Q&A: Planning and Executing QS/1’s Monthly System Updates

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It takes months of planning, testing and multiple departments to produce QS/1’s monthly system updates. In addition, our software enhancement teams develop and troubleshoot throughout the entire development process; a method that produces quality updates faster and provides a level of transparency in what we do and how we do it. QS/1 uses the Agile Software Development Methodology, which creates synergy among everyone involved and instills confidence in our customers and employees.

We recently sat down with QS/1 Vice President of Development and Systems Sonny Anderson, Applications Development Director Adnane Khalil and Market Analyst Jon Bell to discuss the enhancement process.

Q: How do you decide what goes into QS/1’s system updates?

Bell: There are enhancements we know we want to include in each cycle in regards to legislative changes and industry trends. But we also consider requests we receive directly from customers, online via QS/1 Customer Connection and from support agents on customers’ behalf. Legislative updates are always our top priority as they keep our customers in compliance with federal and state laws. Our legal and regulatory market analyst monitors those changes.

Q: You must receive many requests for enhancements. How do you narrow them down?

Bell: Representatives from Customer Support, Training, Sales, Marketing, Systems and Quality Assurance meet to share ideas and come up with a proposed wish list. QS/1’s product analysts evaluate the requests and assign points to each enhancement based on its complexity, the time it will take to develop, size and other determining factors. The enhancements are chosen based on their points value and how they fit into each product’s allotment for the release. Teams lobby for their particular enhancements, but the common goal is to choose those that will have the biggest impact on the most customers.

Q: How many customer requests actually make it into updates?

Bell: The past several updates have included the top two or three request generators from Customer Connection. We encourage customers to use this tool because it is constantly monitored. Customer requests really do affect what goes into our updates. To access QS/1’s Customer Connection, visit www.qs1support.com/CustConnect.nsf/LTCC.

Q: What happens once the enhancements are selected?

Khalil: Once we decide on the enhancements, they go to Development for coding. Then, they are tested by Quality Assurance and sent back for coding, if necessary. The Agile method dictates that we test the software as it is developed, which eliminates the process of testing a huge piece of software all at once, and if issues are found, sending the entire update back to Development. Instead, we use a constant cycle of feedback that allows us to produce a better quality product, faster, and it allows us to react to market demands quickly and demo what we’re building as we’re building it. That way, we’re always on target and avoid potentially building something that doesn’t meet the specifications we were given.

Q: How do developers and programmers manage the coding process?

Khalil: We identify any issues with the code before system updates are finished and expected to be ready to test. Every time we make a change, there is the possibility it will affect something else in the software, and we have to constantly be aware of that. The technology we’re using mitigates the risks associated with making changes, which helps promote innovation without fear. In the past couple of years, we have headed in a completely different direction from a technology standpoint. We have invested in tools to provide greater visibility for product roadmaps and streamlined our software development life cycle (SDLC) process, including using tools such as Aha! product roadmap software, Team Foundation Server (TFS) for project management and IBM® Connections™ for collaboration.

Q: How often are system updates released, and how are they deployed?

Bell: Major system updates for NRx®, PrimeCare®, Point-of-Sale, IVR functionality, interfaces, QS/1 Document Management (QDM®) and ShipRx® are released on a quarterly basis, and SharpRx® is released monthly. We also plan and execute smaller releases in between development cycles, and those are released as Quick Service Updates (QSUs). QSUs are released as needed and often include enhancements that affect a particular group of customers, such as when a state updates its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Addenda are released at least once a month.

Anderson: Our development process is made up of three, three-week sprints. We target and plan for dates, but the calendar doesn’t always dictate when releases are made available. Our software updates are deployed conservatively after they complete a detailed level of testing.

Khalil: Upon completion, system updates are deployed to 14 alpha test sites. NRx and PrimeCare updates remain at the test sites for three to four weeks and SharpRx for one to two weeks. When that phase is complete, enhancements go Limited Live and are sent to 10 percent of customers. The final step is when updates Go Live, and customers are prompted to install.

Q: How can customers find out what enhancements are in system updates?

Bell: Customers can review product webinars and Help documentation on our customer support site, and they can also read about them in Insight magazine or subscribe to our weekly The Edge/The Edge LTC newsletters. The Help topics can also be accessed from within the software.

Q: What happens when customers fail to install updates?

Anderson: Eventually not updating their systems will affect them, if not with features, then with legal updates. But we are encouraged that the number of customers who promptly install system updates continues to increase.

Q: What are the benefits of using Agile development?

Anderson: The biggest benefit is the increased efficiency and time savings. Agile Scrum methodology provides continuous feedback throughout the development process, so corrections or adjustments to an enhancement can be made all along the way. Alternate methods may only allow for feedback at the end, which at worst case, can sometimes require a complete restart. Quite simply, corrections are made sooner so fewer things have to be done multiple times. Additionally, we relocated programmers, developers and Quality Assurance technicians – known as the Scrum team – to sit near each other, which creates synergy, opens up communication, promotes trust and respect and streamlines productivity. We currently have more than 30 employees trained on the Agile method and 11 Certified ScrumMasters®.

Khalil: Additionally, QS/1’s senior management is currently working on a clear strategy for the next several years. We are developing product and technology roadmaps, reviewing marketing and sales processes and taking a global approach and extensively analyzing everything we do. We are currently in the process of identifying and kicking off initiatives that will drive the strategy and continue to positively affect the way we do things.

QS/1 has adopted an attitude and methodology that streamlines processes. Customers are at the forefront of everything we do. Thus, customers’ usage of Customer Connection and communication with market analysts provide invaluable feedback. QS/1 uses that information to code system updates, using the Agile method, that are the most beneficial to our customer base. We are cross functioning, collaborating and planning in a way that makes us flexible, responsive and adaptive, and those characteristics enable us to better serve customers.

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