Remember shrink-wrapped software – glistening boxes you might buy once every two or three years? Get the license, slide in the CD, then sit with a cup of coffee, watch the progress bar, and hope for the best.

We all know that doesn’t work anymore. Application development has changed dramatically in just the last five years, and the cloud has changed how we interact with our laptops and devices, install and build applications, and manage our data.

What does it take to win in a world where software success is defined by innovating at speed and implementing at scale? One in which customers expect new features every three months – and move on if they don’t get them? How can organizations succeed when the race to improve and innovate is so intense that they must continuously evolve to stay ahead of their rivals and customer needs?

And how best to manage the frenetic pace of new product development, when digital technologies are redefining products and services, and while the very notion of product development is beginning to converge with service delivery?

Look Inward, Then Innovate at Speed 

The answer is a rigorous process of self-examination to ensure your organization can innovate with increased velocity and sustainability.

If companies don’t match or exceed their competitors’ rate of innovation, or don’t challenge their own assumptions in order to reinvent themselves, they’ll lose to a rival that will. Just ask entities that succumbed to Amazon’s omnichannel sales and logistics model, Uber’s disruptive ride-sharing software, Airbnb’s upending of the lodging business, and of course Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iEverything Else.

This is where digital engineering comes in: to make application development agile enough to rapidly deliver the high-quality and highly functional feature-sets that customers take for granted. Like consumer-facing businesses before them, business-to-business companies are now seeking to reduce friction in how software is developed and used.

How to Get There

With  every new application, product or service that makes life easier and more amenable, users  (customers, partners, employees) are trained to expect ease, fluidity, flexibility and new capabilities in every software-mediated interaction and transaction. The ecosystem is evolving in lockstep, and applications that aren’t frictionless will be abandoned.

Recently, we helped a global financial services company realign its application development efforts to better meet the needs of its rapidly evolving marketplace, one in which fintechs with low barriers to entry are continually racing ahead. We helped the firm refactor its legacy code-development software and migrate to a cloud-native architecture, allowing it to reduce its continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) times for new features and additional functionality from 15 days to 45 seconds.

To innovate at this velocity, businesses need a cloud-native reference architecture to integrate existing development and deployment tools, enable DevOps-centric workflows and establish a pipeline for CI/CD.  

A range of businesses face the mandate to change but are unclear about the best steps to getting there. CTOs may receive an injunction from the C-suite to migrate to the cloud and innovate fast, but doing so isn’t straightforward.

We recently helped a global leader in enterprise communications and technology services review and improve its application portfolio. After having grown through acquisition, the business had well over 200 development applications with various interdependencies and multiple incompatibilities. The company sought to update its DevOps platform to dramatically reduce costs while accelerating its time-to-market with market-leading applications and features cost-effectively.

Working with Pivotal and a global public cloud provider, we’re helping the business replace and/or refactor its custom-built and legacy applications to a cloud-native DevOps platform that’s easier to enhance and manage, and less expensive to provide across its global offices. We also helped the company train its staff to perform more of this work over time. The company is on track to modernize all 800 of its legacy applications by 2019.

Upending Technology Conventions

Realizing digital innovation at speed and scale requires organizations to run fast, make consistent and continuous improvements and keep an eye on the programmatic goal of meaningful improvement. Running fast means aligning with new models for executing key internal development. While software-as-a-service (SaaS) is now de rigueur, agile companies must work toward taking on smaller units of work and focusing on time-to-market. They must ask, “How quickly can a functionality be realized?” and “How quickly can we roll-out this feature to users?”

Such work runs along two parallel tracks:

  • Migrating the application development platform to a framework and system that allows the enterprise’s application development to be as nimble as possible, which often means moving to the cloud.
  • Promoting Agile application development by automating iterative, time-consuming and costly tasks, so the organization can develop smaller projects faster, attenuating risk while accelerating time-to-value and ROI.

Living in Accelerated Times

We order today – from an app, a device, a platform. We take delivery tomorrow – expecting instant gratification. The cadence of business and our very lives has changed. For today’s business to be around tomorrow, digital engineering must move to the center of organizational strategy.

There’s no shrink-wrapped solution. Application development must align with the strategic objectives of the business, matching the necessary rate of innovation, of testing, of rolling out new products and services quickly and efficiently, and at scale. The alternative? Becoming yesterday’s lunch.

Sam Rehman

Sam Rehman

Sam Rehman is Global CTO of Cognizant’s Digital Engineering practice. He has spent 30 years leading transformational digital change for a range... Read more