Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
One of the top reasons for digital innovation and transformation failures can be summarized as the enterprise trying to reinvent the wheel. This is the tendency of the enterprise to attempt to create technology, platforms, and applications that have already been implemented, scaled, optimized and almost perfected. This tendency almost always ends up a failed one as it does not create any net new value for the enterprise but comes with a massive opportunity cost as the enterprise spends crucial resources on reinventing the wheel than innovating for the customer.
How The Wheel Is Reinvented
Nontechnology enterprises can get trapped in a reinvent state where they conclude that homegrown technology is the only path towards customer and business value. This in itself is not entirely false however the type of enterprise and their decision-making process along with the capabilities they have in house have a very large impact on the success of the strategy.eRaaadada
Reinventing the wheel happens when a non-tech enterprise discovers a technology trend towards much later in the hype cycle almost towards the end when the technology is hitting the mass market and decides to recreate or reinvent its own version of the technology. This is often done with the assumption that with some investment, the enterprise can have a home grown version of technology or platform that is designed specifically for its needs and is thus a better fit. However, enterprises assume that the state of the technology will remain constant and while they are attempting to home grow a version that can match the current state of the art. In reality, the state of the art shifts and the enterprise is not able to bridge the gap.
Who Reinvents The Wheel
Typically, technology teams often decide to go down the path of reinvention when they are allowed to make technology upgrade or technology creation decisions without business KPIs and cost constraints i.e. clear success criteria with fixed cost and clear timelines. In this situation, the teams making the decision to reinvent the wheel do not have any accountability towards clear business objectives and thus are able to define their own choices and roadmap.
What Reinvention Gone Wrong Looks Like
So what does reinvention, when it is unnecessary and gone wrong,
An enterprise can be saddled with technology fragmentation when existing efforts to build a platform are abandoned, often with applications already built on top of these technology/platform. Because the existing effort is sub par and often fails, a new effort for a new version is often kicked off which also eventually gets discarded as it fails to bridge the gap with the state of the art. Soon an enterprise has a whole set of applications running on different versions of the technology stack making the operations and maintenance of these applications a nightmare.
An enterprise that has attempted to reinvent technology and platforms is more likely to have a dissatisfied developer base within the enterprise. Internal developers are often “forced” to use technology platforms built in-house and because these platforms are sub par and there exists a gap between what the developer knows is available on an outside platform and what is delivered in the enterprise, often they are not able to build best in class applications because of lacking, underlying platforms. Developers often tasked to build cutting edge applications, almost have their hands tied behind their backs by being held accountable for great applications but having access to suboptimal technology.
High Opportunity Cost
Enterprises that spend their time building platforms that they do not need to and those that are readily and easily available and verified by the enterprise’s counterparts often are hit with a high opportunity cost of high-value applications that could have been built on platforms and technology leveraged from the outside market. The opportunity cost is huge as every day when an enterprise continues offering not the best-in-class experience to their users and cutting edge, innovative applications, the more user dissatisfaction brews in the user base and more likely are customers (and internal stakeholders) to lose faith in the technology teams and the abilty of the enterprise to deliver high quality applications and experiences.
When Reinventing Is OK
Reinventing is OK when the following two conditions are true.
Nascent, Immature Technology
When the technology is new and immature i.e. has not reached the hype peak nor has it matured and stabilized and accepted by the late adopters and laggards, it might make sense for the enterprise to try and become “contributors” to the state of the art and push the envelope leading the charge for that technology. Anything short of a full and long term commitment to defining and pushing the technology forward is a losing bet for the enterprise.
Long Term Business Requirement
If the enterprise has a long term business requirement for the technology or a related platform, it might make sense to reinvent the technology in house. A great example of this is Amazon’s AWS strategy where several open source software projects are “forked” to ensure that Amazon’s efforts are cutting edge and then Amazon takes over the innovation on that forked code base according to its needs, requirements and strategies.
Availability of Required Competencies
If the enterprise has access to and experience in building technology and platforms from the ground up, it has a higher chance of success in delivering a platform that is cutting edge and remains innovative over a long period of time. Having the aptitude, competency and temperament including patience to build a technology and/or platform from the ground up especially when it is not part of the core business of the enterprise is very rare and any such initiatives should be carefully thought of and bought in by all stakeholders including the business arm of the enterprise.