Written by Shawn Price, Senior Vice President for Oracle Cloud and Product Business Groups, at Oracle @ShawnPrice1000
Being first to market has for some time now been synonymous with success, and not without reason. From Ford to Nintendo, companies have found an advantage in being the first to launch new and exciting products. But is this still the case? Does the so-called ‘first-mover advantage’ really mean as much as it used to?
If you listen to Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no’, at least when looking at the case of Silicon Valley businesses. For Hoffman, the ability to rapidly scale a digital product or service once it has a customer base is much more important than being first. For evidence, he gives the example of Facebook, which successfully grew its businesses to a breath-taking size in just six years.
Hoffman’s view is entirely correct, but it can be taken further. To a greater or lesser extent, all businesses today are ‘Silicon Valley’ businesses in so far as technology lies at the heart of what they do. After all, digital and mobile applications are every bit as important to, for example, a fashion retailer or restaurant as they are to digital service providers such as LinkedIn.
In the case of the fashion business they can be used to improve everything from logistics and supply chain management to enhancing customer service, while for many restaurants digital applications are transforming how customers place their orders and the way kitchens meet these orders. Whatever the sector, it is easy to imagine ways the customer experience can be improved by enhanced web and mobile applications.
Business – and public sector organisations too – must therefore place digital innovation at the heart of everything they do in a way that allows them to continually grow and build further on their innovations. In fact, businesses serious about competing and winning market share need to embrace a philosophy of continual innovation. They must ensure that they never rest on their laurels. This means they should proactively look at how they can improve existing product lines and business models, launch entirely new ones, and be sure they can scale both with ease.
This all makes good sense from a business perspective, but it also begs a key question: how can businesses embed continual innovation within their organizations without incurring high costs? And how can they physically build, test and launch new applications and features at the pace demanded by modern business? Indeed, how can businesses afford to risk all on innovations that may or may not work?
Businesses need a way to reduce the time, cost and complexity that has traditionally characterised application development. They need to be able to risk failure on applications without that failure coming at too punitive a price. In a way, application development needs to be taken down from its pedestal and integrated into all parts of the business as a day-to-day task, where business units themselves can take on some of the development functions that have traditionally been the preserve of the IT team.
Enabling continual innovation
Until recently such an environment was largely the stuff of dreams, but the rapid rise of cloud computing has meant that these dreams can now be realised. In fact, the ideal of continual innovation is today within reach of all businesses.
One cloud platform – Platform as a Service (PaaS) – is particularly important in this respect. PaaS brings the qualities that have made cloud computing so compelling for business application provision to the world of application development; namely ease of use, price flexibility and scalability.
Ease of use is important because it reduces the time it takes to develop applications. All the resources and toolsets needed for a development environment can be taken as a service, which means they can be delivered to the business almost immediately through the cloud. In the past, such resources and toolsets would need to be procured, set up and project managed by the IT department, a process that could take many months depending on what else the IT department had on its to do list.
Cost is also important. When provisioning bespoke development environments for each application, as is the case in traditional on-premise set ups, the costs can quickly add up. Consequently, few businesses are willing to invest in the storage, infrastructure and database resources needed for application development, unless the business case is iron clad. Not only does this hinder innovation, but it also impedes the ability to scale.
Faster innovation at scale
With PaaS, however, businesses can take whatever resources they need for any given stage of development. If a business wants to rapidly evaluate an application it can do so in the cloud, using pre-existing toolsets to build the application and test it using virtualised cloud resources. If successful, the business can then easily scale up, either by buying more capacity from cloud providers or moving the application to their on-premise or private cloud resources if preferred.
Indeed, this is perhaps the most significant capability of PaaS solutions: to act as a bridge between public and private clouds and on-premise systems. We are facing what will be a decade of coexistence between cloud and on-premise computing. Crucially, the right PaaS solutions are compatible with both and therefore can act as glue, binding on-premise and cloud solutions in hybrid cloud infrastructures with a single unified view.