The New Disruptive Business Normal: How to Innovate From the Inside-Out

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

Change, iteration and disruption are synonymous with today’s business landscape. If we define disruption as “interrupting the normal course of things,” then perhaps we need to redefine what “normal” is.

Today’s businesses must develop, deliver, and innovate in record time to keep up with constant technology advancements and continual customer demand. While disruption was once a rarity, today, it is a day-to-day reality. Now, companies are either disrupting, being disrupted, or perhaps, doing a bit of both.

No industry or business is immune to disruption. Consider the music industry. Digital music, including online services such as Spotify and Pandora, represented 39 percent of the total music industry revenues in 2012, up from 21 percent in 2008 and close to nothing a decade ago. Incumbent enterprises in every industry — from retail to financial services — must innovate at the same pace as market disrupters.

As an ever-increasing number of businesses must transition quickly to software and online services, software is the disruption epicenter. From a competitive standpoint, a company must be able to create software, deliver it and continue innovating on it. And this innovation must occur frequently and rapidly. In fact, software must become a core competency for enterprises. In addition, innovative technologies including mobile, social, cloud and big data are fueling software-led market disruption. Forward-looking companies are putting these supporting technology disruptors to work for them, in turn, to achieve “disruptive” business results.

Take Amazon, for example. Once an online bookseller, Amazon disrupted the book, retail and digital media industries to become a $74 billion company. The company also built an ever-growing web services business, Amazon Web Services, whose revenues are projected to hit over $8 billion by 2015. In fact, Amazon’s cloud disruption positioned it as the cloud market leader. Results from one Forrester survey indicate that 62 percent of developers using cloud turn to Amazon Web Services “as a source of raw processing power,” ahead of both Microsoft Azure (39 percent) and Google Cloud Platform (29 percent).

Amazon’s ability to rapidly deploy new software across its whole platform is integral to the company’s success. Amazon, it has been reported, can update 10,000 servers at a time and roll back changes with a single system call. The company’s continuous delivery environment allows Amazon to push out new code once every 11 seconds.

The core question is: How do companies develop, deliver and deploy every 11 seconds? Do you sacrifice speed for quality or vice versa?

Enter Continuous Delivery.

Continuous Delivery of software, in the words of Jez Humble and David Farley, who wrote the best known book on this topic, “aims to make releases boring, so we can deliver frequently and get fast feedback on what users care about.

Continuous Delivery is a collaborative, agile software delivery process that involves deploying smaller sets of features more frequently. With more frequent and smaller releases of software, companies mitigate risk by making it easier to identify and correct potential problems more rapidly. In other words, frequent, smaller application changes are a strategic advantage in maintaining product service/application quality.

In addition, Continuous Delivery involves significant automation and shared dev and ops visibility. Automation is applied to application testing and also to the deployment steps of bringing that application from development to production. Meanwhile, both dev and ops teams have shared visibility into an application’s behavior as it progresses from testing into production. This automated process brings applications from development to production, quickly and frequently.

So, why are automation and shared visibility such important capabilities when it comes to successful application delivery? As it stands, there is a huge disconnect between IT and business departments. IT is struggling to quickly meet business demand for innovative software. While more than half of business leaders now expect projects to be delivered within six months, 70 percent of those same companies admit it takes longer than that. Even worse, 40 percent of companies admit that it takes more than a year for IT departments to produce solutions to support innovative ideas.

Continuous Delivery bridges the speed and innovation gap between business demand and IT, enabling businesses to increase the pace of innovation, improve product-market fit, reduce cost, reduce risk and improve quality.

Companies that invest in Continuous Delivery derive real business benefits. One major benefit reported by companies:  a 19 percent increase in revenue, according to a late 2013 study of 1,300 IT executives and managers sponsored by Computer Associates. (Another survey, conducted by Puppet Labs, reveals that organizations that invest in devops capabilities deploy code 30 times more frequently than their peers, have 50 percent fewer failures and are able to restore service 12 times faster following failures.

Clearly, modern companies must adapt — and innovate — to survive and thrive. Part of that adaptation process involves operating in a constant state of change — developing and delivering applications frequently — and innovating from the inside-out to match external disruptive forces. Continuous Delivery is the vehicle for achieving the “new business normal” of speed, agility and innovation. Enterprises who do not acquire a Continuous Delivery capability will risk being disrupted by the faster moving companies that do.

Original article published on Wired: Innovation Insights.

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    Andi Gutmans

    CEO and Co-founder at Zend Technologies