Disruptive innovation


First appeared in BizCampBelfast on 2010-08-09

Disruptive innovation sounds like a contradiction. It is a way of thinking changes how we see technology. It makes us rethink how we apply tried and trusted practices and it usually shatters our assumptions, lowers costs and increases revenue … oh yes, and terrifies competitors.

This week I want to talk about data. To misquote Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “data, data everywhere and no one stops to think”. The Ancient Mariner was surrounded by water he could not drink: we are surrounded by data we do not exploit to the fullest. There are three opportunities with data and each, in its own way, is highly disruptive:

Whose data is it? This is not so much a question about where the data came from (though that in itself is a worthy subject for a blog post) but who owns the data? We have developed a very secretive mentality about data, and for good reason. Much of the information stored on servers today is confidential, often subject to regulatory restrictions and sometimes personal in nature. But what about the business data?

Let’s think about an example: imagine that your computer systems maintained your inventory levels for the raw materials of your business. You would use this information to plan when to order more supplies. It would trigger your negotiation process with your various suppliers and you’d place an order with the one offering the best price/service/quality/delivery characteristics. Then a month or so later you’d do it all again.

Disruptive innovation: what would happen if you let your suppliers have access to your inventory of raw materials? They would now be able to predict when you were about to reorder and, instead could come to you with their price before you ask for it. In fact they could manage their inventory based on the rate of consumption of your inventory. This means they could get better prices from their suppliers and pass this along to you. They could also use the data offer to top up your inventory with lower volume but at high volume discounts when they were cash strapped and did not want to wait until the end of the quarter for your order. Everyone wins. Why is our inventory level a secret from our suppliers?

Who controls the access to the data? Usually ICT does: but why? Surely the data belongs to the business and ICT are the custodians and control access on behalf of the business. The business should determine who has access and the business should specify what access they want. ICT should provide that in a form that can be easily consumed by business users.

Let’s think about an example: Why don’t we let marketing do programming? Well this is a silly question really. Of course marketing can’t do programming! ICT does programming and marketing does … well no one is really sure what marketing does; we just know they run the website. But the website is made by programming HTML (etc). So why can’t marketing have access to all the business systems for incorporating directly into the website? If you, or someone in your marketing organization, wants to let people order your products and services from the web why not let them?

Disruptive innovation: It is their data, their systems and their business. ICT has to get out of the mindset that says they own all software development. Patently that is not true. Have you seen the kind of spreadsheets the business is using today? A disruptive innovation is one that empowers the business to exploit technology without asking for permission, what Alan Davidson of Google called “innovation without permission”. This empowerment means that the business can solve some of their business issues through empowering technology provided by ICT without getting an ICT project spun up.

What is the next killer app? Most business users are very familiar with using Microsoft Excel. In fact they excel at it (sorry – just too easy). The problem with almost every spreadsheet is that the data it contains is static, it is a snapshot in time of the data as was. Invariably some person dedicates their life to keeping the data up to date by copying it from some existing business system. The next killer-app is one that allows MS Excel to feed off live business data. So as you look at the spreadsheet the numbers are moving in real time! So where is this app?

Let’s think about an example: Next time you present your figures to the bank manager, or the board, or your shareholders ask yourself this, “Are data that are a month old good enough for this audience?” If the answer is “no” think about how you could present live information, up to the second, to your audience. Think about all of those government studies that are decades old that we use to make investment and funding decisions upon. If only we see the current situation as it is happening. Paul Ottellini, CEO of Intel, said that the next thing to be obsolete will be “Ignorance”.

Disruptive innovation: demand that all data that is displayed in every situation represent the current situation. Prohibit users from copying data and showing a moment in time to make their decisions. get users used to the idea of numbers that move, trend up and down, have seasonal, even hourly variations. Unless you can feel the heart beating in your organization you will never know how it really works. Once you a plotting the patterns you can see how the changes you make, the decisions you make, affect your business. When the bank manager asks you what your income show him that it just grew by 2% as he was asking about it. Now that would impress the heck out of me.

Putting control of, access to and a way to consume data in the hands of business people is Empowering Change that lets them run their business. Our job in ICT is to make this possible and to do it in a way that is secure, scalable and compliant: but it is our job to make it happen.

About Kevin

In the past year Kevin has spoken at 20 conferences and seminars on a range of leading IT topics, including methodologies, business analysis, quality assurance techniques, governance, open source issues, tool interoperability, release management, DevOps, Agile, ITIL, from the mainframe to distributed platforms to the web, mobile, wearable and embedded systems. He is a much sought after speaker, recognized around the world for his provocative and entertaining style. Kevin is a 40 year industry veteran, holder of three technology patents and today is VP of Worldwide Marketing and Chief Evangelist at leading Application Development and Deployment vendor Serena Software. In the past decade he has been crossing the globe and has met with over 4,000 people. At Serena he works closely with industry analysts, the press, customers, partners and employees to exchange ideas about industry direction and business issues. He was born and educated in the UK and lives and works in the Bay Area, California.
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