Developers face a host of cloud, mobile and analytics challenges, and IBM’s Rod Smith discusses this and how CIOs fit into these exciting times in technology.
By Patrick K. Burke
These are unprecedented times for both developers and organizations looking to capitalize on applications that harness the power of the cloud to boost the bottom line. Tech leaders are often pulled in many directions at once, as business executives from different departments look to technology to fill a need and grow revenue. At the recent Spark Summit East held in New York, some of the best and brightest in IT gathered to talk shop and discuss where application development is heading. Rod Smith, an IBM Fellow and IBM’s vice president of Emerging Internet Technologies, took time recently to discuss with CIO Insight the importance of moving to the cloud era and how millions of developers are looking to access tools and services that will enable them to leverage this fast-emerging opportunity.
CIO Insight: How would you describe the relationship between developers and line-of-business executives? And where do you believe CIOs fit into this dynamic?
Rod Smith: Business people didn’t choose their profession because they wanted to be techies. But whether they are in marketing, sales, purchasing, finance, HR or any other company department, mainstream professionals are faced with business challenges that require advanced technology solutions.
As a result, line of business leaders today are facing a backlog on IT projects that can stretch to well over 12 months, and they are being challenged to develop applications that meet user experience needs, especially as they develop mobile applications. To deliver value, engineers should match their technical knowledge with a mix of inter-personal skills and a solid understanding of the business goals. Additionally, to build a solid relationship, development teams need to move fast and deliver projects on time and under budget.
I see LoB executives looking to CIOs to help advise them as they move to new technology solutions. The CIO’s role is expanding to help LoB executives vet alternatives from independent developers to cloud deployments–and, in many cases, they will advise on how these solutions integrate back into business processes and governance–and at what expenses. Cloud offers much more transparency in making these types of decisions.
CIO Insight: Has there been greater demand for developers since the advent of the cloud?
Smith: Marc Andreessen said a few years back that software is eating the world, and he was right. This is an unprecedented time, when small teams of creative developers can mold new applications and scale them globally very quickly–and create new business value. The list of new applications that businesses need are exploding in areas like cloud, mobile and analytics.
Cloud developers require the right training, tools and experience to achieve the business benefits expected of them. I’ve seen some developers who struggle adopting the new best practices for building scalable, flexible cloud solutions. By offering over 100 cloud-based run times and services via Bluemix, and by offering several different programs that help developers learn next-generation development skills, IBM is helping to prepare developers to make a seamless transition to the cloud.
CIO Insight: How much of an impact has the cloud had on developers?
Smith: Cloud offers new opportunities for developers to get connected to the business. In a way, it’s a new vehicle for establishing a dialog with business leaders. When business leaders can see the art of the possible in composing a solution in very short order, they open up about additional solutions–which helps a development team get a deeper appreciation of what’s important from the business perspective.
CIO Insight: Have you ever been tasked with providing something to a customer in which they didn’t even know what they wanted or needed? For example, they’re sitting on terabytes of data but have no idea what to do with it?
Smith: In IBM Emerging Technology, we’ve seen this many times. Customers come to us with insights that they think their data could hold–but they are often frustrated due to a lack of tangible cost/benefit analyses required to persuade IT to work on the projects.
We call these the “open-ended business questions”–meaning there is an initial exploratory phase where it’s less about a specific answer and more about the insights that are uncovered. This is another area where cloud is important: it lowers the costs to build these types of applications while enabling businesses to see what the art of the possible really is.
CIO Insight: What’s the biggest pain point for developers today?
Smith: Unlearning past techniques for building new workloads. A common mistake is to think cloud-based solutions and services are nothing more than existing middleware hosted on a virtual machine. Cloud-native and cloud-enabled applications offer a seemingly endless amount of possibilities for developers to build solutions that help people connect with each other easier and more efficiently and manage data, but building these solutions requires a new way of thinking and new tools and skills. We’re helping developers bridge that gap with Bluemix by giving them tools they need to build applications that draw on data from on premise and cloud-based environments with hybrid deployments to deliver value.
CIO Insight: What makes developing apps easier or better today than 10 years ago?
Smith: Born-on-the-Web companies and the open source community–which IBM is actively involved in–have worked hard to create technology that makes it much easier for small teams to be successful. Cloud models like infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service make it much easier to build, deploy and scale applications, which in turn enables solution developers to focus on projects that help differentiate on business value.
CIO Insight: What’s the best aspect of being a part of a successful project?
Smith: Seeing the solution in production and blowing by the business expectations. The collective team creativity always sets the groundwork–but we all hold our breath until we can see business leaders smile with appreciation.
CIO Insight: Any advice for CIOs on how they should navigate the world of developers and the world of business?
Smith: Moving forward, CIOs can deliver value by acting as a bridge between the line of business executives and the development teams, and by playing the role of a cloud service broker to help vet solutions from independent developers to cloud deployments. In this role, they will advise on how new solutions integrate back into business processes and governance–and at what expenses.
Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.