Why you need to eliminate innovation rot and crush the app backlog

The demands for new apps, both customer and employee facing, are at an all time high. IT and app backlogs are worse than ever. Innovation rot can infest your organisation. Here’s how to clear through the disinfest of your business.

It’s been more than a decade since Nick Carr published his then provocative and hotly debated piece IT Doesn't Matter in the Harvard Business Review. The article argued that enterprises were spending too much on IT and that the competitive advantage obtained by spending on IT infrastructure reached a state of significant diminishing return.

Carr’s statement was true then, and it’s even truer today. A decade on and we are still seeing the problem with IT backlogs. In fact, it’s worse now than ever. The pace of business has increased. To make things worse, the rise of mobile and the app economy may just be the straw that breaks the IT camel’s back.  

Cloud computing has been around for 10+ years now. Salesforce.com has been doing it for 13. Investing in infrastructure is a dead end. It doesn’t solve the business needs. It doesn’t address the backlog. The only thing it does is increasing the time and money IT must allocate to keeping the lights on.  

But infrastructure is only part of the problem. And the backlog is not entirely IT’s fault. The other side of the coin is dated development and organisations’ practices to innovation. This innovation rot, as I often refer to it, infests an organisation until it manifests itself in the all too common statement: “I don’t know where to start.”

Over the years I’ve spoken to thousands of businesses and IT shops and seen this innovation rot take hold due to project release cycles imposed upon us 10-20 years ago when a software solution required distribution of CDs or floppy disks and weighty tomes of functional specifications. The cloud disintegrated that model years ago. It’s time for IT and businesses to do the same.

At salesforce.com, we’ve identified a number of ways enterprises have successfully cleared their app backlog. And here’s how:

Adopt agility. The walls are coming down around enterprise IT, thanks to increased enterprise agility, continuous deployment, and the tighter integration of development and operations teams. Roles are converging so that applications and infrastructure move more quickly, existing applications iterate more swiftly, and operations, development, and infrastructure bottlenecks are minimised. Agile development and operations teams lead to very short app backlogs.

Leverage the cloud. We’re not just talking about infrastructure services that merely eliminate hardware, storage, and the associated systems and maintenance costs, but platforms that enable you to concentrate on the core applications your business needs to focus upon to compete effectively.

This is why businesses that really do want to focus on their core efforts are turning to cloud platform services that make sense for them. You’ll want to look for a fully managed, multi-tenant infrastructure that can scale to meet your anticipated business needs. There are a number of other critical platform questions, too. Can the data be provided wherever the user needs it? Does it help alleviate security, privacy, and regulatory compliance demands? And can the platform help with role-based identity management and provide for access control that can be audited? All of these things being provided as utility help expedite application development and to clear your app backlog.

Pick development platforms wisely. The more people in your organisation who can develop apps the better. The right app development platform, typically incorporating visual toolsets, will make it easy for anyone to develop useful apps, databases, and business process workflows with having to write very little code.

Build for mobile first. It’s a mobile-first world. Any strategy to eliminate app backlog will consider mobile as a critical aspect. It’s not just about developing mobile apps for the sake of mobile apps. It’s about leveraging how people want to work and access the people and data the way they prefer and wherever they happen to be.

This means connecting to the data held within back-office systems with engaging user interfaces, security, and access to teammates through social media. This is exactly what Kimberly-Clark did when it wanted to add a layer of agility to its existing ERP systems. Kimberly-Clark’s mobile work tracking apps now enable the B2B team to see the progress of projects and be able to interact with customers instantly. And by using social technologies, its employees now engage more closely with consumers, can continuously improve its product offerings, and build more customer loyalty.

Find your MVP. Embrace the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). With the MVP you deliver the essential features an app must do for users to effectively get done what they need to. While the MVP often refers to apps developed for sale to enterprises or consumers, it also has a strong place in the enterprise and in mobile development. Only focusing on and delivering the essential features wastes no app development time on fluff or bad ideas. That’s how the MVP is a power way to help clear app backlog.

Consider an App Store. Large companies with business departments and development teams spread throughout the company don’t always (actually, rarely) know what apps have already been developed. The risk here is that many apps are built in duplicate and the app backlog is inadvertently exacerbated. A private enterprise app store can help make that, and other, problems go away.

Enterprise apps stores – for traditional, mobile, and web apps – are a place where IT teams and other business units can place their trusted, vetted apps for enterprise use. Unlike app stores such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store these stores are for enterprise use only. Think of this as a convenient way for enterprises to embrace BYOD while still maintaining necessary controls over the apps employees use. And by properly vetting apps, it also helps to improve security and regulatory compliance.

It’s time to break the app backlog cycle and rid your organisation of innovation rot. Don’t blame IT alone for the backlog. Businesses must eliminate the cause of the infestation. It doesn’t take a massive organisational change. It just takes that first project – that MVP that you can put in the hands of an influential rep, or champion. You’ll be surprised how quickly good ideas spread.

Quinton Wall is director of technical platform marketing for Salesforce.com. Reach him @quintonwall.


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