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CI/CD / DevOps / Tech Culture

How Betting Company William Hill Embraced DevOps

Adopting DevOps widely has enabled William Hill to take a step back and look at solutions without constraints.
Jun 24th, 2020 12:03am by
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GitLab sponsored this post.

Gareth Sephton
Gareth is Infrastructure and Cloud Tooling Product Owner at William Hill.

My infrastructure team at William Hill supports a worldwide team of developers and we are fully embracing DevOps.

William Hill, a global online bookmaker, has been a technology innovator since its inception. After shrewdly starting with phone and mail betting alternatives to on-course wagers back in 1934, the company added betting shops from 1966 and moved into online betting in 1998. William Hill has continued to invest in technical innovation capabilities, notably by moving some operations to Gibraltar in 2009, setting up U.S. operations in 2012, and acquiring Grand Parade 2016 and Mr. Green in 2019.

Despite William Hill’s structured subdivisions, or channels, the defining characteristic of our tech teams is their split to ensure a focus on product design and customer experience: teams are now working in company tech hubs in the UK, Gibraltar, and Krakow in Poland.

These teams combine developers, testers, engineers, project managers, scrum masters, and product owners, for development and delivery. In its support role, William Hill’s central operations team is in the fortunate position of being able to take the lessons learned from each individual channel and use them to help and guide others.

With global betting heavily regulated, most legal changes require significant work from internal channels to ensure local compliance while maintaining revenues. For example, the 2019 Triennial Review in Europe led to maximum stakes on UK fixed-odds betting terminals being cut from one hundred to two pounds sterling. This change caused a big challenge to the business’s retail arm. By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992) was unconstitutional was one of the exceptions, since it allowed individual states to permit betting. This has led to a gradual opening up of market opportunity States-side, while the UK retail opportunity has shrunk.

Amid changing regulations, we have to innovate, reshape the business and adapt. The real key to success is having talented, motivated and engaged people creating a high-performing organization, and teams gaining mastery of their craft.

To successfully drive our strategy at the technology level, our goal was to build a centralized platform that any development team can use to become more productive, with production-like environments, set-up of deployment strategies for DevOps, integrating the monitoring, including the information security team’s security tools, and bring it all together.

Borrowing from Design Thinking, our infrastructure support team interviewed key tech colleagues face to face, to gain a deeper understanding of their needs. Channels reported that they wanted the development pipeline to be centrally managed, with more stable and reliable tooling and fewer tools. They also wanted autonomy at a service level — having enough knowledge to assemble their piece of the jigsaw while retaining overall visibility. With this defined ownership, different teams could work together more effectively to deliver value faster for William Hill customers.

A centralized platform helps any development team become more productive, building production-like environments, setting up deployment pipelines, incorporating monitoring, and even integrating the security tools that our infosec team have to offer. It helps bring everything together.

Continuous integration, delivery and deployment are the Holy Grail of the DevOps toolchain. Being able to safely take that code commit through the various quality gates and put it into the customers’ hands, with no human interruption, is the dream.

William Hill had been using GitLab, as its source control repository since 2015. As part of the new DevOps strategy, the infrastructure team looked at how the different development and tech teams could benefit from wider product adoption.

Through the Design Thinking interview process, the central team had discovered GitLab stood out in the CI/CD area, as the one product that people liked — high praise from seasoned developers and engineers.

Implementing DevOps

Adopting DevOps more widely has enabled William Hill to take a step back and look at solutions without constraints. In a highly-competitive market, the technology might change, but the knowledge and experience built up over time and that teams can maintain are invaluable.

A centralized platform helps any development team become more productive, building production-like environments, setting up deployment pipelines, incorporating monitoring, and even integrating the security tools that our infosec team have to offer. It helps bring everything together.

But DevOps involves everyone, including our network, monitoring and infrastructure teams, the lot. We’re all pushing the “as code” approach using GitLab. The key for us is building a platform — not individual products or tools — that brings together the best our different teams have to offer.

Other Benefits

Expanded use of GitLab also enables teams to locate capabilities agreed to earlier. Different teams can tap into the skills and experience across all of the company’s tech expertise. And by integrating services by APIs, and getting people from different channels to contribute to each other’s codebases and dependencies, there doesn’t need to be one team that knows everything.

The platform is also simplifying the longstanding question of how best practices can support innovation. The teams can build best practice and safeguards into the tooling and can enforce it, as needed. We are not only improving our delivery time skills, we are giving teams the confidence to trust the products we’re delivering to our customers.

To embed DevOps capabilities across the business, William Hill’s infrastructure team is working with GitLab and the Amazon Web Services professional services team. As a result, we are not only improving the internal experience but also maximizing relationships with vendors and third parties.

The team’s long-term aspiration is to provide a library of proven infrastructure builds. Using an open source philosophy, everyone can contribute; and this will in turn encourage the re-use of best practice, rather than trying to centrally dictate standards.

DevOps Becomes Reality

A long-standing vision is becoming near-reality. A paragraph in the DevOps Handbook that inspired me states: “imagine a world where product owners, development, QA, IT operations and infosec work together, not only to help each other, but also to ensure that the overall organization succeeds.”

My own shorthand DevOps definition is: stop asking people to do things and instead show people how to do it themselves. And make it simpler by automating it. Our people working together and the wider uptake of DevOps are key to realizing these technology goals and the company remaining that most trusted brand.

Gareth Sephton is speaking at the Virtual DevOps Enterprise Summit in London, which runs from June 23-25.

Amazon Web Services is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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