Digital Innovation — Building Successful Systems And Architectures

Five people in suits around one computer used only with one hand.

1. Missing benefit for the consumer

Out of the blue during the budgeting meeting the manager exploded: “Our customers need an App!” and continued “It should all be electronic!”. While some wonder what the cause behind this sudden interference in brain cells was, others jump aside and said “We need to become a technology company!” or “Let’s overcome our legacy business model!”. Phrases that sound all too familiar for many and often are the early beginning of technology initiatives going into the wrong direction before even starting.

No need to be a hipster: It is possible to build innovative solutions without ever growing a beard.

2. Perfect solutions and the missing problem

It is the “self-unpacking chocolate bar”, the “personalised printed newspaper” or the “bluetooth-enabled coffee cup” — awesome solutions using technology, except no one really needs them. These solutions were invented because they were technically possible, not because they solved a specific problem of mankind using technology. All too often new and exciting technologies arise and people start looking for problems this technology could solve.

3. Microinventing overhyped

When communication like “We now provide all product images in high resolution” is celebrated as an innovation then an organisation has successfully engaged in overhyped microinventions. Don’t get me wrong: it is crucial to improve and optimise your offerings continuously, but it is important to focus on the big picture. All too often those microinventions, with only a small impact on customers, are celebrated as galactical achievements.

4. Reinventing the square wheel

How about an app were you can easily send messages to all of your friends and family. Doesn’t that sound awesome? Yes it does and it is called Facebook, WhatsApp, Hangout, Telegram or Signal. And how about a service with only a text-field and a button that easily allows you to find websites and information on the Internet? Exciting. And that is called Google.

Building innovative software is not a party — it’s people sitting in front of a computer writing code.

5. User centricity — “It looks too programmed!”

Have you ever been inside a nuclear power plant’s control room, inside an aircraft cockpit or a submarine? They are full of switches, buttons, screens, controls and other things you can kill thousands, if not millions, of people with. If you then look at complex software like the image editing software Photoshop or the 3d rendering software Blender, you might get a similar impression.

6. Distrusting technology — even in technology

It is not uncommon to hear things like: “If we migrate to super cloud, then super cloud controls us, can steal our business. We become hostages of super cloud. Super cloud is evil.”. Not all people in technology are the same. Some prefer Linux, others Windows and many others Mac OSX. Some program in Visual Studio Code, others use Sublime Text, some prefer plain text editors. Some people love to use AWS Cloud, others prefer to use Google Cloud and some think that “there is no cloud, just other people’s computers” and deem cloud computing and cloud services evil.

A plan without execution is worse than an execution without a plan. Execute more than you plan.

7. Plan, plan, plan — never execute

The meeting ended with a “We should carefully review and evaluate the decision before starting the project” and there goes execution down the dish washer. A good plan is always there to be changed. In fact looking at methods like the Unified Software Development Process or the Scaled Agile Framework, you will notice that execution is key. In the digital era, absolutely nothing is set in stone. Software can be updated almost instantaneously. A bugfix for a website can be deployed in seconds, a mobile App updated in minutes. Server-side code fixed immediately. With state-of-the-art DevOps processes including continuous delivery, patching software has become a process end-users don’t even notice anymore.

Colored notes look nice, but don’t produce code. Stay organised, but build more than you organise.

8. The Water-Scrum-Fall Daily Stand-Up

“We’re an agile organisation” said the managing director and added that he himself often participates in the “daily stand-up meeting”. Their new super technology, according to the project plan, will be finished and released in around six months. If you’re aware of software development methods and the core foundations of agile frameworks, then you’ll realise that there’s a conflict in that information.

9. The almighty arguments against it

You all heard “this will never work”, “our systems can’t handle it” or “that change is a risk for our infrastructure”. My favorite argument however is that “this is technically impossible”. Impossible is impossible in a world were it just takes people, time and money to complete something.

Become successful by solving important problems using technology — as simple as that.

10. This doohickey is the future!

It sometimes starts with “Supercorp uses Bogustech now, so we should also implement Bogustech as soon as possible” and there we have “the next big thing” apart from that there really is no next big thing anywhere in the world. All the products we love are products of sweat, tears and hard work.

Nothing explodes overnight

Decades ago no one knew whether the iPhone, Google or Amazon would succeed, but both continued to solve important problems for their customers and users. They did that for a very long time until they became successful. All of them are extremely user focused, never accept anything as given, continuously question everything including their own work and they are willing to remove things if unsuccessful. They work on data and don’t believe in myths or technological fairytales. At the end of each of their projects, there very often is a very successful product.

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Jan Kammerath

Jan Kammerath

I love technology, programming, computers, mobile devices and the world of tomorrow.