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

Dave Johnson: an update on Co-op engineering and our AGM

(Transcript) Dave: Hello I’m Dave Johnson, I’m the Director of Digital Engineering here at the Co-op. This is our weekly digital blog and I’d like to share with you some of the progress we’ve made in the last week.

The Digital Engineering team, which I am responsible for, builds the foundations on which we build all our services and new digital products. We focus on architecture, cloud platforms, some new ways of working such as DevOps and we do that at scale so you’ll see our services across the whole of the Co-op.

This week is a really big week for the Co-op and for all our members. Our voting packs went out this week and if you’re an eligible member you’ll have received a pack to vote on the motions for our AGM which is on Saturday the 20th of May. We’d love
for you to join us and you’re welcome. But please remember to tick the box within those voting packs letting us know that you’re coming, so we can be ready, and we look forward to meeting you here in Manchester.

And we have some colleagues to celebrate this week too. Firstly, Sam Johnson. Sam is a new general manager of The Federation, our new tech hub that we built here in Manchester. Wendy Coello has also joined us. Wendy will be leading our member and colleague communications here at the Co-op. We’re also celebrating a big promotion: James Boardwell has been promoted to Head of User Research here at Co-op Digital. Well done James.

Finally, if you’d like to join Co-op Digital we continue to hire. The blog’s up to date and we’d love to hear from you.

Thank you.

Dave Johnson
Director of Engineering

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. It’s an international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). 

Events in Manchester celebrating Ada

Emer Coleman, Gemma Cameron and myself are taking part in a number of events in Manchester over the next couple of weeks to celebrate Ada, everyone is welcome to join us.

Manchester Digital  Ada Lovelace Day – Fireside Chats
Tuesday 11th October

Ladies of Code at Autotrader – Mob programming with Clare Sudbery
Tuesday 18th October

Ada: The Empowered Technologist at ThoughtWorks
Thursday 20th October

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada was a writer and mathematician and is most famously noted for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Babbage worked on the design of the engine itself (the hardware) and Ada on paper explaining what the engine did. Ada’s notes on the engine include what is now recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine –  what we now call software. Ada is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Babbage had kept his thinking on his analytical engine to the analysis and output of numbers. Lovelace had expanded that thinking to the analysis and output of symbols. This meant that the machine could analyse and output words, music and pretty much anything and everything – the modern notion of universal computation.

Whilst neither lived to see their work become a the reality we know today, they had 100 years earlier anticipated the implications of modern computing.

Picture of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage
Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage

An opportunity to celebrate diversity & teamwork

I also see the day as an opportunity to celebrate what can be achieved when individuals from very different backgrounds, generations and sexes come together and work as a team. Lovelace and Babbage are a great example of that.

As you celebrate Ada Lovelace Day this year, celebrate the achievements of women in STEM, but also celebrate what amazing things diverse teams can achieve when they work together.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson
Business Architecture & Analysis

 

Delivery in engineering

I’ve recently joined the CoopDigital team where I’ll be heading up delivery for engineering. I’m currently supporting the teams getting our new membership  ready for public launch in the Autumn.

Picture of the team working on new Co-op Membership
Some of the team working on new Co-op Membership

As you can probably tell if you’ve been following our blog, you’ll see that we are growing our internal capability to ensure we can support new and existing businesses with digital expertise.

I’ve worked in digital since 2000, but in the last 6 years have specialised in Agile delivery for media or retail applications. Most recently I was part of a BBC team that transformed ways of working for some key TV and mobile applications to ensure that value was delivered incrementally, enhancing the end user experience and reducing waste in getting there. This involved smaller multidisciplinary teams that were product led with the end user at the heart of all prioritisation.

The team here is in it’s infancy but with some exciting work lining up and an open culture where continuous improvement is encouraged I am very excited about being part of the team that can help set this up for success.

If you’re interested in getting involved and helping to shape our Delivery culture why not have a look at our existing vacancies.

Anna Dick

We’re Hiring Again.

Dave and Polly recently talked about our how we’re looking for lots of talented digital people to join us  @CoopDigital.

We’re now looking for some more people to join Dave’s digital engineering team:

Service Manager
Service Analyst
Principal Engineer
Principal Developer
Principal Architect

Follow the links to find out more and apply. If you have any questions about any of the roles you can either comment on the blog or find us @CoopDigital.