The previous post in this series, discussed issues confronting an enterprise and how they translate into the need for building innovative applications, and here is an outline the sandbox that could meet this need.
While it is easier to understand the need for innovative business applications, enabling their development in an enterprise is not easy. Let us explore four major factors that shape an enterprise innovation platform.
Speed: An enterprise innovation platform should enable applications to be developed quickly, integrated with data sources or System of Records in the company, and deployed for ready use by the business. While the speed of application development is important, it is also necessary to get the user experience and scalability right – two traditional time-consuming elements.
Ideation: Innovative applications need ideas, inputs, and participation from many different people in the enterprise, even during stages of development. While most developer tools are not accessible to business users and those beyond IT, a collaborative environment provides an opportunity for the company to innovate faster.
Involvement: Apart from critiquing and suggesting improvements post facto, it might be good to involve business users early on in application building. The innovation infrastructure should provide a way for “citizen developers” (business-user-developer) in the company to compose applications using thin software staff.
Evolution: Really, no one knows exactly, and it cannot be pre-determined, what applications are needed for the company to succeed through innovation. At times the specs are unclear to start with or can only become clear when the application (and its underlying intent or strategy) is used in the market. That means the innovation infrastructure must be designed for multi-round evolution of application with zero hindrance to change and always open to chance.
The Sandbox should obviate ‘Shadow IT’
Business users and software developers are not happy at the pace of innovation in their companies and find it hard to understand numerous processes and limitations that prohibit them from moving faster. In some cases, this results in ‘The Shadow IT’. While the intent may be good, the path may prove not to be.
Internet is full of stories of things gone wrong with Shadow IT. The worst of all is when sincere efforts at innovation end up in wasted resources and frustrated talent.
This necessitates an IT-sanctioned platform that not only encourages enterprise innovation but also makes innovation application projects effortless as much as possible.
How the Sandbox makes it easy
The speed and ease of development of apps is the key to enterprise innovation infrastructure (the Innovation Sandbox). Replace traditional methods of long-drawn software projects (possibly through an RFP process) with Rapid Application Delivery (RAD).
Speed of development is important, but not at the cost of user experience of the application. This is important, as every user (including employees of the company), is influenced by the great apps of the consumer world.
Therefore this sandbox environment must enable a wider section of the enterprise to participate in building applications and not be limited to highly professional developers.
Any enterprise application has to integrate with important data stored in the company’s System of Records (applications that hold key data) and perhaps with Systems of Differentiation (applications that automate processes).
Enterprise application integration is achieved rapidly when such integration is done through Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs). The simpler architecture of REST APIs and learnings from the consumer web are finding widespread adoption in the enterprise.
Building an app for scalability is a challenge that can slow down any development team. Gradual decline in hardware pricing and increasing power of commodity hardware means developers no longer need to build software for hardware scarcity, they can assume a scalable platform underneath. The sandbox has to enable designing for the cloud, where applications are built to horizontally scale (through the addition of computing resources as needed at runtime, without the need for software changes).
An IT-administered private cloud (under IT control, flexible on-demand provisioning, and enterprise data-safe, hence private) needs to power the enterprise innovation infrastructure to remove dependence on IT for provisioning computing resources and reduce wait times for apps to become available to business users.
Innovative applications cannot be conceived and built-in in isolation. The wider the participation, the higher the chances of innovation in the enterprise. Collaboration tools integrated into the development process improves visibility of apps being built, API design, and coordination within the team as well as outside.
While the sandbox should be a simple, fully integrated environment, the task of managing such an environment is obviously complex. Doing this complex job of configuring, managing, and monitoring this system, needs powerful and integrated management tools.
Sandbox means freedom
The Sandbox for enterprise innovation (a new piece of software running on an IT-sanctioned environment) should provide the essential freedom from issues that confront today’s enterprise app development teams. The picture above captures the essential ingredients of such an infrastructure. Clearly, to think outside the box is to think rapid development, to think Cloud and rapid integration through published APIs.
As Peter High, the author of “World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs” says “Infrastructure excellence separates proactive organizations from reactive ones.” Creating an innovation sandbox for their enterprise is fast becoming an important responsibility of the CIO office.