Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where does innovation come from (clue – it’s not IT)?

Somewhere in my previous post I stated that in the online economy innovation comes from the bottom not the top, something that I thought at the time was fairly uncontroversial.

Last week I attended an IT seminar, and two things struck me. First, I really don't work in IT - although I don't know what the alternative is; does the VP product development at Google put "IT Consultant" on their passport? Probably not, but what else is there? Anything else seems a little pretentious.

Second, my comment about innovation was quite controversial. The assembled crowd (mostly CIOs / IT Directors) nodded in agreement when the panel suggested that innovation was a luxury in the current climate, and that all that really mattered today was business value as measured by cost reductions and efficiency gains.

But if your business is technology, how can you not innovate? I was astounded at the assumption that innovation was something could be turned off. I may be very fortunate in my current job but my role is essentially controlling the unstoppable flood of innovation from our development team, and directing it towards some appropriate business objective. Turning it off would be unthinkable, if even possible without losing the team itself.

Someone at the seminar gleefully announced that the fabled Google 20% time was all but gone now, and even the mighty search giant had succumbed to market forces. Well, possibly, according to the HR team, but I'll bet a lot of money that the innovation continues unabated, 20% time or not. Google's scheme was more about encouraging what goes on anyway, with or without formal recognition.

The Internet (capital 'I') has matured to the point where it now represents an industry sector in its own right. On the Internet innovation is endemic, and comes from the youngest, keenest, coolest people in the room and not the oldies in the comfortable chairs. And it's a lot more fun than IT.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Old v. New

Some quick thoughts about the comparison between old Enterprise projects and the new style of web projects:

Category Enterprise Web
Project style Waterfall - Design, Develop, Test, Deploy, RUP Agile - rapid iterations
Innovation Top-down (Business Requirements) Bottom-up (Google 20% time, Communities)
Team structure Vertical - developers code complete spikes from web to database Horizontal - front-end team is split from (and a client of) back-end team
Software COTS Products - expensive, well-supported commercial products (ATG, IBM, MSFT) OSS Frameworks & Patterns, Community-led initiatives, Bespoke 'glue', products for specific functionality
Development Environment Restricted software tools, homogenous environment, complex approval process Heterogeneous, open, embracing new technologies (best tool for the job)
Development Languages Java, .NET, C++ PHP, Perl, RoR, Python, JavaScript, …
Buzzwords SOA, SaaS, Compliance jQuery, Memcache, LAMP, JSON, API, OAuth, Mashup
Web Services SOAP,WS-* REST, JSON, POX
Documentation Offline - licensed developer accounts; formal training courses Online - updated on the fly, available to everyone
Architecture N-Tier Distributed
Infrastructure Best-of-breed hardware, design against failure Low-end hardware, expect failure and design accordingly
Database Normalised, strict schema, referential integrity Denormalised, dirty data, lazy-loaded
Data access Direct – ODBC, JDBC, ADO.NET ORM Framework, Cache, Services
Requirements Secure, Scalable Flexible, Fast
Hero clients / employers Government,
Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, BBC, Twitter, Next Big Thing
Success Criteria How big can we grow, how secure is our data? How fast can we react to change, how far can we scale?