Founded in 1966, Tyler Technologies (NYSE: TYL) has spent decades building technology solutions for the public sector. The company delivers software and services that help local, state, and federal entities to connect with their constituents and solve problems in their communities. Tyler’s portfolio is massive, with 37,000+ installations across 12,000+ locations in all 50 states, as well as Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, and other countries.
To deliver at this scale, it takes a technical army, and Tyler’s engineering organization has grown to include over 2,400 software engineers and other development professionals. Each belongs to one of eight, semi-autonomous business units that focus on a particular solution category, such as public safety, education, public administration, or judicial services. In addition, the organization occasionally absorbs new teams and technologies that come from acquisitions.
StackShare Enterprise gives engineering leadership visibility into the technologies in use across these disparate teams, and helps them drive standardization, reduce tech debt, and reduce risk across their technology portfolio.
The downside of too many choices
Previously, Tyler’s business units operated independently and had full autonomy in their technology choices and governance. With a plethora of choices available, especially for cloud-based development, it was easy for developers to integrate any number of third-party services into their applications without having to involve IT or system integrators.
As a result, Tyler’s tech stack mushroomed. “We had people making poor technical decisions,” said Jeff Green, CTO at Tyler. “People would duplicate capabilities that we already had, or not remove obsolete technologies, which all led to increasing levels of technical debt.” More technologies also meant higher costs and more risk. “Not only did we have to support an ever-growing number of technologies,” said Green, “but it also increased our risk exposure to security incidents and other issues.”
Lack of visibility made the problem worse
Engineering leaders knew the problem existed, but they had no visibility into who was using what, so it was nearly impossible to manage. Their first step was to establish a cross-divisional governance committee and tech radar methodology to help set standards and guide people towards the best set of technologies for their use cases. The committee posted guidelines on Confluence, but not everyone would check it, and the wiki pages would become outdated as soon as they were created. Again, visibility was a core issue. “There was no way to implement our guidance other than the honor system,” recalled Chris Cummings, Senior Director of Architecture at Tyler, “and it was extremely difficult to check up on what people were doing.”
Standardizing first on GitHub, then on StackShare
One major standardization effort at Tyler was to move all source control repos to GitHub. Early on, someone on the governance committee suggested looking at StackShare Enterprise, which seamlessly integrated with GitHub, due to his experience with the StackShare Community. The team did a brief trial of the platform and recognized its potential for Tyler. “We quickly saw that StackShare Enterprise was a game-changer for us,” said Green. “It didn’t take much convincing — we were ready for it.” Cummings concurred, “Our decision to go with StackShare Enterprise happened so fast, it was really a no-brainer.”
The StackShare Enterprise rollout happened quickly over just a couple of weeks. Initially, the team connected about 1,000 GitHub repos to StackShare, which automatically created stack profiles for each one with reports layered on top. They also replicated their tech radar on the platform and tagged each of the technologies in use. This gave everyone instant visibility into the connected stacks, as well as an idea of the size and scale of the company’s technology footprint at large. Company-wide webinars by the StackShare team helped to build awareness and get developers and architects on board.
Better oversight and lower risk
For engineering leaders, StackShare has become a critical part of their management toolbox. “I use StackShare a lot,” said Green. “I check in regularly to monitor our outstanding technical debt across the company, and alerts on Slack keep me updated on stack changes.” StackShare also helps leaders manage the various stages of technology adoption. Cummings said, “StackShare helps us keep track of our technology decisions — which ones want to adopt or retire or deprecate — and communicate the status to everyone, so people know what they should or shouldn’t use in their applications.”
The security team has also found StackShare to be a valuable tool for oversight, automating what was once an extremely time-consuming, manual process. The platform helps them easily understand the composition of Tyler’s applications, as well as quickly identify and address issues. “We worked with StackShare to build additional capability into the platform to find vulnerable packages,” said Green. “Now, if our security team hears about a vulnerability, StackShare instantly tells them who’s using that package, so they can notify the right people.”
Reining in tech debt
With greater visibility, Tyler is able to continually work towards managing tech sprawl and reducing tech debt, particularly in frameworks or packages that are not on long-term support. For example, the security team recently used StackShare to find all of the teams using .NET Core 5, which was nearing end-of-life, so they could easily notify them of the status and take steps towards remediation. Engineering teams are also using StackShare to track their migration process from Jenkins and TeamCity to GitHub Actions.
The many benefits of real-time intelligence
After a year of using StackShare Enterprise, Tyler has made significant progress towards its governance goals. “We now have visibility into the technologies in use across the company,” said Green, “and we can proactively manage adoption and retirement. We can have oversight without having a heavy hand in making decisions for everyone.” Key benefits include:
StackShare has given everyone much more time in their day. “StackShare has saved us hundreds of hours compiling, maintaining, and updating information on our tech stacks,” said Cummings. “We can now track it all in real time.” Because the platform takes care of day-to-day governance, the cross-functional committee has refocused their efforts elsewhere.
Standardization via StackShare also helps Tyler save costs. Green said, “We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars so far by moving people to a standard set of technologies, with the potential to eventually save millions. We can then reinvest the savings back into products or other areas of the business.”
Tyler’s new visibility also opens new opportunities for reducing the number of vendors where possible. “It’s all part of reducing sprawl, reducing our risk profile,” said Green. “StackShare makes it easier to manage our vendor and partner relationships.”
StackShare’s built-in community tools, both internal and public, make it easier for engineers to learn more about particular technologies and share their own experiences. Cummings said, “StackShare’s transparency into our applications has been a big help in improving the overall knowledge flow across the company.”
Standardization is a journey
At 3,000 repos and counting, Tyler is connecting more repos everyday. StackShare has helped track the standardization process as new repos are connected to the platform. As Cummings said, “We're making progress, but we're a very large company and it takes a lot of work to turn a ship this size.”
Going forward, Tyler’s engineering leaders will keep a close eye on the StackShare roadmap, so they can take advantage of new features like redundancy identification that will help them further reduce tech sprawl.