How does a company leverage the same energy seen in the consumer space to drive innovation inside the enterprise?
Why couldn’t there be a “corporate instagram-like success”?
Why can’t a corporate enterprise service bus excite imagination the way Twitter has?
Often its the people way down in the trenches that have great ideas about improvements to the business. Other times, it’s just someone that has an itch to scratch. That’s why, give me five minutes in a non-busy store here in NYC and I’m behind the counter talking to the barrista/copy-guy/pharmacist about the systems they use to get their job done.
I believe there are ideas everywhere. And, if I were a CIO I’d make sure anyone in the company could innovate the same way they can in the consumer space.
Take the following example from my own career.
A long, long time ago, in an economy far, far away I was a pre-sales engineer at a network integrator. We were about 15 people; I supported 3 or 4 sales people.
We I did the bill of materials for our proposals in Excel. All layout, pricing, and deal profitability analysis was done in Excel at the same time. To make my job easier, and to dramatically improve my throughput and accuracy, I customized the heck out of Excel. And, I did it in a way that made it easy for others to help me – like printing the right formats (for the customer, for management), examining deal-profitability metrics, and even some error correction to catch missing components. This is what young, energetic people who are full of ideas do. And, if we don’t enable them to do it at work, they’ll do it on the side and start their own business.
Fast-forward 20 years, and here we are. Instead of visual basic we have API‘s to let you do anything and online programming classes for marketing to teach you how. In fact, there are even small companies (here and here) who require all employees to learn to code.
Let’s take a closer look at API trends that could help enterprises unlock the energy of its employees to dramatically improve innovation.
Segmenting the API Market
When it comes to API’s and API management, there are two personas to think about, and three use cases to address.
- People who provide API’s (providers)
- People who consume API’s (consumers)
The 3 use cases are:
- Internal API usage
- B2B API usage
- External API usage
Segmenting in this way helps IT focus on how they speak to the different values and opportunities that each combination presents. It’s helps us to understand how API trends apply to us, and how to stay focused on adding value to the needs of enterprise IT.
In the context of *providing* API’s to an *internal* audience, here are 3 key behaviors IT can copy from the consumer market in order to capture innovation.
#1 API Management
One way to understand the trend around API’s is to take the perspective that API’s are the new website. If this is the case, why would it be any different inside the organization than it is outside? Today companies give employees pages full of information, tomorrow it will be API’s to data, events, and processes. Doing so presents challenges. Challenges to compliance. Challenges to support. Challenges around governance.
API Management provides a solution to these challenges and more. It provides a way to integrate IT more positively with the youngest generation in the workplace. A generation that has grown up digitally, and by its very nature has different needs from IT than generations prior.
#2 Code Academies
If you’re giving your employees API’s to important and useful corporate information via API, why not teach them to use it properly? And, if you think it’s just IT that’s learning to code, you’re wrong. The millennial generation is a familiar with technology as you are with a typewriter. They want a reason to learn to code, give them one or they’ll find their own reasons (and start their own companies on the side).
There’s a lot of energy in the business of teaching people to code. You may think they won’t be any good, that marketing people don’t have the skills or experience to write good apps. You’d be correct. But, I’d point out all the crappy websites that exist, and share my belief that quality will get better over time, and won’t be something that stops people from trying (or believing they have the right to contribute in this way). Bring these technologies in-house, train your own employees, and then set them loose…
#3 Hackathons & Coding Challenges
The third leg of the API trifecta are group coding efforts. Hackathons and coding challenges are used by the startup community and government to get people to contribute ideas in a constructive and collaborative fashion.
If you’re a large organization, why not have some internal programs to capture ideas and turn them into something the business can use? You’d be taking the people with ideas, and giving them a forum to use the API’s you’ve created and the learning-to-program training they’ve completed. You’d be pointing them at real business problems and seeing the solutions they create. Winners in the consumer space might win an award or a gift card. Or, they might enjoy the recognition that comes from having your app promoted on the NYC Subway or Apple App Store.
Why can’t an internal winner win executive sponsorship for their idea, to see if really can have an impact to the business? Isn’t this a great way to both bubble up ideas from the bottom, involve the generation who feels they have the right to participate, and develop your next generation of business leaders all the at same time?
There you go, the Enterprise API Trifecta: 3 elements IT can incorporate from the consumer space today in order to create a more innovative and collaborative IT environment.
For additional insight into how IT can create a platform for internal innovation using a SOA infrastructure (including customer stories) why not watch this webinar on SOA Innovation that I recorded in November 2012.
The Enterprise API Trifecta is an excerpt from a thought piece I’m working on tentatively titled: The Consumerization of Integration: 10 Best Practices Enterprise IT Should Steal from the Consumer Space to Capture Innovation & Build a Mobile Strategy. Drop me a line if you’d like to hear more.