Last month, Harvard Business Review’s Brad Power wrote a short piece about something software people have known for years, even if they ignore it: The rate of change is accelerating.
An excerpt from Power’s piece:
I spoke with Andy Singleton, CEO of Assembla, a firm that helps software development teams build software faster. He told me the story of Staples vs. Amazon. As you might expect, Staples has a big web application for online ordering. Multi-function teams build software enhancements that are rolled up into “releases” which are deployed every six weeks. The developers then pass the releases to the operations group, where the software is tested for three weeks to make sure the complete system is stable, for a total cycle of nine weeks. This approach would be considered by most IT experts as “best practice.”
“Best practice”? Not really, but let’s continue:
But Amazon has a completely different architecture and management process, which Singleton calls a “matrix of services.” Amazon has divided their big online ordering application into thousands of smaller “services.” For example, one service might display a web page, or get information about a product. A service development team maintains a small number of services, and releases changes as they become ready. Amazon will release a change about once every 11 seconds, adding up to about 8,000 changes per day. In the time it takes Staples to make one new release, Amazon has made 300,000 changes.
While this situation is old news to software businesses and even to some non-software businesses that develop their own software, the thing you need to be aware of is that this accelerated rate of change and implementation stretches far beyond software.
You may have heard the phrase “software is eating the world“. In many cases, that’s about software disrupting and improving businesses and sometimes eliminating jobs. It’s also about technology and accelerated change in businesses that haven’t traditionally depended on technology.
This rate of change is reaching into many other niches – some faster than others. The question isn’t “Will it touch yours?”, instead the question is “When?”
You might be thinking that Amazon is a relatively new company so it was easy for them to start off producing systems as Power’s piece described. Trouble is, that isn’t the case at all.
While Amazon Web Services (aka AWS – the cloud services side of Amazon) has been around since 2006, Amazon has been around since the mid ’90s. They had to remake themselves to pull this off – but they chose to do so before someone else forced it on them.
A few years ago, if you were in the engineering prototyping business, you might have a turnaround of a few weeks to a month, depending on the type of pieces you prototype.
Then one day, a 3D printer showed up on a local doorstep. Without a massive capital expense, delay and shop build out, a local engineer could now start turning out prototypes your clients could touch and feel in hours or for larger items, a day or two.
Perhaps you can work with that person to partner on projects and you both win. If you don’t, who will?
You can have a 3D printer on your doorstep tomorrow. What makes you different from the lady down the street who owns one?
Today, you probably have a choice in the matter.
You can either determine what needs a remake or restructure and make those changes (and experiments) on your terms, or you can wait and let someone else determine the time frame and terms for you. Most of us would prefer not to have someone else calling the shots.
I know, you’re busy. You’ve got this fire and that fire to put out. You’ve got soccer games to get to. I get it. I have those too and so do many other business owners.
It might be hard to justify any sort of disruption, even in thought, if your business is humming along on all cylinders right now. That’s exactly what the disruptive businesses want. Keep doing what you’ve always done, because it’s still working.
Meanwhile, someone out there is fighting the same fires, perhaps as their business hums along, and all the while, they’re restructuring their business for this new reality.
What if they’re in your market? What if you did it first?