This summer I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion that brought together IT’s most innovative thought leaders with some of North America’s top CIOs. And we gave the CIOs the chance to ask the panelists anything. Here’s what happened.
When three of the most respected information technology thought leaders came together with 20 of North America’s top CIOs for an hour and a half in New York City this summer, the result was a compelling discussion about the future of IT.
Pythian supplied the panel of experts at the Velocity of Innovation CIO event: Paul Vallé, Pythian’s founder and CEO; Gene Leganza, vice-president, principal analyst serving enterprise architecture professionals at Forrester Research; and Otto Toth, CTO at Huffington Post. And the attendees supplied the questions, covering an impressive range of topics.
More than an exchange between panel members, the 90-minute session fully engaged the audience in a discussion about everything from agile software development and the importance of being a data-driven business to such forward-looking matters as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
This blog post is the first of a series that focuses on topics covered in the Velocity of Innovation discussions in New York, and concentrates on the first question addressed: putting innovation and agility into practice.
Question: Innovation and agility are common buzz words to describe what everybody wants. What have you explicitly done to get better at innovating or to make your organization or your clients’ organizations more agile? And how has this push for agility impacted either your enterprise architecture or your enterprise culture?
Otto Toth: Innovating quickly is not always in the best interest of the business, or it may not be easy to do properly. It can actually work against the business. Instead of moving faster, being very agile can slow down everything.
Everybody has a different perception about what agile should be and we have our own definition. We started to build our own CMS three years ago. We started very agile, building everything simultaneously. Later, we decided to use Scala as the programming language, but it’s hard to find people who are educated in this language.
A year ago, I changed the process a little bit. Now we break down the process into small pieces and modules. After three years in development, we finally shipped the first module of our CMS. This is an interesting story about how big agility can slow down the whole process.
Most users don’t really know what they want. Too many decision-makers just slow down the process. It’s better to have a few selective people or a core team who make the decisions and dream about features that are not available.
Gene Leganza: What makes an enterprise agile is being able to sense what’s going on in the marketplace and responding to it. What’s happening in your marketplace is about being able to deal with data. The ability to understand everything that everybody is doing and everything their friends are doing because of available data means you can be in tune with the marketplace as never before.
What does that mean for your organization? Data modelling and data integration are starting to migrate to the business side, where people are doing self-service analytics. If you try to keep up by jumping on some of this technology, you may shoot yourself in the foot. Instead of being on the leading edge, pay attention to what’s going on and when you figure out how to do it right, then do it as soon as possible. You avoid shooting yourself in the foot and you’re not that far behind the leaders of the dot-coms.
The flip side of agility is innovation. An interesting aspect of innovation is getting really hot talent into your environment. Getting the right talent and doing smart things and being leading edge are challenges. You have to figure out what level to drop in on, where you are in the industry. Are you a startup or are you a state organization that needs to be a fast follower?
Paul Vallée: Addressing what Otto Toth highlighted, tying up capital for three years is an enormous cost, in carrying costs, as well as competitive posture. Any solution you imagined three years ago has three years of technical debt when it launches. Three years is about the amount of time we expect the system to last before renewal. This is a key problem that the agile development methodology tries to tackle.
If you can create high bandwidth, you have access to a lot of knowledge and a lot of insights. Then you have low latency, and you’re able to respond to what you learned quickly and you’re able to inform your business decisions.
Your systems must be alive and you must continuously push them forward and tighten up your release cycles. You should try to release four or eight times a year, and eventually get to a point where you can do multiple releases per day, and even do per feature releases.
Per feature releases are ideal in an agile world. It gives you the high bandwidth, the low latency and feedback loops. And a per user feature enablement lets you create an A/B testing capability for new revolutions of your application. Moving to per user feature enablement and per feature releases is an enormous transformation and has everything to do with agility and velocity.
Audience comment: As a CTO manager, what resource do you use to be skeptical of smart engineers who want to build things from scratch?
Otto Toth: I have a very simple rule that if the service costs less than an engineer’s one-year salary, then don’t even think about developing it. Two weeks can turn into two years and 10 people and can result in nothing.
Gene Leganza: There’s a notion at the engineer level that agile means “There’s nothing between me and creating a solution. That’s what you hired me for and I have the smarts. And I don’t want any bureaucracy.” Then there’s agility at the enterprise level, which is about reducing risk and understanding how soon change can be in production.
What I tell people is it depends who you talk to. The higher up you go, the more people are going to be receptive to what improves the whole portfolio rather than one project.
And this is where architects come in, someone who has been hands-on, and has the credibility and knowledge to guide the organization more strategically.
Interested in being a part of a discussion like this one? VELOCITY OF INNOVATION is a series of thought-leadership events for senior IT management hosted by Pythian. Pythian invites leading IT innovators to participate in discussions about today’s disruptive technologies: big data, cloud, advanced analytics, DevOps, and more. These events are by invitation only.
If you are interested in attending an upcoming Velocity of Innovation event in a city near you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To view our schedule of upcoming events visit out Velocity of Innovation page.