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Supply chain disaster: Do you need an MFT dev environment?

The reasons why you need an MFT dev environment

MFT dev environment - lorries in supply chain disaster

 

In all the years we’ve been working in file transfer, there have been a few occasions when we’ve witnessed the financial impact and reputation damage a system failure can have. This article looks at:

 

  • Why you should think twice before testing in a live environment;
  • When you need to consider a development (dev) environment for your Managed File Transfer (MFT) solution;
  • Details of the six stages for testing and development.

“A few years ago, one organisation was developing workflows in a live environment, and broke other automated processes. The system was down for just a few hours, but the impact was huge. This business supplied products to retailers across the country, but were unable to access the order information. The lorries couldn’t leave the factory and delivery drivers had to be paid overtime. Worse still, the retailers were left out of stock, consumers bought other brands and some ended up staying with that brand. The impact on the business’ finances and reputation were catastrophic.”

 

Richard Auger, Pro2col technical consultant

This particular example could have been prevented if the IT team were developing in a test environment, instead of a live environment. But so many organisations only have a live MFT production licence. That might be to save money, or because decision makers just don’t think a file transfer server needs a test licence. But we know an MFT system is doing so much more than transferring files, so if you have any workflows involved, you need to reconsider.

Is a dev environment business critical?

This will depend on the value of the data your system is handling. Is it critical to business processes? Do you risk breaching service level agreements (SLAs)? Or will you simply not be able to operate, like the example above? While you may be able to send files by some other method for a few hours, it isn’t viable for a sustained period.

You also need a change control policy to meet ISO27001 requirements. While it is down to you to determine the right policy for your unique set of circumstances, example ISO best practice advocates testing in an isolated, controlled and representative environment. Similarly ITIL requires an organisation to follow both ‘change management’ and ‘release and deployment management’ processes from non-production to production systems. It’s an old IT joke that in weaker, less secure environments TIP doesn’t mean ‘Transfer into Production’ – it ends up being ‘Test in Production’ instead.

So to avoid disrupting your system when deploying new releases, building workflows or making other changes, you should follow these six stages for testing, developing and transfer into production:

  1. Sandbox, or experimental environment: This is a local environment no one else can access, where the developer has a working copy of the code. Here they can try it out and change it without putting it live. This environment will typically be an individual developer’s workstation. Once they are happy with it the developer would submit the code to the repository for the next stage of development. Most MFT solutions by default don’t have a sandbox but you can sometimes set it up by installing the software onto a private virtual machine.
  2. Development or integration environment: This is a clean environment where you test how your code is interacting with all the other bits of code associated with the system. The code itself doesn’t get changed in this environment – updates are made to the working copy back in the sandbox and resubmitted. When ready, the developer accepts the code and it is moved to the test environment.
  3. Testing: This is the environment to test the new or changed code, either manually or using automated techniques. You may have different test environments to focus on different types of testing. The developer looks at how it interacts with and impacts other systems and tests performance and availability. If you are upgrading, for example, this will show how your system will behave once the upgrade is in place. From here, the code can be promoted to the next deployment environment.
  4. User acceptance testing (UAT) or quality assurance (QA): In this stage users will trial the software, making sure it can deliver against requirements. Stress testing is also carried out in this stage.
  5. Pre-production, or staging environment: This final stage tests in conjunction with all the other applications in the infrastructure. The aim here is to test all installation, configuration and migration scripts and procedures. For example, load testing happens here. It’s really important that this environment is completely identical to the production (live) environment. All systems should, for example, be the same version.
  6. Production or live environment: Transfer into production – or TIP – is the final stage, bringing the updates live. This is the environment that users actually interact with. This can be done by deploying new code and overwriting the old code, or by deploying a configuration change. Some organisations choose to deploy in phases, in case of any last minute problems.

If you follow these steps you can be confident that any upgrades to the production environment will be completed reliably and efficiently. But if your budget or internal policy won’t allow you to invest in all of these, we would recommend at least a test environment, which should be an exact copy of the production environment.

All our vendors offer test licences at reduced rates. If it’s time to get this set up for your MFT solution, get in touch now. You can contact us via the website or by emailing your account manager.

Interested in a file transfer solution?

Case study: Well pharmacy

Case study: Well pharmacy implements MFT

Leading UK pharmacy simplifies data management with Managed File Transfer

Leading UK pharmacy simplifies data management with Managed File Transfer

​Well is the largest independent pharmacy in the UK. In 2014, it was acquired from the Co-Operative Group by global business leader Bestway Group. With nearly 800 retail pharmacy locations and 7,000 employees, Well issues more than 73 million prescriptions a year. Their organisation proudly provides high quality services and products, providing personalised health and wellbeing services for their customers.

The challenge

After Bestway Group acquired Well, they wanted to eliminate their reliance on a significant number of file integration protocols, which were owned by their former parent company. Rather than duplicate the existing complicated systems, Well’s IT Project Manager used the transition as an opportunity to look for a more cost-effective and advanced file transfer solution. This would need to simplify and manage their automated and manual data transfers, whilst providing greater control and a more secure, reliable flow of data. This was particularly important for financial information such as invoices, orders and Bankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACs) files, among many others. Managed File Transfer would reduce their reliance on multiple solutions and offer the following functions:

  • ​Data management efficiency through one secure, centralised platform for enhanced visibility and control
  • File transfer integration within their environment for business critical applications AND between third-party applications with partners, vendors, or suppliers exchanging data
  • Automation of financial accounting data to save time, improve security and increase accuracy
  • Full audit and reporting for improved diagnostics
  • Rapid deployment of new transfers on receipt of business requirements

“Well streamlined their manual and automated processes, which eliminated the need for any human intervention or coding in various file transfer workflows.”

IT Project Manager
Well Pharmacy

The solution

​Well’s IT Project Manager contacted Pro2col to deliver ongoing support, integration and consultancy. Pro2col worked with Well for two months to identify the right solution and configuration, while still meeting their budget requirements.

With a full understanding of Well’s current and future environment, Pro2col recommended and implemented a solution, which included advanced workflow automation and auditing and reporting capabilities. Pro2col’s technical consultant also designed the platform for future use, offering a recommendations for additional modules that would create a manageable yet robust environment.

Results

Operational efficiency is very important to Well. Customers and business partners rely on consistency, accuracy and timeliness, so they cannot afford to have any of their key data transfer processes falter.

As a result of their collaboration with Pro2col and deployment of Managed File Transfer, Well’s IT department is able to take advantage of a more efficient and improved file transfer system. The automated workflows save the IT department vast amounts of time and effort.

SOLUTION

  • MFT solution
  • Additional automated workflow module
  • Auditing and reporting capabilities

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BENEFITS

  • Data management efficiency
  • Integrates with third-party file transfer protocols
  • Centralised platform
  • Automated business processes
  • Real-time auditing and reporting
  • High volume data transfers
  • Well’s improved business processes, including their centrally controlled standard file archive and retention policy, was organised within clear and logical file and folder structures. This better and more organised process allowed IT support to quickly find tasks and activities involved in the data flows. Well expects to see their 300 to 3000 daily file transfers continue to grow in volume following their transition to Managed File Transfer.
  • Having streamlined manual and automated processes, they have eliminated the need for any human intervention or coding. As a result Well’s financial data transfers are more secure with greatly reduced risk for payment fraud.
  • They have also automated their auditing and reporting workflows, delivering improved diagnostics. This has freed up time in the IT department to fix existing problems, prevent future problems, and minimise vulnerabilities like failed data transfers, gaps in security, or data breach attempts.
  • Well needed an order and response mechanism for the newly acquired set of pharmacy branches. Pro2col designed an automated process for Well to poll every 30 seconds, pick up the file, transform it from xml to plain text, and return a notification of receipt within two minutes to emulate the process within branches prior to the acquisition.This custom policy automatically transformed certain files from an XML file to a plain text file and provided the sender with a receipt notification. The automatic notification system was a key workflow that Well relied on before and after the acquisition.
In the end, Well was provided with a new system capable of supporting the data flowing from its 800 UK-based retail chains, third-party vendors, and healthcare providers. Despite the overhaul of its old systems and a lot of consolidation, Well’s IT department and Pro2col were able to deploy their new advanced file transfer solution without interruptions to its business or customers.

About Well

Well is the largest independent pharmacy in the UK. In 2014, it was acquired from the Co-Operative Group by global business leader Bestway Group. With nearly 800 retail pharmacy locations and 7,000 employees, Well issues more than 73 million prescriptions a year.
Pro2col can advise you through the different stages of your file transfer and integration project to make sure it’s a success. Whether that’s scoping your requirements, product demos and proof of concept / evaluation, negotiating the best deal with vendors or installations and training, call 0333 123 1240 or complete the online contact form.

“Despite the overhaul of its old systems and consolidation necessary, Well’s IT department were able to collaborate with Pro2col to deploy their new advanced file transfer solution without interruptions to its business or customers”

IT Project Manager
Well Pharmacy

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