What is Your Innovation Strategy?

I attended the Esri Partner Conference and Developer Summit a couple of weeks ago in Palm Springs, CA.  This conference is always one of my favorite conferences of the year - and not just because it is great to leave Maine for Palm Springs in March.  It is a conference with great energy, significant international participation, and provides us as partners a reasonably in-depth look at Esri's road map for the coming year.

The Times They are a Changing

As you might expect, the road map has a number of interesting twists and turns.  Esri's cloud strategy is maturing significantly.  Web deployment architectures are becoming more nimble and more scalable.  There will be a significant focus on GIS-enabling mobile devices.  And across the entire technology suite Esri is working hard to make their GIS platform easier to use, easier to manage, and easier to deploy.  One small example of this is the growing importance of the Esri Resource Center where many different templates are available for download.  These templates are designed to get customers up and running and realising value from their investment very quickly.  Taken together, there is a significant amount of change coming our way in the next 18 months or so and many of the changes will enable us to create new applications, new delivery models, and new business models that incorporate GIS.  As I left California my mind was reeling with all of the new and varied tools that we will have available to us to build compelling solutions for our customers.

Change can also be perceived as a bad thing of course.  For some partners the coming changes will threaten their established business models.  I overheard one partner complaining to an Esri staffer that the templates in the resource center were going to "put them out of business".  I was pretty amazed at that perspective and that conversation has me thinking a lot about innovation.

Lets face it, change is an integral part of our life experience.  The universe is in a constant state of change.  As technology professionals, we live in a world where the pace of that change is increasing at an exponential rather than a constant rate.  (Ray Kurzweil has written some interesting stuff on this concept if you are interested in further reading.)  Charles Darwin is quoted as saying "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."  Unlike the world of biology, however, where change happens through random genetic mutation, as humans we have the ability to proactively design our response to change through innovation.  In the world of technology innovation is not an option, it is a necessity.  Jack Matson's mantra of "Innovate or Die" is truer now than ever.

Innovation is a personal responsibility too

At PenBay, we are thinking hard about innovation.  How do we take advantage of Esri's new capabilities in our product strategy?  How to we incorporate the cloud into our offerings?  How do we address the highly fragmented mobile marketplace?  How do we create a global strategy that embraces partners in other parts of the world?  How do we lighten our implementation patterns and shorten our development cycles so that we can quickly adjust to changes in market demand and technology platform?  What kinds of new skills do we need to be growing within our existing team or acquiring in from outside?  How do we alter our partner fabric to help us address some of these questions?  Most importantly, how do we create a culture that values creativity and encourages new ideas?

Innovation is not only important at the organizational level of course.  It is important that you have a personal innovation strategy as well.  Those of us old enough to remember Y2K will recall that there was a great scarcity of COBOL programmers in the late 1990's as the industry struggled to patch up all the various systems that had been written using two digit year notations. How COBOL developers felt in 2001 When January 1st 2000 dawned and the world was still alive, suddenly the need for COBOL developers vanished almost over night.  Those developers who had a very narrowly COBOL skill set had a very difficult time until they acquired other skills.  Today there is a great need for GIS developers with experience in modern web development frameworks such as FLEX or SilverLight.  The emerging skill gap is for GIS developers with skills and experience on the various mobile platforms including Android, RIM, Windows Phone, and that other fruity one whose name I can't remember.

Because of the accelerating rate of change in technology companies that innovate well will flourish.  Those that do not will suffer any may die.  The same is true of individuals who are technology professionals.  So...  what is YOUR innovation strategy?