Collaboration and Innovation – It’s not all tools

If you are looking for my usual blog posting where I tie some concept to the Jazz platform, and then show or tell you how to realize it with Jazz, then you can quit reading now.  This is more of a general set of observations on collaboration and innovation, which are not really specific to any set of tools or technologies.

I just read an interesting article by Neil deGrasse Tyson, entitled Back to the Final Frontier.  In the article he argues for improved funding and focus on space exploration in the United States.  If you strip out the nationalism for a second (keeping the USA competitive as a superpower), it could really apply to any nation or to the world in general.  He makes the point that true innovation in any discipline comes from EXTERNAL sources.  He uses the microwave oven as an example.  It could never have been invented by a thermodynamic engineer.  Someone that close to the problem would start with what they know (conventional convection ovens), and make improvements in efficiency, design, and operation.  These represent engineering improvements.

True innovation came from the study of radar/radio, and the use of microwaves to heat objects.  This was a completely new approach to the problem of more quickly cooking food, and it came from a discipline that is completely unrelated to normal thermodynamics.  It is a variation of the usual argument that the technologies developed for space travel and exploration often end up having “spin off” applications that greatly benefit society, which more than make up for the research and development costs associated with them.  It is a convincing argument, and one that I find myself in general agreement with.

This is not a review of his article.  What got me thinking was taking some of these concepts around innovation and applying them to my own situation.

People often talk about Jazz as being a platform for more efficient communication and collaboration.  I think that it does do this.  Where the real power in Jazz lies is that in promoting this communication and collaboration, an atmosphere that promotes true innovation is created.  That innovation is where significant economic and social value can be created.

I think that we often get so locked in on creating business cases and justifying decisions, that we lose sight of the fact that software can be a source for innovative new products and services for our customers.  Having a software organization that is confident, transparent, and predictable, can help the business stop worrying about execution, and begin to focus on the identification of new opportunities and new revenue streams.

The Jazz platform can help lead you to this, but I need to make a distinction between the platform, and the tools.  The platform is the core technology, with a REST based architecture, use of linked data, and OSLC integrations.  Notice that I have not mentioned any tools.  As far as the tools are concerned, the Jazz Applications (tools) can include the IBM Jazz products like Rational Team Concert (RTC), Rational Quality Manager (RQM), and Rational Requirements Composer (RRC).  They can also be some non-IBM products, utilizing things like Subversion, Jenkins, Maven, and others.  Many of these non-IBM products now have OSLC wrappers, that allow them to look like OSLC content providers.  Check out some of the OSLC integrations that exist today, and also see what else is being planned.  The list is beginning to get expansive enough to make a unified software development environment a reality for most organizations.

The impact on the end user is that they now have the ability to choose from a mix of tools; some from vendors like IBM, some from other vendors, and some from the open source community.  Utilizing the concept of linked data, and leveraging OSLC, software development teams now can focus on their work, and not have to waste a lot of time and effort in tool evaluation.  Let the teams use what they want.  The rest of the organization will still be able to easily see what those teams are doing, and how they are doing it.

In the bigger picture, this tends to make tools less of a focus, since there is much less energy and drama spent in selecting tools, training users on tools, and worrying about tool vendors.  Tools become what they should be: a means to an end.  What is that end state that we should be worrying about?  Innovation.


In the interests of full disclosure, I work for IBM and I am part of the Jazz development community, so I have a stake in this.  I honestly believe that the Jazz platform is something that should be a “no-brainer” for most software development organizations.  It leads to greater transparency, more collaboration, and better innovation.  Innovation is engine that most companies need to help secure their long term revenue, and maintain their long term viability.  Innovation in the business world is not going to come from within the business world.  True innovation in the business world is going to come from outside sources, and unique disciplines.  Having people who can easily collaborate and communicate is going to fuel the injection of new technologies, new disciplines, and new approaches into the organization.

So quit worrying about the tools – software teams will use what they like.  Instead, you should focus on making the software development platform a springboard for innovation.  Innovation is where significant business value and social value are created, so make sure to keep your eyes focused on the big picture.

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