This article was published on July 6, 2014

How CIOs can adapt to embrace developer-led innovation

How CIOs can adapt to embrace developer-led innovation
Jim Franklin
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Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is the CEO of SendGrid, the email delivery platform of choice for over 130,000 customers. SendGrid delivers more than 7 billion Jim Franklin is the CEO of SendGrid, the email delivery platform of choice for over 130,000 customers. SendGrid delivers more than 7 billion emails per month for companies including foursquare, Pinterest, Airbnb, Twilio, Spotify and Pandora. Jim is also a mentor for early-stage startups through Techstars and The Founder Institute.

Jim Franklin is the CEO of SendGrid.

Developers are accustomed to using SaaS, cloud and developer-friendly tools to build and scale new products quickly. They are extremely flexible in their use of emerging technologies, which often comes in stark contrast to the adoption of such technologies at a CIO-level in large enterprises. 

Consequently, we are now seeing an emerging tension point between developers and CIOs, which is shifting the CIOs’ ability to be the driving force for innovation and change within their business. This is a risk for CIOs who don’t adapt, especially given that developers are fast becoming the bedrock of IT innovation today and their numbers are growing: the total developer population worldwide is expected to grow from 18.2m today to 26.4 million in 2019, according to Evans Data Worldwide.   

Developers that work in large enterprises should be considered the internal engine of innovation to the companies they work for. However, it is regretfully the case that IT budgets remain relatively flat and more often than not the developers are being asked to quarterback new projects that deliver competitive advantage.

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The new era of the developerisation of IT is well underway and much like its predecessor, the consumerisation of IT,  it’s all about making stakeholders’ – in this case the developers’ – lives easier by giving them more flexibility to focus on producing great apps and delivering valuable IP.

To fully unleash the power of developer-led innovation, CIOs and IT teams can follow a set of developer-centric guidelines.

Rule #1: Arm developers with the efficiencies of the public cloud

The public cloud offers developers access to scalable, flexible infrastructure so that they can use only what they need and rapidly scale as needed.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel by building servers, storage and services on your own.

This will shave precious time off of project schedules, reduce time to market and lower costs significantly.

Rule #2: Embrace the new breed of enterprise developer marketplaces

Give developers access to more tools that are enterprise-ready. An emerging set of marketplaces from Windows Azure, Heroku and Red Hat provide a variety of new tools and services to ramp up application development productivity.

Rule #3: Remove the barriers of long term contracts 

The nature of application development can be very transitory at times. Developers may need one service or tool one day and then pivot on to something else the next.

Make the process of using different tools and vendors frictionless for them. Long term contracts impede this since approvals are needed from procurement or legal and this can draw out the process.

Rule #4: Recognize that developers speak their own language

If you want to effectively communicate with developers, either to attract talent, project manage or target them for sales, you need to consider the alternative channels of communication they’re most comfortable with. This can be, for example, user forums, hackathons or social media.

Once the right channel has been identified, tailor your messages so that they resonate with this highly technical audience.

Rule #5: Allow developers to experiment freely, but put some controls in place

Deploy API management solutions and monitoring tools so that IT departments can have a window into what traffic is flowing through the network and ensure that appropriate security measures are taken into account. 

Rule #6: Encourage developers to build apps that are platform agnostic

designer desk

Rather than building for the Web and then adding a mobile extension later, developers should keep this in mind at the start of the app development process.

If an application has a physical aspect to it, developers should be encouraged to define, deploy, communicate and manage the IoT application in a scalable fashion from the start.

Rule #7: Provide developers with a collaborative, creative outlet for their own projects

Appreciate that developers have a thirst for knowledge and an inherent desire to share new tools, hacks, shortcuts and passion projects with their peers. Give them time and space to do this at work either through internal hackathons, brown bag lunches, or some other method and they’ll make for a much happier bunch.

Plus, some of these ideas may end up in your products. Gmail, AdSense, and Google Talk (now Hangouts), for example, all started as side projects of Google employees.

Rule #8: Set standards for coding in RESTful, modern APIs

Issuing a set of best practices related to usable standards like REST will allow developers to build applications that access and act upon data exposed via APIs. REST also makes it easy for humans to understand what’s being exchanged while allowing computers to talk to one another efficiently. 

Rule #9: Embrace the hacker/maker culture 

Hackers are the technical tinkerers who use unorthodox means to build creative solutions to address the challenges and inconveniences of everyday life.

This is a societal movement that IT professionals should recognize and leverage to their and everyone’s advantage. Whether it’s through learning to code, hacking hardware, or simply involving developers in the decision-making processes.

Following these guidelines is the first step to unleashing the power of innovation. Importantly, any IT department looking to ride the wave of developer-led innovation needs to embrace a cultural change, which is by no means an easy win. It necessitates a longer-term fundamental change in mentality towards hacker culture, but if managed effectively, CIOs will reap the rewards.

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