Innovation

Innovation
How do you deal with feature creep and avoid shipping a feature set that is too narrow in its application, is not in high demand, and doesn’t generate enough customer base.

Top Answer : I'm really proud of the way our product management team has gone about this. We're really lucky at QuickBase, and most SaaS platforms are, because not only do you have all the input from customer success and from your customer advisory council and from salespeople and from market analysts and so on and so forth, you actually can look at how people are using the platform. You can see it because the data is all instrumented, which is awesome. The challenge is however, you have a ton of data to sift through and you've got to ultimately prioritize it.  The team has done a very effective job. They've built a QuickBase application that basically starts taking all that input and then what they do is, based on these problems, they try to delineate. Let's say it comes to 20 problems we aspire to solve. Then you have to stack rank, what are the 20 problems that you want to solve most acutely? And how do you do that? If you think of those as the rows in our table and our QuickBase tab, then the columns are really a view on what we think are the biggest priorities in the next year or two. We think about things like if expanding in the middle-market and above is a bigger opportunity for us, or are we really focused more on small business, or would we rather think about accelerating our growth in this segment. And we do this regularly, we ask ourselves, okay, are these still the right criteria based on the business strategy that myself and the rest of the senior leadership team have come about. Based on those criteria that we define, we then have a sense of, okay, these are the factors. And then we go through a robust discussion of how you weigh those factors, followed by a robust sort of evaluation criteria type discussion where we'll take this specific requirement and score it across these five factors that we've defined. And then let's debate. When that weighted average score comes out, let's really debate. Do we feel right about it?  You get to a place where you have a stack rank and then the line comes into place. The line is basically the cut line of, we have resources to reasonably commit to the stuff above, and we aren't going to be able to do this stuff below. You have to decide what's going to make the most sense and you have to be pretty ruthless about it because otherwise you really end up in a world where you're peanut buttering and you're dabbling, and you're not really sort of creating the breakthrough of innovation that customers care about because you are halfway on a bunch of stuff. You ultimately have to make decisions that serve the best interest of everybody in an impactful way. And that's going to mean some other thing that is also really important, we're just not going to get to it. We'd rather do one thing well than two things poorly. At an annual user conference, one of our customers pulled me aside and she said, “I heard about these announcements, and I'm really disappointed. You chose to do this.” The feature set was in the area of making end users' experience with QuickBase more visually delightful, easier to use all that kind of stuff. I was able to explain that we thought long and hard about it. The tradeoff was between getting a feature that makes your experience as a builder better, or making an experience where you can deliver something that your user is more delighted with. On the margin, it's a tough call, but I'd rather have a builder be in a position where they may not have what they want for your job right now, but where your users love what you deliver even more. And she was, she was like, that makes total sense. I totally buy into that. I'm really happy you made that choice in that way. It just reinforces the importance of always talking to customers and explaining what you're doing and why. Product management is a really hard job. You're making really hard decisions, prioritization, trade offs all the time. And you know, nobody's going to be happy all the time. I've found that the best way to address that is to try and build as many relationships as you can to just get feedback and tell people why you're making those decisions. Because by and large, they're going to give you a really good insight as to, “okay. I understand the tradeoff and I do it the same way,” or they'll tell you, “no, you totally missed the boat,” in which case that's a different problem.

How do we transition out of the traditional banking, brick and mortar, fiat worlds into a digital currency world?

Top Answer : I think there is a general lack of understanding about money, currency, and what it means and stands for. Fiat is controlled and maintained by a government and the value is agreed upon by parties in its exchange. That drives some a certain amount of predictability, familiarity, and trust. The digital currency us a means of exchange based on supply demand. The current environment, lack of understanding, volatility, etc. makes people unfamiliar pause in their tracks. To move forward with digital currency, redefining and acceptance some of the underlying concepts of digital currency are required. Explaining the advantages such monetary value retention, reduction in fees etc will help bring some awareness.

Are Apple Silicon Macs with M1 chips worth the wait?

Top Answer :

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Are you optimistic about the economic and market situation for the tech industry in 2021?

Top Answer : I'm very optimistic. From a financial standpoint, '21 is going to be an epic year. With all the other problems we are having in this country and in the world, I'm not commenting on those, but from a financial or financial capital market standpoint, it's going to be an epic year. Capital markets being stock market, equity markets. Economy? I don't know. It's very divergent unfortunately, in many ways. With the current stimulus, which is almost $2 trillion, along with the prior stimulus packages, there's a lot of liquidity being pushed, bottom up, so that may affect certain things. But from a capital market perspective, SPACs, which are the special purpose acquisition companies, are just one sliver of the overall market and that's almost $250 billion. There's a lot of capital coming from there. And venture is another one, which is usually, in the US, around 80 billion. Then there is the growth equity, and then the private equity, then the mutual funds. And these are all growing with 10x numbers, right? Mutual funds are in the trillions. Private equity is 100 billions. And venture is barely in 100. So with all the capital coming into the market and with the 0 interest rate environment, people are looking for more risk, for more yield.

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Do CIOs ever purposefully hinder innovation in order to prevent risk of failure and protect their own career should things go awry?

Top Answer : I had a CIO say to me recently, when talking about a modernization project, "How can you guarantee me that I'm not going to end up in some trade journal as the next grand failure?" So they agree with the objectives of the project, but there's personal risk in not wanting to be the next magazine article about a huge failure. And the flip side of that, that I run into all the time: CIO comes in, they're there for two years, make some decisions, get a project started, and then they leave. And there isn't enough continuity of leadership in order to see this stuff through. Because it starts getting a little dicey and it's the squishy middle that nobody wants to hang around for.

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Is high risk-aversion to change and modernization ever warranted?

Top Answer : A CEO from one of the leading financial institutions and I were talking about the integration of IT and the business. I said, "We've got to stop calling it that. Stop creating the separation between the two.” And he said, "No, I completely disagree. You absolutely should consider IT different from the business." And he was adamant about it. And his reasoning was very traditional in the way that he was thinking about the role that IT played as more of a reactive function within the company. I know some folks in financial services that are of the other mindset, but there are reasons why I think that change becomes hard. For example, I was doing work for one of the major airlines in the world and they run their operations on a mainframe. We talked about, "Okay, what does it mean to transform that and modernize it?" And the reality was not just the cost, but the risk to the organization and the operations of their airline were so significant that there was no way that it even came close to outweighing the value they would get over a period of time. And so they just continue doing it. And unfortunately the software in that particular industry is so heavily specialized that it just doesn't get modernized unless you want to do it yourself and then you kind of get back to this change aversion.

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Edge computing: a vendor’s dream in a catastrophizing world?

Edge Computing, as a category, sounds like a bad marketing attempt to create intrigue around yet another ‘paradigm-shifting’ technology that’s ‘the future of the enterprise’. What the name actually refers to is its functionality -- pushing the IT perimeter right up to the edge of where the data is being collected, in the form of smart sensors or Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. Edge Computing (EC) isn’t just about gathering data, though. Because gathering too much data eventually becomes problematic. Smart sensors mostly collect unusable ‘noise’. Think about all the images a smart camera picks up throughout each day on a busy street. If the cloud has to process hours of nothing but the occasional pigeon wandering into shot, that’s a ton of wasted server space. What EC does is place computing power inside those sensors. This computing is done in isolation, locally, cut off from the rest of the network, after which only the clean, usable data is sent on to the cloud or data center.  While EC solves some big problems in principle, there are a lot of discrete steps and factors to the whole process. Imagine the data as a game of hot potato. Each step of this game of hot potato requires entrenched security -- it’s bad news if someone can simply hack into that data being processed in the sensor (and there are many anecdotal reports of this happening), or indeed corrupt it before it’s passed on to the data center. That means containerization. There’s also latency and power consumption to consider. What’s the point of collecting data out in the world if it takes too long to make it to the cloud and back (a potentially fatal problem in industrial safety settings), or devices die out in remote locations? That means utilizing up-to-date 5G networks, LoRa (Long Range, low energy radio frequencies), BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) etc. And indeed, all the computing happening at source needs Machine Learning expertise thrown at it to figure out what’s useful.  This hot potato situation creates complexity as myriad, unproven vendors step in to offer ‘expertise’ and single point solutions to intrigued but overwhelmed IT teams.
Gartner predicts a ‘volatile’ situation over the next few years as quick adoption is met with insufficient solutions. Because of this, Gartner forewarns organizations to have an agile mindset going into any EC projects. However, we live in a world where climate-driven catastrophes and social unrest are becoming the norm. This could spell disaster for all of us tech companies for whom the internet is the lungs inhaling life into our organizations. Large scale outages will become a (bigger) problem based on current infrastructure. However, EC enables a situation where devices don’t depend on constant connection. Data can be stored on-device until a network can be re-established, preserving it during downtime. ECs can also be architected to form Mesh Networks, so that even if a node in that network goes down, the rest of the network can pick up the slack and find alternative pathways for upload. If the cloud forms the organization's brain, ECs can act as miniature, extra, failsafe memory banks. However, given that these sensors are physical objects, they won’t ever be totally safe from harm, either. Just look at how conspiracy theorists have torched 5G towers (or what someone on Facebook thought was a 5G tower, anyway). So physical device safety is another aspect to consider. As part of a movement made up of several different innovative, overlapping fields such as IoT networks, 5G, virtual machines, cloud computing, Kubernetes (to name a few), wide scale adoption might take a while to come to fruition. Perhaps over time more generalized, established, expert vendors will take control of the field. IBM is already pretty well positioned for that. ClearBlade boldly offers a scalable, managed solution for a ‘common software stack across the board’. RedHat offers a ‘Virtualization Manager’ for centralized oversight with a Graphical User Interface and an open source library to refer to, but that leaves IT a lot of work to do, still. For now, EC seems to be living up to its name more by existing on the edges of conversations rather than in IT infrastructure. But as data collection turns increasingly into data deluge, Edge Computing might form the necessary dam that saves the IT ecosystem from disaster.

Are there any vendors you’re excited about in the Edge Computing space? Or is Edge Computing not there yet for you?

Top Answer : AWS