Roll on deodorant and ball point pens

In life, there is much to be learnt from the experience of others. The same applies in the business world, particularly when looking for innovation. In fact, some of the best innovations have been adopted and adapted from other industries.

Deodorant had been commercially available for more than 50 years in paste form when Helen Barnett Diserens changed the cosmetics industry. Unhappy with the messy, by-hand application, she took inspiration from the ball-point pen and invented the roll-on deodorant.

Amar Bhide of the Harvard Business School studied the origin and evolution of new business ideas. He found that over 70% were based on ideas that had been adopted from other fields. As technology continues to shape the way we work and live, there are many approaches used in consumer-tech that can be adopted and adapted into the world of financial technology.

As part of validating our own thoughts and plans, we’ve also looked at relevant approaches used by our technology peers, far and near, to ensure we continue to deliver what’s really important to our clients and users.

What is really important?

Designing, developing and delivering great software that is fit for purpose, of high quality and gets into the hands of the user in a timely manner is fundamental. And doing this consistently, frequently and predictably is becoming increasingly critical to our clients’ operations and success.

Adopting and adapting - user collaboration

The introduction of Iress Labs is an approach that is being increasingly applied in software development, where co-designing with the users of the software ensures that the technology is fit for purpose, is intuitive and pleasing to use - and works the way the user works. You can read more about this in our 'A look inside the laboratory' article.

Adopting and adapting - quality

In software engineering, a software's ability to tolerate failures, be resilient, and ensure optimal quality has often been treated as a non-functional requirement.

Netflix, the online streaming service, turned this paradigm on its head when it introduced what is known as the “Simian Army” into its technology approach, changing its assumptions from a model where there would be no breakdowns to a model where breakdowns were certain and ensuring that built-in resilience was an obligation rather than an option.

The first of the Simian Army was the Chaos Monkey - a program that randomly chooses a Netflix server and disables it during its usual hours of activity. While deliberately causing chaos sounds crazy it ultimately has ensured that, rather than depending on the random occurrence of an event to test quality, there is a strong alignment among software engineers to build redundancy and process automation to survive such incidents, without impacting the millions of Netflix users. Chaos Monkey has proven to be one of the most effective tools to improve the quality of Netflix technology.

What the application of the Chaos Monkey demonstrates is that quality needs to be ‘baked in’, it cannot be an afterthought, and it’s not just about testing.

We have taken this, and many other examples of quality assurance, and adopted them into our approach to technology strategy. Our quality framework includes:

  • Process: “system thinking”, “agile” & “lean” concepts changing and enhancing how we work.
  • People: introduction of cross-functional teams, so our technology team can move faster and make decisions with the right knowledge
  • Culture: teamwork, autonomy and empowerment focussed on excellence and client alignment.
  • Testing: reflecting on the well known test pyramid, ensuring clarity around test principles and automating based on those principles.
  • Adopting and adapting - release timeliness

There is little point having quality software if it does not get into the hands of the users in a timely manner.

Spotify, the music distributor with over 170 million subscribers worldwide, is not an entertainment company - at its core it is a technology company. One of the fundamentals that has seen Spotify grow from a startup to global behemoth in less than ten years is how it structured its technology development teams to enable continuous delivery of software.

It has small development ‘squads’ that are tightly aligned but loosely linked so they are not dependent on other teams developing other features. Spotify has unbundled releases so that a feature can be released to users when it is ready and not held up waiting in a batch.

Think of it like a sushi train where the chefs, all working in alignment and to the same end outcome, can place their dish on the train without being held up by another chef’s readiness; the train keeps moving and supplying meals to diners - no waiting, no deferring, no delays.

A recent global research study by DORA (Devops Research and Assessment) found that tech companies who made shifts similar to this Spotify example, performed consistently higher than those who had not. In particular:

  • deployed 46 times more frequently,
  • had lead times 440 times faster, and
  • had failure rates five times lower.

Traditionally we may ‘batch’ say 55 new features and release them in one enterprise software release quarterly. Employing an approach similar to Spotify’s sushi train means we complete a feature and make it available as soon as we can, and not wait for other features to be ready and delivered in a batch.

Ultimately, this means continuously delivering improvements and new functionality to our users quicker, and with lower risk and less change angst for our clients.

Back to the roll-on deodorant

As Helen Barnett Diserens looked to an adjacent industry for a solution for deodorant, this continuous delivery model, coupled with our Iress Labs approach to delivering co-designed software and our framework to improve product quality, are some of the approaches we have adopted and adapted from our peers.

So next time you use a ball-point pen or eat Japanese, or if you happen to come across a monkey, stop and think what you could learn from the world around you to improve your business and the products and services you deliver to your clients.