TMCnet Feature
May 01, 2014

An Architectural Approach to Disruptive Innovation

By Mark Panthofer, Executive Director of Strategic Marketing

In 2014, there is increasing pressure for every business to think more like a digital business. As a digital business it is essential to leverage software to both differentiate your products and to innovate, constantly challenging yourself to deliver better products faster and cheaper and doing so in a way that further engages and empowers your customers.  Leading analysts at Gartner (News - Alert), Forrester and Accenture suggest that at the end of the day there are really only two camps surrounding disruptive innovation:  1) the disrupted and 2) the disruptors.  It is time to ask yourself, which camp are you going to be in?

In addition to the business pressure to innovate and differentiate, new expectations from customers are being shaped by their experience with mobile apps. As a result consumers are now expecting modular, focused applications that deliver specific value with a rich user interface. This is in contrast to the previous generation of clunky websites with disjoint functionality that was often difficult to find and often even harder to use. While many organizations rushed to deliver mobile applications, they have discovered the process is slow, expensive, difficult to maintain and even more difficult to integrate with core business systems.

In response to this pressure and the associated cost of mobile application development, many developers have been committed to finding a standards-based, open set of technologies that would allow developers to create rich applications that run in both mobile and desktop browsers.  Therefore, they could create a single application that would provide a rich user experience across all devices - hence significantly streamlining the development process.  While these technologies have emerged slowly over the last eight years, they are finally reaching a level of maturity that is making them interesting to enterprise software development organizations.

Over the past year we have seen all of our enterprise development clients adopt a combination of responsive web design technologies and single page application JavaScript frameworks. An example would include a healthcare services company using Twitter (News - Alert) Bootstrap (for responsive design) with angular JS to build a responsive, single page web application that rivals the look feel and function of the native app without having to create a different app in a different programming language for each mobile platform/version.

In addition to using responsive single page web application technology, organizations are also following a pace-layered architecture approach (Gartner coined this term). In this approach, the foundation layer is comprised of their systems of record. You could find these other systems in any company in their industry, including human resources, payroll, financial reporting and sales. These are the systems that turn over every 10 to 20 years.  The middle layer is comprised of functionality that is unique to their company and differentiates them from their competitors. This layer is typically implemented as a suite of business-oriented services. These services turn over every one to five years. Finally, the top layer of the pace-layered architecture is the innovation layer.  This is where we see the appearance of the responsive, single page web application. These applications turn over about once every year, but heavily leverage the middle layer’s business oriented services and are able to reuse and share business logic as they evolve.

This pace-layered approach allows for stability of the core business systems while at the same time allowing for continuous innovation. Without the separation either innovation would be stymied or stability of the core systems would be compromised.

So, we are seeing the realization of a service oriented architectural pattern, based on the concepts of Gartner’s pace-layered application approach in combination with emerging standards based technologies.  Moreover, that pattern is supporting innovation and serving as an architectural approach to support innovation that many organizations are using today.

Mobile first design is not limited to mobile

As users began to transition from clunky webpages to rich apps, there emerged a movement called “mobile first” design. This was necessary because native mobile apps were different that traditional web pages in two important ways.  First, mobile devices have a smaller form factor and they can only present a limited amount of usable information to users and a minimalist approach became important. The second difference was subtler - because mobile devices provided capabilities for a rich native user interface, application designers had to rediscover how to design dynamic interfaces. The latter was a significant adjustment for the application designers and developers, but necessary in order for them to fully understand and harness the new user interface opportunities.

The same sort of adjustment is required for building rich user interfaces with responsive, single page web applications. Therefore rather than calling this minimalist approach for dynamic interface design “mobile first” design, perhaps something more like “UX first” design is more appropriate because both mobile and responsive SPAs both provide a rich application experience that is quite a departure from clunky Web apps.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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