Embracing chaotic innovation

Kara Sprague, SVP and GM for application services at F5 Networks, discusses.
Applications, Business, Tech, Strategy, Kara Sprague, Society, Innovation

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Kara Sprague.

Applications are now the primary vehicle through which digital businesses develop and deliver their goods and services. Moreover, the soaring valuations of today’s most well-known digital giants are attributable to those companies’ application portfolios.

Simply put, applications and the data they manipulate are the currency of the modern digital economy. They are a balance sheet-worthy asset of the digital enterprise and can drive tremendous value creation. They are also an asset that can be exploited and produce terrible value destruction.

Effective stewardship of that valuable but vulnerable resource, an organisation’s application portfolio, must extend beyond the confines of IT to the entire C-Suite. In the application economy, corporate IT need to embrace and enable chaotic innovation, as well as minimise enterprise risk.

Chaotic innovation

Chaos has often been used as a tool for companies to unleash innovation. For example, Intel’s Andy Grove used to tell people that they needed to “let chaos reign, then rein in chaos.”

The approach created a culture within the organisation that allowed chaos to thrive, enabling workforces to think outside of their normal patterns and take the time to experiment with new ideas.

Another good example is Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In their 2004 IPO letter, they encouraged employees, in addition to their regular projects, “to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.” The strategy led to many innovations, including AdSense, Gmail, and a host of other well-formed and capitalised ideas.

As a former management consultant, I’m often asked if this type of thinking is about more than just technology companies. MTV recently surveyed Millennials on their work habits, and found that 78% believe it’s important to have a side project that could become a different career. Many companies, irrespective of industry, are known to be explicitly tolerant of side-entrepreneurship.

These innovative companies understand the benefits of that openness. In fact, many start-ups are hatched by founders that launched their company while working elsewhere, then quit to pursue their passion full-time. According to Chris Trimble, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, these types of policies give employees a taste of freedom as well as the frustration of not being fully able to embrace it – chaotic innovation at its finest.

How does chaos relate to application capital?

Application capital is built, enhanced, and optimised during times of chaos. To me, chaos means innovation. Innovation leads to opportunity, and within that opportunity lies value.

Opportunities to improve IT operations do not come along often, but as applications are migrated to the cloud, operations teams can position themselves for success even as decision-making around technology adoption shifts towards developers. Developers are operating in a world of controlled chaos—one that should be fostered—but also given user-friendly developer-centric controls for application services.

Through easily applied, consistent application services, developers are now increasingly free to engage in controlled chaos while conforming to the needs of their IT counterparts, as well as the development of new structures and approaches delivering business value.

Take multi-cloud application services. Backed by a world-class customer support organisation—businesses are more able than ever before to enhance and secure application capital, including:
• Improving the performance and end-user experience of applications.
• Making developers more productive. This can include offering best-in-class application services off the shelf, as well as through integrations with CI/CD tool chains and automation and orchestration environments.
• Improving enterprise security/risk posture by offering easy-to-attach security services, consistent policy management across applications, wherever they sit; and visibility and monitoring across your application portfolio.

When made a core part of an enterprise-wide infrastructure, a strong application services provider can provide a level of assurance to the business that its application portfolio remains available, reliable, and secure. The key is to build and protect your application capital while supporting the need for chaotic innovation.

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