Technologists guide to disruption - Q&A

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It’s been a couple of years since we first started talking about ‘software eating the world’ what do you think has changed?

It’s definitely accelerating.  If you want to make a comparison, reportedly the technological change that happened in the 12 months following the millennium takes place in around an hour today. Change is happening now nearly eight thousand times faster than it did then. Depending on how you define change, it might be 5,000 times faster, or 10,000 times faster, but the number isn’t the point.

In today’s information economy, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are not the only important large technology companies. As technology becomes more and more fundamental to the way we live, buy, and interact – more companies are realising that it is software or apps that drive great products and services.

Software is eating the world, but it’s not just about the technology companies.  Whether its Google or General Electric, Amazon or Exxon, data and software is redefining how these businesses are run, the services they provide and the verticals or markets in which they operate. But not only that, it’s connecting them to their customers and providing them with a gold-mine of granular and potentially instant information that just wasn’t accessible a decade ago.

In this context – what separates a disruptor from the disrupted?

Disruptors will be those organisations that can take advantage of this trend, and gain insights from that gold-mine first, or at least faster than competitors in their sector. This means utilising the advantage that application data gives us and understanding the story it tells. Whether it’s a story of unexpected use cases, rising demand or experience pinch points, the story behind the data can guide businesses into new models and new services.

Disruptive organisations will be those that can uncover user data fast from technology and associated applications, interpret it rapidly, and take on board different perspectives to guide the correct course. Of course, for this to happen, they also need to make sure that the applications underpinning digital services continually perform and are reliable for users. Disruptors will use application insight quickly, to get closer to their customers and employees, pre-empt challenges and identify growth opportunities to facilitate improvement and innovation.

What role does IT play in ensuring their business is able to compete in such a disruptive and volatile marketplace?

Most executives are wary of change. Change costs money, takes time and requires guts. Without the right support from within the business, inertia, apathy and fear can set in. When Netflix disrupted itself in 2011 by shifting focus from DVDs to streaming, its share price dropped by 80 percent. Very few boards and investors can handle that kind of pain when the near-term need seems debatable. The intangible long-term threat just doesn’t seem as dangerous as the immediate hardship.

Those who recognise the looming shadow of disruption, and seek to be the disruptor, not the disrupted have a mountain to climb. It doesn’t take one person with great ideas, but buy-in and acceptance by all key stakeholders in the business, or those responsible for designing and delivering digital services. Technologists are key to making this happen, by bringing the information to stakeholders quickly and in context, so that decisions can be made based on fact.

You talk about insight, why is that so important to being a disruptor? What kind of information can IT provide the business that can actually drive business strategy?

Navigating disruption effectively and charting a new course means being fearless, but it also takes granular insight, focus and an ability to persuade people of that vision. Applying real-time analytics throughout the software stack ensures that a laser focus on business objectives can underpin every stage of the disruptor’s journey. For Vodafone, serving more than 440 million customers across the world, real-time analytics underpinned a dramatic change in their culture. AppDynamics, replacing multiple monitoring tools, provided the bedrock of a far more collaborative system, where every stakeholder has the same transparent view of business transactions.

Buy-in and acceptance from the wider business is critical to driving change. How can the IT team make the case for disruption easier?

When you can correlate application and user insights directly with business outcomes, making the case for disruption becomes far easier. Insights change the dynamic, rooting a disruptive hypothesis in science rather than uncertainty. Effective interpretation of analytics, in a language the business will understand, linked to business outcomes, will secure C-level buy in.

Being a disruptor requires the digital transformation of a business, removing silos of data and creating real-time connections between all applications.  That is no mean feat, but IDC has predicted digital transformation spending will reach $1.7 trillion worldwide by 2019, so there’s clearly no shortage of investment and transformation is widespread. IT is at the heart of this and with every company focusing on software and tech innovation, it requires IT to embrace its disruptive potential. The call is not to follow the status quo, or even just to follow, but to be digital pioneers who think about the challenges and opportunities posed by digital in new ways, using data quickly to make fact-based decisions.

It’s clear that not every experiment is going to go right – how can IT ensure it ‘fails forward’ in such business-critical environments?

To be a disruptor, an organisation must be willing to push the boundaries, but it can’t rely on gut feel alone. A granular understanding of user and application data is critical to back up any ‘what if?’ experiments and interrogate your findings. Being able to measure against your assumptions and hypothesis is critical. This doesn’t mean being afraid to fail but rather using failure as a learning tool, understanding where it’s affordable, and having the god-eye overview that lets you remediate where needed. For example, when you have a real-time overview of application data, any emerging digital business issue can be spotted, and problems can be averted before it impacts customers.

Using this wealth of data and insights not only helps you take decisions, but minimises the risk of failure.  That doesn’t mean you will get it right every time, but you will fail forward, and move in a direction that will benefit the business incrementally.

John Rakowski, Senior Director of Technology Strategy at AppDynamics 

Image Credit: mohamed_hassan / Pixabay