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A perspective on collaboration and co-development in today’s digital era

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During the last year, I have with curiosity seen new types of partnerships being established between “traditional” ICT players and industrial companies. New commercial models, sometimes consumption-based, are being proposed by vendors, and sometimes also expected by clients in the ICT industry. The range of services and deliverables, and the ways how companies develop these, is also growing rapidly.

Zooming in on the part of collaboration when deliverables are getting developed and deployed, I have noticed many good examples of fresh thinking and some interesting aspects related to the earlier mentioned topics. Below I discuss of two examples that build on experiences from the collaboration between IBM and Vaisala.

1. Data as a service

One interesting example of a new form of collaboration is IBM’s and Vaisala’s co-operation around lightning data. This is about IBM making data of lightning strikes globally and easily available on IBM Cloud. The observation data is gathered by extremely accurate and reliable Vaisala sensors and managed by Vaisala through its global lightning data sensor network, and then delivered through IBM to various users, in practice as a data service.

As such, “lightning data” may sound as a niche offering, but one can quickly find many interesting and broad use cases, like validating insurance claims or improving safety for airport ground crews. “Vaisala is proud that IBM selected us to be their single source for lightning data. Our NLDN network has provided the most uniform coverage in the USA for over 20 years, and our GLD network continues to offer the best detection efficiency around the globe. We’re thrilled to bring this highest-quality data to customers through an industry leader such as IBM,” says Casey McCullar, Head of Lightning at Vaisala Digital Solutions.

One of my perspectives on this collaboration between IBM and Vaisala is that it underlines the commercial and growing value that data may have, as well as the potential to differentiate from competitors with data. The view is also shared by my colleague Christian Bengtson, Sales Executive for our weather offering: “This interesting collaboration can be seen as a concrete example of a data-driven business, leveraging the benefits that cloud and API-based deployment architectures are promised to deliver. We expect significant growth for this business in the future.

2. Distributed agile development

Self-organized and cross-functional teams, iterative and agile approaches, and changing targets are often the norm today in the development of software or digital services. Such agile setups are often approached with the thought that the development team(s) should ideally sit under the same roof to e.g. facilitate effective communication.

But agile development can be done in several different ways. For instance, distributed agile development is based on the basic notion that all team members are not, or do not need to be, physically in the same place. Such a distributed approach can also be driven by certain business needs or the strive for particular benefits: access to larger pools of experts, cost-efficiency as well as time-to-market are three very concrete benefits of “distributed agile”.

IBM and Vaisala are currently co-operating in the development of software and digital services based on the distributed agile approach. The time zone difference between the Boulder and Bangalore teams is almost the maximum possible, 11:30 or 12:30 hours, depending if you look eastwards or westwards. This aspect is important and tackled by e.g. flexibility in working hours and focusing on frequent and detailed communication between the teams.

Another particularly interesting aspect in this collaboration is process maturity. The development processes in use by these teams are designed to be highly mature and the focus of continuous optimization. In fact, the IBM team has been successfully reviewed in a CMMI Level 5 audit, a widely-used industry framework that appraises process maturity, with “5” representing the highest obtainable level. These practices have also been aligned with Vaisala’s operating model which is based on lean principles.

My thinking around this second example is that distributed agile development approaches, if properly setup and governed, can make a significant impact. They have the potential to deliver flexibility and agility that many are seeking for today. And significant cost-efficiency and scalability can be achieved compared to agile approaches based on co-location. And last but not least, high process maturity provides support for that distributed agile can be suited for very demanding and mission-critical software development.

For any further questions do not hesitate to contact me at magnus.torronen@fi.ibm.com

Industry Executive

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