We live in a programmable world.
Web-services offer open RESTful APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), allowing anyone to build on their capabilities. Travel websites, such as TripAdvisor, integrate maps through the Google Maps API. News sites leverage Facebook and Twitter APIs to make it easy for their readers to share articles; and Box and Dropbox support APIs allowing cloud file sharing to be integrated into any application.
Consumer devices are opening up through APIs and SDKs, allowing anyone to integrate their capabilities. Fitbit and Up bands allow users to track their activity through applications on their mobile devices or web services. Nest thermostats allow people to remotely control air conditioners in their homes, while Phillips Hue allows control of lighting colour and brightness.
Innovative web service IFTTT (If This, Then That) provides a simple interface allowing anyone to link it all together. Switch on the air conditioner when arriving home. Have the lights turn on automatically when you wake up. Automatically post selfies to your favourite site.
Everything is open. Barriers to entry are disappearing. IFTTT exists because of the APIs it can leverage, and it scales because it exists in the cloud. They created an entirely new service simply by connecting the existing capabilities of others.
Software is eating the world
In a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Marc Andreesen wrote that “software is eating the world”.
“More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defence. Many of the winners are… invading and overturning established industry[s]. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new… companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”
Gartner has predicted that by 2020, “75% of businesses will be considered a digital business or be preparing to become one.” Their more dire prediction is that “by 2017 25% of organisations will lose their market position due to ‘digital business incompetence’”. Earlier this year at CES 2015, Cisco CEO, John Chambers, echoed that position, “In 10 years… 40% of Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist. You must disrupt to survive.”
Disruption is the New Normal
First Amazon killed the bookstore and with the Kindle it killed the book. Uber and Lyft are attempting to do the same to the highly regulated taxi industry. Netflix and Hulu are changing how we watch TV and movies; while Pandora and Spotify are recreating the Music industry… again.
The rise of software and digitisation is driving incredible change across every industry. “Innovation” has become the new business buzz-word—but innovation is not something which can be mandated by the CEO; it must be encouraged and enabled across the entire organisation
IT organisations are often the best placed to drive innovation, as they exist at the intersection of technology and the business. And yet historically, IT has been focused more on project execution and maintaining increasingly complex systems. At the same time, budgetary control is being taken away from the CIO and given to directly to the Lines of Business. IT must now support existing systems with less resources, while simultaneously driving innovation by enabling new services and capabilities.
Reinventing the wheel
IT projects have often operated in individual silos, focusing on concepts like scope and requirements, without necessarily understanding the business drivers. This, in turn, drove IT organizations to focus on deliverables rather than outcomes. Since every project was viewed as a new and self-contained effort, there was little effort to consider existing IT infrastructure and platforms and how they might be leveraged to support the new project, creating an increasingly complex environment of duplicate systems and data.
While the need to address existing challenges and maintain current systems is typically the most pressing concern for IT organisations, driving business innovations can provide quick wins for IT. Mobile applications make a great place to start, as existing web services have typically already been refactored to support both desktop and mobile browsers. By extending those applications to leverage existing infrastructure, IT can enable new innovative services, and generate increased returns on previous investments.
Collaboration technologies are being added into both web and mobile platforms, and through open APIs and SDKs these capabilities can be integrated with existing unified communications and call centre infrastructure. An insurance customer could make a claim directly on their mobile app, uploading photos and using IM, voice, or video to speak with an agent.