Innovation in the Enterprise

Innovation Labs in the Enterprise – Start with Design Thinking

Corporate innovation is critical to stay current and compete in today’s fast moving technical environment.  AT GDS we work with many large corporate innovation labs. These labs are fundamental if large companies do not want to be disrupted by well financed start-ups. 

The Labs all try and have a creative space that allows people to think outside the box, hard to be very creative in a row of cubicles.

Just as important as the workspace is an attitude of experimentation.  The goal is to try many little experiences and to fail early and often with them til one gains traction.  GDS brings this rapid prototyping skillset to the table. An important part that we foster in our Innovation workshops is to “Start with Why”.  Understanding the intent of your users and customers is fundamental and then having them achieve those goals with the minimum amount of digital friction. Design thinking is at the heart of achieving this and really the heart of every successful Innovation Lab.

The world of computer software had gotten much better due to User Interface and User Experience focus.  At GDS we spend a lot of time on scenario modeling (use cases) and optimizing workflow (minimizing digital friction) . The power to get adaption and user buy-in is the trick that marks a successful product.  Let’s go back and review some of the major innovations in Human Computer interaction and see how they have created some of the best applications.

Optimizing for Phone Screen Size

When we look at User interface breakthroughs we have to start with the Iphone. The Iphone led the way with touch screens.Your finger was the new mouse.  This was an innovation that changed the way people interacted with an application.

The pop up keyboard where you could use your finger to type allowed for even complicated interactions. . Smart software allowed this to work for even people with fat fingers.

This innovation made it easy for the User to do the most Common thing.  Tinder had an amazing simplification to express interest in someone, swiping there entire picture one way or the other.

Tinder’s amazing User experience innovation

Swipe right

Representing Physical  Worlds Virtually

Stub Hub

The visualization of the stadium and the tickets was key for the user to understand what he was buying,

When you can create a link between real world and virtual world you are onto something.

Merging Virtual and Real Worlds
The overlaying of the car  on the map was a great innovation and let the user feel in control of what is happening with the process.

Voice May be the Greatest UI

Voice may well be the interaction mode that becomes the most common.  We are already seeing Amazon Echo and Google assistant make amazing inroads.  But other devices have started to grow ears. Samsung has Bixby with its line of smart appliances, Bosche has a voice activated system as well.  It may get confusing with so many different devices trying to make sense of what the user wants from them.

Human interaction and User experience is a key part to product adoption and use.  The enterprise is continuing to learn from prominent consumer applications to keep the user engaged and move them forward with a minimal amount of digital friction.  We would love to have a workshop with you and your company to find innovative ways to deploy design thinking and make your application rollout powerful while reducing support costs.

Should I Lease or Should I buy Tech Talent

When talking about a car, this decision comes down to your cost of capital, and other considerations like the amount of miles per year you drive and your desire to have a new ride every 3 years or so.  But what if you need a convertible one day, an SUV the next and on certain days needed a flatbed truck. It would be hard to buy all three, and if you leased them you would need very short leasing periods- days not years- to make it effective.

Limited tech bandwidth is the top challenge for 90% of companies

Enterprise companies have a similar decision  when they invest in designers and developers as full-time employees (FTEs).  The truth is custom software is still needed despite the hundreds of packaged software vendors and SaaS offerings. This makes tech talent, especially very experienced freelancers that specialize in mobile, more in demand than ever. There is a serious skills gap and backlogs are large. 

Without access to on demand technologists, companies face great challenges. It is difficult to scale resources to match technology experts demand.  Rapid proto-typing is a necessary practice and requires specialized resources, and on demand technologists allow for innovation in new fields with emerging technologies.

It’s no secret that you have to invest in your technical team and have developers, designers and dev ops people on staff and focused on your problems.  But as the world of technology evolves and gets prohibitively expensive, is the full-time employee (FTE) mentality still relevant?

Hiring is getting harder

Recruiting top tech talent costs time and money.  For certain jobs, after factoring in time and fees of recruiting, it can cost up to one years worth of salary to fill key jobs, and take six months or more in some instances to find the right fit.  Also, the FTE model requires a 30-40% uptick on base salary for benefits and variable compensation in this incredibly tight labor market. Factor in ongoing re-training costs to make sure people are skilled in relevant technologies which is constantly changing, and the investment continues to grow.

The type of talent you need– Mobile, Web, Front end, dev Ops– depends on the current project priorities and seasonal influences.

A better strategy as an Enterprise is to focus on customer connections, business goals, and planning. Rent all platforms access to help achieve these goals. Do not hire computer programmers and dev ops talent full time.

The future of work is remote

Younger generations are rethinking how work is done. In fact, younger generation managers estimate that 2 out of 5 full-time employees will work remotely in three years.

We call this the Fluid Contract Model. This provides you with focused expertise without having the overhead of FTE’s. It has made much progress over the last 3 years. This allows you to Pay by the drink for design development and project management talent.

Technology has made the world truly flat.  Because of great technologies like trello, asana, and jira for project management, GitHub or Gitlab for source code check-in and control, with automated CI/CD workflows and communication tools like Slack, Google docs, twilio and video conferencing tools like zoom, uberconference, and hangouts, these projects can be driven in a smooth and predictable way.

Fixed prices and outcome-based contracts

Full service firms provide a management layer for this great engineering and design  talent along with Dashboard, KPI’s, Governance, scheduling and Escalation. They have regular reporting with weekly project progress calls, and monthly service level assessment meetings.

Once a partnership is established, this allows for fixed price contracts and outcome based engagements.  This greatly reduces risk to the enterprise.

Smart enterprises are using  freelancers to increase productivity, access specialized skills and drive cost efficiency–  and doing it with the help of full service consulting firms with deep expertise in software projects to achieve great results.

Kannan Ayyar has overseen 100’s of mission critical software projects and is CEO of Grand Design Systems,(  a next generation consulting firm using highly accomplished freelancers and software experts.  Follow him at @kayyar1. 


Leadership: Bochy’s Homerun; Johnson’s Strikeout

I have lived in the bay area for the past 15+ years, and in San Francisco, we are going through a sports renaissance: the Giants have won two of the last three World Series, and the 49ers have made it deep into the playoffs two years running (I’m looking for a championship next year!). Both teams have something in common and it has led to something amazing. Bruce Bochy for the Giants and Jim Harbaugh for the 49ers are amazing leaders and brilliant strategists at their sports. Coupling strong leadership and a deep understanding of their sports and their athletes is a formidable combination. Continue reading “Leadership: Bochy’s Homerun; Johnson’s Strikeout”

China – Land of Contradictions

I just returned from a very interesting week at ICANN’s conference in Beijing – I have been to Hong Kong many times, but this was my first visit to mainland China. I had no idea what to expect, but visions of communism and martial law kept dancing around in my head. Arriving in Beijing, however, I was amazed at how vibrant, bustling, and – dare I say it – capitalist the city was. Entrepreneurship and its associated vitality were everywhere.

ICANN had a VPN that circumvented China’s national firewall, allowing conference-goers unrestricted Internet access. At the hotel I saw some two to three hundred people wholly unrelated to ICANN, and realized word had gotten out: these people were taking advantage of ICANN’s network to escape the firewall! It seemed particularly apropos considering ICANN’s role as an organization seeking to promote access to an autonomous internet. Continue reading “China – Land of Contradictions”

India’s Election : I’ll take the self made man …

I happen to be in India during an amazing time ! The largest democratic election on the planet (and in history) is going on. India has over 800 million people eligible to vote and the elections are happening over a 5 week time period. There are almost a million polling stations set up around the country ! May 16th will be the day the winner is announced. Continue reading “India’s Election : I’ll take the self made man …”

gTLDs: Vanilla Ice or Jay Z ?

There is a battle shaking out for the real estate on the Web. The new gTLDs are in various stages of sunrise and landrush phases before they are available to the general public. What this means is there will be a virtually an unlimited number of new meaningful (categorized) URL’s (domains) available to individuals and business owners Continue reading “gTLDs: Vanilla Ice or Jay Z ?”

If You’re Not Cheating, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

Lance Armstrong. Bernie Madoff. Barry Bonds. Raj Rajaratnam. Ray Nagin. Whether it is sports, business, or politics, it seems in every walk of life, people are playing fast and loose with the law, with ethics, and with morality. Even in the software business we have some shady practices and some shady business models. Continue reading “If You’re Not Cheating, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough”

Free is too Expensive

Working at the Internet Systems Consortium, I feel I have a somewhat privileged look into the open source business model, which I’d like to address. We face the unique challenge of developing and maintaining BIND, the most-installed nameserver software on the planet, which some estimates place on 80% of all DNS servers. We’re proud of our open source heritage–one that began with the first iteration Continue reading “Free is too Expensive”