How the Cloud Brings Developers into Business Process

The disruptive innovation that is the cloud has given developers significantly more influence than they, and their organizations, are used to having. This means the agile, sometimes unstructured world of the developer is increasingly coming into contact with more rigid business groups. Making everyone happy may mean reengineering IT processes.

By Bernard Golden
Tue, August 07, 2012

CIO — Amazon has built a billion-dollar business by catering to new market. As I wrote two weeks ago, AWS has built its business by offering inexpensive and easy-to-obtain resources—and developers have responded en masse.

It's easy to understand why, too. AWS represents a disruptive innovation within IT, and it's important to understand the basis of that disruption to understand what it means for IT going forward.

Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation in The Innovator's Dilemma. It occurs when a new entrant into an established market significantly changes customer expectations by providing a new alternative to established solutions.

Commentary: Cloud Computing: A Sustaining or Disruptive Innovation?

The most common type of disruptive innovation occurs when a new market entrant figures out how to offer a cheaper, easier-to-use solution—one that is sufficient for many customers in the existing market who are dissatisfied with the current solution's complexity and cost. Christensen characterizes these dissatisfied customers as "overserved" by current solutions. In other words, these customers have simpler needs but can't get them addressed by current vendors, as they deliver highly capable, highly complex, expensive solutions and have no interest in offering (what they view as) cheap, stripped-down products.

Speed, Flexibility of Cloud Gives Developers Edge

Seen in this light, the appeal of AWS for developers is obvious. The traditional method of obtaining infrastructure resources is to request them from an operations group whose primary focus is directed toward production systems. The goal of an operations group regarding its main focus is methodical process control; this ensures that nothing destabilizes the all-important production applications. This process control approach commonly means that changes in infrastructure can take weeks to implement—but in the past that was just fine due to the importance of infrastructure stability.

This focus is well-suited for production applications, but it's highly unsatisfactory for developers who want quick access to resources and the ability to self-manage the process. Clearly, developers have been overserved by the established approaches. The widespread adoption of AWS due to its low-friction, low-cost offering was thus quite predictable.

AWS has brought excitement into the market because it has unleashed an enormous amount of creativity by enabling developer agility. With easy, inexpensive resources available within minutes, developers are free to experiment, help their companies respond to market opportunities and accelerate application delivery. It's no exaggeration to say that AWS has helped make developers much more important within IT, as its low-friction offering has enabled IT to become much more responsive to business needs.

In fact, there's a school of thought, put forward by the small but influential analyst firm RedMonk, that developers now occupy the role of IT kingmakers. This theory holds that the traditional model of IT adoption, which assumes that major decisions emanate from the top, is wrong. Instead, the decisions that appear to come from a CIO are, in fact, dictated by the choices made by people way down in the IT organization—the traditionally denigrated developers. CIOs merely ratify the decisions made by "lowly" developers.

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