A recent conversation with executives from Clarizen, a software company in the work/project/task management realm, shows how profoundly SaaS can change the innovation process in technology companies. However, you won't get the most beneficial changes unless you're willing to make an investment.
During our briefing, I asked the CEO of Clarizen, Avinoam Nowogrodski, and the VP of Marketing, Sharon Vardi, whether being a SaaS vendor made it any easier to resolve the sort of questions that vex technology vendors. Their response: "Of course it does."
Here's one of those vexing questions: Why don't more customers move from a pilot to full adoption? The usual first answers blame someone else's department for the disappointing conversion rate: Your product stinks. Your leads stink. Your salespeople stink.
Round-robin finger-pointing like this thrives in an informational vacuum. If the only hard fact available is the conversion rate, marketing can accuse sales of presumed incompetence; sales can claim that the current bug count might have an effect on customer satisfaction; development can claim that it's bogged down in too many special requests from strategic customers; and so on.
I was in the audience at our recent “Business Process & Application Delivery Forum” for the track session “Using The Next-Generation PMO To Promote Innovation,” which was delivered by Margo Visitacion. The premise of the session was that leading-edge PMOs (project management offices) are evolving to a more strategic role, focused on portfolio management of business investment rather than just IT projects or programs.
I know this phenomenon is real because I, too, have talked with multiple Forrester clients, PMO leaders, who have elevated the mission of their PMO to this level -- often to the extent that they no longer report into the CIO but are outside IT, reporting into a business exec like the COO or CEO. In so doing, they have refocused their efforts on everything from guiding business leaders through building a business case for the investments they want to make, to guiding decision-makers through selection from the portfolio of investment proposals, to tracking benefits realization and ROI after the fact. PMOs with this kind of business-focused, strategic mission have greater business impact and are often close partners with executives leading their firm.
Believe it or not, that was a piece of "advice" that I discovered while trying to fix a problem with Google Chrome. The question was about a browser, but the answer was about an operating system. It was clearly not helpful, at least in dealing with my immediate problem.
On the other hand, pseudo-advice like that is very useful if you want to understand the state of the technology industry in 2010. It's the subject of this autobiographical psychodrama that I might entitle, Personal Computers Are Not Appliances. If you decide to read on, let me warn you: it's a terrifying tale of reasonable people at the mercy of unreasonable levels of complexity and unreliability. During this exposition, you'll encounter interesting characters like the Apple iPad, Google's business plan (of sorts), Marc Benioff, and our evil cat Kelly.
When Chrome Lost Its Shine
Yesterday morning was crunch time at stately Grant Manor. The quarter was coming to a swift end, which meant all kinds of deadlines for research documents, expense reports, client projects, and a variety of other tasks. Regular activities, such as phone calls with technology companies about their latest product and service offerings, still happen during these hyper-busy periods, when time becomes so compressed that it fails to serve its basic purpose of, in the words of Richard Feynman, preventing everything from happening all at once.
Today, Forrester and Harvard Business Review Press released the print version of Empowered, a book by Forrester veterans Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. This book is a quick and worthwhile read for just about anyone who wants to consider the changing role of technology in the workplace. After several reads of this book, I have found that in addition to a lot of great statistics, quotes, and case studies, there is a valuable message for how companies MUST change their philosophy and approach toward new technologies in order to stay innovative.
As a quick example of how quickly the technology landscape is changing, stop for a moment to consider just how many times in the past few days you have:
Received an invitation to LinkedIn.
Seen a personal acquaintance using Facebook.
“Tweeted” or heard someone comment on “tweeting.”
Checked your mobile phone — or seen a commercial for a cool new mobile app.
On September 7, 2010, US Federal CIO Vivek Kundra (Office of Management and Budget) joined with Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra (Federal Office of Science and Technology Policy) and Bev Godwin (Director, Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement, U.S. General Services Administration) to announce the launch of Challenge.gov at the Gov2.0 Summit.
The new book Empowered highlights the benefits of empowering HEROes (highly empowered and resourceful operatives) within the workforce. As we approach our first-ever CIO Forum in October, I’m looking around for great examples of how governments are using social technologies to empower employees to serve empowered citizens.
When I think of government IT projects, I often think of multimillion-dollar projects lasting years before going live. But it doesn’t always have to be that way, as the following example illustrates.
Peter Koht is a HERO working for the City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Office. In 2009, the city was facing its worst budget crisis (a problem familiar to many city officials). Running out of options, the city had already shut down civic services such as the community pool, museums, and a family resource center when it faced up to the reality that the people of the city needed to be involved in the decisions about what services to cut. Unfortunately, the voices too often heard at civic meetings were representatives of the extreme viewpoints at either end of the political spectrum. In an effort to collect more ideas from the silent majority, Peter suggested the city could tap into social media to connect with its citizens. Lacking any kind of budget or resources, Peter had to rely on the help of three volunteers to get a community site up and running in a week.
As I said in my last blog post, we're looking for feedback on the questions we're asking about thought leadership in the technology industry. At the same time, we realized that it has been a while since we held an open house in Forrester's Foster City office. (If you're not aware, we did a few informal sessions for product managers and product marketers, to give people in that role an opportunity to talk amongst themselves about topics of interest, sprinkled with whatever useful information an analyst like myself can provide.) Suddenly, a spark leaped across the two neurons carrying these separate ideas.
Two recent articles from The New York Times illustrate why, for innovation to work, you need to keep updating your playbook.
Serious Games And Biochemical Research
When a team of researchers at the University of Washington wanted to unlock the puzzle of protein folding – a complex process that moves faster than we can observe – they decided to crowdsource the investigation. The team posed the question as a serious game, a medium that sometimes produces better answers than what people normally envision as the process of crowdsourcing.
Instead of just throwing out the question (How do our bodies build these proteins?) to an anonymous audience that may or may not have been motivated to answer it, the researchers built a game, Foldit, that simulated the protein-building process. The motivations were no different than any game: the satisfaction of beating the game at some level; the score that both rewards you for your current level of accomplishment and dares you to do better; the public standings that inject another level of competition beyond beating your last score. Humans can be very competitive creatures, even when the only rewards are intangible, which is why certain types of serious games often stimulate more participation than other approaches to a problem. (Check out the book Drive by Daniel Pink for one explanation of this behavior.)
As many readers know, I have a strong interest in understanding the practical realities of innovation and want to help companies define what that "buzzword" means -- what it is, who manages it, and why it's important (see my just-published report on the ecosystem of innovation services providers).
I believe Sourcing and Vendor Management (SVM) can and should play a critical role in the innovation process. However, my biggest disappointment when I speak to many technology vendors, IT professionals, and business users is when they tell me that they avoid working with SVM when purchasing (or in the cases of vendors, selling) a new technology. Fairly or unfairly, they see SVM's involvement as a bureaucratic stumbling block that will stifle their ability to move quickly or pick the technology vendor they want. For these people, SVM acts as a barrier, not an enabler, of innovation.
Rollin Ford has one of the toughest CIO jobs on the planet. He leads a global IT team in one of the world’s largest companies by revenue and employees, a company that has earned a reputation for leadership in supply chain that has allowed it to dominate its markets. Yet Wal-Mart is constantly under pressure to maintain its leadership position. In the US, Target has become a fierce competitor, while in the UK, Tesco may have overtaken Wal-Mart in supply-chain leadership, with Tesco's move into the US watched closely by Wal-Mart.
Earlier this year, Ford sat on a CIO panel discussing IT’s role in innovation. His thoughts on innovation also touched on strategy and alignment. He suggested that innovation starts with the customer, then leads into a business strategy, and then it gets enabled by technology. However, he acknowledges, “there are very few secrets out there.” Ford suggests that the only competitive advantage over time is the speed at which your organization can implement and leverage innovative ideas: “Your organization has to embrace change and new technologies, and that becomes your model. It’s about getting from A to B and doing it quicker than everybody else.”