The question of why innovation and business agility are vital –and independent is one that is top of mind for many organizations.
Business agility is essential to survival. With economic uncertainty everywhere, and disruption in many marketplaces, businesses need to respond fast to change. A key enabler for this ability is an IT function that is inherently good at innovating. IT must produce ingenious ideas that will facilitate the required fast business response, for example by equipping the workforce for mobile working. There are any number of innovative uses of mobile technology: for example, a sales person can take and personalize an order while walking around a shop with a customer; a doctor can receive real-time information about a patient’s vital signs.
IT innovation is essential to business agility. However, you also need agility before you can innovate in IT or anywhere else. Which comes first is hard to judge. Organizations tend to start life with both agility and innovation. However, as they get bigger, their agility tends to become constrained for various reasons. Hence their rate of innovation declines, creating a vicious circle.
Complex though the relationship between innovation and agility is, we can probably agree that both are vital to a healthy business, and particularly vital when a business is contemplating digital transformation (where the organization rethinks aspects of its existence to take full advantage of digital technology, rather than simply automate the existing way of working). Digital transformation implies that a business must be able to innovate digitally to overtake the competition, with enough agility to reshape itself around the resultant landscape. An agile IT department has the ability and opportunity to create what the business needs – or else to go out and find it fast.
This blog post is the first in a series based on the paper: Agility and Innovation in Application and Mobile Development.
On Tuesday December 1st, Uniface was invited to deliver a guest lecture at the Technical School in Amsterdam for the students who have ambition in the Technology area. From Uniface Berry Kuijer, JiaoJiao Xia and I were the representatives to share their knowledge, expertise and real-life experiences with the students.
The presentation started with an ‘Introduction of Uniface’ focusing on few key points, by Berry Kuijer:
-History and vision of Uniface
-Customers and the market span
-Development and deployment
-A live Uniface application development demo
Next in line were Jiaojiao and I to give a presentation about “Scrum in Uniface lab.” We briefed the students about the software development methodology used for managing the product development in Uniface. First we explained how the agile-scrum methodology are being used in Uniface Lab, by maximizing the team’s ability to deliver quickly, to respond to emerging requirements and to adapt to evolving technologies and changes in market conditions.
Second part of the presentation was about showing the ‘bigger picture’ of scrum by giving a real life example and how to apply it in daily life. We gave an example of what started off as a simple story in the lab and then showed how it became more complex and larger because of additional requirements. We wanted the students to understand that in the “real world” of software development, you can’t always foresee everything in the beginning. With the example we gave—we realized more about the complexity of a feature and its impact on the existing software architecture while started working on the feature, and therefore how a particular requirement would than emerge bigger than it appeared before. There are of course many other examples of how things can change during the process of building software.
So we took them from defining the features (user stories) into the wish list (product backlog), proceeded by planning those into workable timeslots (sprints) while reviewing the progress on the daily scrums to present the finished result in the review or demo meeting. Concluding with the retrospective to reflect and learn how to improve the process by knowing what went well and what can be improved. This was emphasized while reviewing examples on how it worked in practice in our teams and with our product owners in Uniface. Finally, we told them that they could apply this methodology to their team assignments and their current studies or practices.
The presentation was well received by the students as the whole atmosphere was stimulated by interaction and interesting questions coming from the students. The concept of SCRUM was very clear and they could relate to our “real life” example when requirements change, get larger, etc. It was a great experience for us and we also believe that the students benefited from being exposed to the perspectives that the Uniface guest lecture team provided.
This week, Uniface exhibited at the Gartner Symposium held in Barcelona. Our team was composed of representatives from marketing, sales and management, with the aim to promote Uniface, whilst also attending sessions held by Gartner and its sponsors. We also took the opportunity to interact with many other organizations that were exhibiting. We embraced the chance to speak to strategic decision makers, during which we had a number of very good conversations, illustrating the unparalleled strength of the Uniface platform and how it addresses the ‘challenges that keep CIOs up at night’.
Wemet many new organizations and partnerprospects as well as existing customers, and lots of people who are part of the Uniface ecosystem. Some of those we met started their careers as Uniface professionals, a selection of which were over 20 years ago.They remained happy to see us going from strength to strength. We also met a world famous footballer!
Having spoken to one Gartner analyst, a key message that came across showed that the world is reacting to the concept of ‘business/mobile moments’, which manifests itself as having smaller focused apps that do one thing well. The huge monolithic applications we know today will transition to API services (i.e. a strong integrated backend) and there will be more targeted single function mobile apps. These will compose the enterprise mobile solutions of the near future. This significant change is touching many parts of the IT industry and the way consumers interact with technology.
To achieve this goal, it is important for organizations to explore and embrace modern approaches, including topics such as Agile, DevOps, Continuous Delivery etc…, all with the goal to improve software quality and the velocity of delivery. Annual release cycles of new solutions have become less desirable, with our industry tending to move to small incremental releases, regularly. Consumers are not worried about version numbers, they just want continual improvement. Given the proposed small changes with each regular release, solution adoption will be better accepted, because each change, although continual, will be gradual. Things will ‘feel’ familiar and evolutionary, rather than creating potential rejection through revolutionary change. This does not suggest the complete end to significant updates by the way.
Now this may sound like a big change to an organization’s way of working…..it is. So how do we address this is a sensible way? One answer is to takeGartner’s bimodal approach. We work in the new way for all new development and innovations, while at the same time continuing in the more traditional modes for existing items, then transition this old style over time. I’ve simplified bi-modal somewhat, however I hope you get the basic idea.
I spoke to a second analyst who also provided some good common sense reminders we all forget from time to time e.g. “What is the best reason to try and reduce the cost of IT?” Some would say “to improve profits.” This seems like a sensible answer and can be, however, it isflawed. A better answer is “to allocate more of the IT budget to new innovation instead of regular maintenance.” Studies suggest up to 92% of resources goes into maintenance, leaving only 8% for innovation. Itis innovation that makes the difference and yields success.
In a conversation with a third analyst, more aspects about future directions were discussed. Hot topics that came up were API’s (…second nature for Uniface), legacy integration/reuse (…another walk in the park for Uniface), web and mobile development (…please give me a challenge) and aPaaS (…you got me!). The last topic is very interesting and something for us to really think about. The market still faces challenges in this area and CIOs are also ‘kept awake at night’ by this. We also talked about the transition from traditional desktop GUI’s to web based and mobile. The trend is rapidly accelerating with the vast majority of new projects now being targeted at API services & mobile, whether that be phones, tablets, wearables or web.
Given the four days spent interacting with many new analysts & organizations, I could write endlessly, so I will stop now and save somefor another day. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures.
Those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I recently traveled to Brazil on what turned out to be one of the busiest trips I think I’ve even done, but it was also one of the most inspirational for a couple of reasons. The most pertinent being a trip to see Bravi in a city called Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. Bravi currently provides outsourced Uniface services, but the thing that really struck me wasn’t anything related to Uniface, it was their use of the Agile methodology throughout their entire company. We have used agile for a number of years to develop and maintain Uniface, we’ve presented it both at Uniface and (non-Uniface) industry events, and as a product manager I’m really a fan of what it brings.
I’d never contemplated using it elsewhere, but I can really see the value it brings from a flexibility (agility?) perspective, and also the visibility it brings within the organization to help make sure people are aware and informed. I really like that it means information, status, etc, are available and those that are interested have the information available.
Next steps, we’re going to start using it in a couple of departments, we’ll start by keeping it quite simple, using kanban boards, probably one financial year will be a sprint, and a whole lot more to think about yet. We’re planning on changing our internal systems this year, and once done, a phase two could be to move to online systems. Some interesting times ahead.
In an era of high user expectation and the demand for great user engagement, Application User Interface (UI) design has never been so important. We’ve heard this message before of course, when the virtues of Web 2.0 and Rich Internet Application were espoused in the mid 2000’s and browser based applications along with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and mobile apps cemented that reality. Many organisations have now caught up and are starting to realise that users demand more usable experiences and providing them can have productivity benefits. The results can often be seen on a business’s bottom line or through competitive advantage. I worked on a call centre application where improvements to the User Experience (UX) dramatically reduced call times and improved the quality of data collected. This led to efficiency within the call centre and improved outcomes for both the business and the customer. Costs were reduced and customer satisfaction rose.
In a desktop first world designers will still need to provide users with great UX. At the same time they need to appreciate the potential for different end user form factors. Application interfaces will need to adapt to alternate screen sizes. The modern desktop could be a traditional 20 inch monitor or a 10 inch touch screen. Where the desktop application spawns mobile apps they will need to have consistency with the desktop experience. A user should be able to move from desktop to tablet to mobile very easily because the app experience is familiar to them. This is best achieved if the original design considers the possibility of mobile from the beginning.
Plan for a “multi endpoint first” future
For all of those development professionals out there who have spent their careers building desktop applications their future should be secure. But they will need to adapt their skills, thinking, tools and possibly their processes to a new world in which mobile may not always be first but will be relevant. Many desktop applications will remain installs but many others will be delivered via a web browser. Equally for the IT decision makers they need to think about investments that are not just about mobile. It is very easy in the current climate to think that the future is mobile and therefore investing in mobile only platforms is the way to go.
Instead they need to consider that the desktop is going to be around for a while and they need to invest in platforms, tools and skills that will support a broad portfolio of applications. Essentially this comes down to being efficient with the code base. Not replicating code should always be a core aim. Creating code that can be tested at all levels of the stack should be a further key ambition; making the functions of that code base available through services to multiple end points should be another. With a services based architecture, the application may be spread across both the company data centre and public cloud environments.
Where development moves to being Agile, development will need to work with Operations in order to speed application changes into production. This will most likely mean embracing a DevOps culture, processes and tools. The modern desktop app will require more regular updates than the old fashioned quarterly release.
There will certainly be many situations where a mobile first approach will make sense in future. Studies show that people are accessing the internet more from mobile than desktop and so for websites mobile first will probably be a good idea in the majority of cases. However, the future will be a combination of mobile, tablet and desktop experiences. Developers and organisations will therefore need to consider each application and in some cases it will make sense to go desktop first.
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