How can digital businesses innovate but also stay innovative?

With the increasing number of innovative high-tech solutions available on the market, the industry needs to address the question of why so many great product innovations fail in terms of user adoption. Very often, it is because functionality, serviceability and experience have been left as secondary considerations.

One reason for this can be explained by a critical shift towards consumer ‘experiences' and away from traditional products. Often this is overlooked, which puts too much pressure on product and development teams to perfect this ‘experience' in addition to their usual tasks. 

To remedy inefficient use of capacity, businesses can adopt a modern, modular approach to implementing innovations. In doing so, they can avoid such failures and achieve a faster time to market for new products and experiences. Once outlined, innovations can be implemented more frequently, with greater ease and even operationalised to collect vital end-user feedback, which helps maintain functionality.

The concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) can help split innovations into ‘small chunks', and by applying them early in the product lifecycle businesses can adapt and expand each offering informed by real user insights, including information about their experience of the product's functionality and serviceability. 

It is also important that the innovation methods leverage Agile and DevOps to involve all relevant stakeholders from Product Management, Development, UX, Operations and Infrastructure right at the start of the design and development cycle. They will make up the small multi-disciplinary teams who will consider operational matters on all fronts.

With this approach, businesses can build architectures based on loosely coupled microservices or modules, allowing enhanced collaboration via well-defined interfaces. These can be continuously changed, replaced, added to and innovated with new versions to suit needs. Due to the loosely coupled microservices structure, they will have minimal impact on the other components. 

Furthermore, with greatly reduced and localised operational risk related to change, operational stability is actually improved as more innovations are released more often. This is because each change, as they are relatively small, is easier to understand and has less of an impact on the wider system of microservices since it is isolated to a limited number. Because the risks are minimised and localised, all this makes the impacts of changes far more visible because there is little change to the operational environment per deployment.

This benefits teams as well as technology. By frequently releasing new code, developer teams develop ‘muscle memory' for the best methods of deployment which will feed a culture of fail-proof deployment automation. Over time this eases the burden of laborious tasks and reduces the risk of human error. As such, frequent deployments mean that when things do go wrong, teams' tried-and-tested processes will be in place to handle them.

Outlines of how best-in-class DevOps organisations are able to deploy software 208 times more frequently on average and 106 times faster from coding to production are demonstrated in The State of DevOps report 2019. Using these techniques businesses experienced up to 7 times less incidents during deployments and were able to recover from them 2,600 times faster. 

Assuming that development teams and ‘SREs' (Site Reliability Engineers) are testing and monitoring performance as key accountabilities, a DevOps approach should be at the centre of operations to enhance functional operations while implementing new innovations. 

Normally, developers are alerted to breakages at all times of the day and the night so that they can be at hand to fix them. If done well, a DevOps approach can allow businesses to innovate fast and share the responsibility so everyone in the team is accountable, with serviceability, performance and experience given as much priority as functionality from the developer's side, all of which contributes to a better overall experience.

Instrumentation will help in the journey to finding the balance between innovation and operations. Telemetry has become essential to managing complex systems, and advanced application of it to hardware, sensors and software, like Formula One or Space X do, allows businesses to fine-tune complex digital processes through monitoring and observability platforms. In turn, this will open the door to fast innovation while safeguarding operational quality. 

Ultimately, recognising that people with proven experience, well-defined processes and a no-blame post-mortem culture are the vital mark-makers of transformation; building teams around these requirements will help to accelerate sustainable innovation. By aligning skills with Agile, DevOps and CI/CD, businesses can equip teams with a holistic understanding of the system so that continuous improvement is possible. To cultivate a data-driven culture that is best placed to start thinking in terms of service and experience, and not just tech, businesses should embed telemetry and observability into innovation practices, which will support ambitions of truly disrupting markets