LaunchDarkly helps Booz Allen and Recreation.gov react in real-time, while reducing release risk
Booz Allen worked with federal partners to reinvent the experience at Recreation.gov – a platform that offers access to 3,600 federal facilities and over 103,000 reservable destinations across the US. The site supports 3.9M camping reservations and 4.2M online transactions annually. Booz Allen transformed Recreation.gov, delivering an incredible customer experience to more than 32M users seeking access to federal lands every year. Recreation.gov was an investment for Booz Allen, designed collaboratively with participating agencies, but at no cost to the Federal Government. Instead of a traditional cost structure, the unique contractual agreement is a transaction-based fee model that lets the Government and Booz Allen share in risk, reward, results, and impact.
The scale of Recreation.gov is enormous and changes to the platform have implications on millions of travelers across the US, as well as thousands of employees managing and administering US federal lands. Booz Allen had an internal feature management solution in place and the team was already releasing frequently, at a velocity of over 10 times per day, but faced a few key challenges: 1. Deployments were inflexible because the team was unable to decouple deployments from releases. Decoupling deployments and releases would allow for forward development progress even when a feature may not be code complete. 2. Real-time control over their features was unavailable. This made big events, such as the opening of reservations for the most popular campgrounds at parks such as Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park, particularly challenging. These highly competitive campsites book in just minutes and the team needed to react instantly when issues arose. 3. The development and concerns triggered by COVID-19, made informing users with custom, contextualized messages essential, as access and rules varied between different parks and destinations. Booz Allen sought a feature management solution that could support these needs and empower additional team members to take action on release days.
In addition to adopting a number of modern technologies supporting e-commerce, DevSecOps best practices, and a microservices model to support their reinvented experience on Receation.gov, the Booz Allen strategic innovation group determined that partnering with LaunchDarkly would enable necessary real-time control of their codebase and a new level of release confidence.
As Booz Allen uses trunk-based development to build Recreation.gov, feature flagging the majority of their features, helps to keep their trunk clean and tidy. Even the newest features can now be tested in production, validated as needed, and rolled out across the platform. An example of this is the site’s support chatbot. In developing this feature, the team was able to deploy code before releasing the functionality broadly. After a successful rollout to a subset of site visitors, the chatbot functionality was rolled to all Recreation.gov users.
With robust feature management in place, Recreation.gov has the control required to keep the site functional, make changes in real-time, and ensure a quality customer experience even on their highest traffic days. The ability to turn any feature on or off in less than 200ms alone provides the Recreation.gov team confidence in their releases. If things go awry, the team can immediately toggle features off and troubleshoot the issue without more broadly impacting site visitors.
Finally, providing the most up-to-date, contextually relevant information about any given destination previously involved engineering support. COVID-19 surfaced the need to empower facility employees to inform users about the virus' impact on access to US federal lands. The platform team’s feature flag for alerts, paired with granular targeting, helped many employees at multiple sites easily provide accurate information.
The technology teams at Booz Allen now operate with the freedom and independence to use tools and technologies like LaunchDarkly, to achieve their most ambitious technical goals. Adoption of LaunchDarkly has occurred organically and was implemented seamlessly as an option for teams to release with more confidence and have more control over the Recreation.gov user experience. With successful changes to the experience of both those administering federal land and users from across the US hoping to book campsites, as well as, enabling effective and immediate communication with millions of individuals across the US about COVID-19, the Booz Allen team continues to be excited about how LaunchDarkly and other development best practices will empower their development teams going forward.
With releases on Recreation.gov happening only once or twice a year for some inventory types, there isn’t room for mistakes. Feature flags enable us to silently validate releases in production before public sales and rapidly configure features in real time when needed.
Chief Technologist, Strategic Innovation Group at Booz Allen Hamilton