How you can lead in enterprise app innovation

By Jonathan Crowl

The need for effective business applications is greater than ever, regardless of your industry and whether you are B2B or B2C. As enterprises pour more resources into this development work, problems inevitably arise.

A frequent point of concern centers on the relationship between business and IT. Successful cloud-based innovation requires a greater collaboration between these two groups but business leaders often have different expectations of what IT can, and should, deliver. According to an IDC study, The Changing Role of IT Leadership: CIO Perspectives for 2016 (Doc # US40662915, December 2015), more than 40 percent of executives see the CIO as an innovation officer, yet only 25 percent of CIOs think of themselves in that light. This disparity highlights the substantial difference between perception and day-to-day activities and resourcing.

Many organizations are, therefore, seeking better methods for developing applications that meet both the needs of business leaders and the enterprise. As a global consultancy with the DNA of a startup, the IBM Bluemix Garage, is a practical enhancement to the development arsenal of these organizations. The “garages” located in cities around the world, like London, San Francisco and Toronto, are innovation facilities steeped in design thinking, agile development and lean startup methodologies. Bringing these techniques together provides an innovative approach to streamline the entire development process, starting the moment a need is identified.

The prevailing mindset among CIOs today needs to change. Speed and innovation have taken precedence over daily operational needs and proactive CIOs are looking to new approaches that help source innovation faster. CIOs who embrace an iterative approach to development understand the value of thinking big, starting small and learning fast and can help lead companies to double-digit revenue growth. So how can you foster this type of culture and bring business and IT together in a new way?

Improving the creative process

A good idea is a strong start, but that doesn't mean you should jump right into development activity. Even great ideas need to be tested, challenged and polished. For example, you might have a great concept for a new app-based selling experience, but there are practical measures to consider.

Even if the app looks great and is fun to use, it might not offer enough functionality to satisfy an active user base. Form and function need to be balanced, and the use case needs to be evident. Apps need to offer the value of a service, which is what the creative process is all about. By taking a user-centric approach to development and experience-building, the Bluemix platform provides the tools and services to help build blueprints for business innovation that offer clear value to their users without the need to know or interact with the underlying infrastructure. The Garage employs design thinking methods to ensure the right application is built, rather than a more stylish one that doesn't directly address the needs of its audience.

Business and IT both need to contribute to creative development. Aspiring innovation officers can support this collaboration by implementing a repeatable approach to innovation that combines business analysts, application developers and IT experts into cross-functional teams. These teams can then support development at every stage, from designing and building new features or services to delivering, testing and directing iterative changes.

Turning ideas into innovation

Instead of taking an assembly-line approach, today's enterprise solutions are being built with a focus on collaboration across departments. This collaborative approach allows developers to solicit feedback and insight from team members representing a wide range of viewpoints and backgrounds.

IBM supports this innovation by establishing a fail-fast/fail-safe culture of experimentation. Enterprises can leverage the IBM Bluemix Garage Method to learn best practices for user-centered design, lean startup and agile development, with the support of a vibrant, diverse community.

This range of perspectives is crucial to developing solutions that meet their full potential. In the process, a single project undergoes continual refinement throughout the development cycle, and its value to users remains central instead of fading into the background. Typically, a product manager oversees the creation of user stories, similar to customer profiles for sales teams. By building user stories that reflect the anticipated uses of an app, managers and developers can create a list of development priorities based on their value to the end user.

Through rapid testing and integration of the tools (a function supported by the extensive resources housed in the Bluemix Garage), development teams have a much easier time incorporating high-value features and services into a cloud-based product, even late in the development process.

Inefficiencies can plague enterprise innovation, but collaboration with proven industry leaders can mitigate these risks and help your organization build the solutions your business needs.