Co-op business exist on their own – so let’s say the content on them lives in ‘houses’. Houses are self-contained. They have their own infrastructure, for example, plumbing, heating, electricity and security. A lot of time and cost is involved in building and setting up all of those things.

Apartments, however, are built around shared infrastructure. The plumbing, heating and electricity is shared and there’s a communal door to keep the inhabitants safe and secure. Sharing these things means that building websites is quicker and that running them is cheaper.

We’re trying to bring the content from across the business to the same place – so instead of leaving it and trying to maintain it all in self-contained websites (houses), we’re beginning to house it together in ‘containers’ (flats) under one roof in a ‘cluster’ (an apartment building).

containers-jpeg

You can see the full blog post ‘Containers are not VMs’.

Benefits we’re seeing right now

Moving everything to the single coop.co.uk url is a work in progress. However, we’re already starting to see benefits. Since we started using containers, it’s taken just 50 minutes to create the environments we need to test and deploy to – this used to take up to 4 weeks.

We’re also saving 57% on platform costs a year. As it was, we were paying Amazon to host 5 sites, all with 4 environments. As we move everything across to our own single platform we estimate the saving will reach 70% on what we were paying out.

Benefits we expect to see shortly

There’ll be more benefits to come too. For example:

  • our costs will reduce dramatically when Co-op colleagues can design, write content, publish and maintain our sites ourselves rather than paying third parties to do it for us
  • our costs will decrease when we can host our sites ourselves and look after security internally
  • our engineers will be able to make changes or ‘deploy’ more quickly
  • we’ll be able to build in and manage security and resilience from the start for all new sites
  • we’ll save time when we fix things or add new features because we’ll make one change rather than the same change in 20 different places because our new site will use the same architecture

How we got here

This piece of work is truly transformative in the way that it will, and already is, improving things for any Co-op colleague who has involvement with a Co-op website; the Co-op as a business as well as Co-op customers and members who’ll benefit from a much more joined up online experience.

We’ve come a long way. There’s still a long way to go. We’ll keep you updated on the blog.

Graham Thompson
Principal engineer

2 thoughts on “Explaining the tech behind the new ‘one Co-op’ site

  1. John McCulloch February 22, 2019 / 8:16 am

    The surprising thing is that it has taken so long for the Co-op to move with the times. It is as though each project was done in isolation without concern for the common good of the organisation. Let us hope that this new process is adopted and quick.

    Like

  2. amymcnichol2 February 22, 2019 / 4:00 pm

    Hi John, thanks for your comment.

    As the post explains “The thinking behind our work isn’t revolutionary but the cultural shift is.” So, what would be standard for a younger yet similar-sized organisation takes time, patience, buy-in for an older, more traditional organisation like the Co-op. The ‘new process’ *is* being adopted – we have a team dedicated to it and Nate’s post covers this briefly: https://digitalblog.coop.co.uk/2018/11/15/one-co-op-one-website/

    🙂

    Like

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