There’s a parable about two caterpillars crawling together along across a leafy garden when a butterfly swooped perilously close. Said one to the other: “You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”
That fear of the unknown, a completely natural and understandable phenomenon, is something any leader will recognize if he or she has ever tried to introduce transformational change. It’s also something that can kill any initiative, even technology as revolutionary and beneficial as service virtualization.
At InformationWeek’s 500 Conference recently, Allstate’s director of technology, Matt Manzella shared approaches his company has successfully crafted to solicit, advocate and implement great ideas from the ground up. Some of those lessons apply directly to moving an IT staff to virtualized services.
Lessons from Allstate: 'Idea Blitzes'
Manzella said his technology team came up with a number of ways to solicit problem-solving ideas at Allstate. Among them were what they called “idea blitzes.” For the past five years, they’ve used a survey tool they call an “Innovation Engine” to crowd-source solutions to specific problems. In one case, the challenge statement read something like this: “Help us define the functions and features of our mobile app.”
Employees are urged to send ideas – and they do. In one month, the engine gets over 1.5 million pageviews and 6,000 ideas submitted, Manzella said. The mobile app problem, it turned out, was solved by an Allstate trial attorney in Buffalo, N.Y.
But the lesson here is not that great ideas come from Buffalo. Manzella said a big lesson for him was that you must have executive alignment and support to make great ideas succeed. “Idea blitzes” work, he said, because there is support at the top from leaders who participate and who insist on participation, and also because key departments buy in early.
Manzella also has made a point of pressing innovation on departments that had previously resisted. He named the very busy – and critically important – claims department, which became a champion of idea blitzes once it saw the results ($18 million in savings and productivity gains) that resulted from innovation.
The Upshot as it Relates to Service Virtualization
Here’s where the lessons lead us to service virtualization. You can invest all you want in transformational technology, but you won’t realize the full potential until you take a transformational approach to implementation.
If you are in management, you must manage and incentivize your IT department to use SV, or they will continue in the old mocks-and-stubs approach. SV is not the dessert on their menu of options – it’s the main course.
If you are in development, you must embrace the potential of SV and realize that it is more productive than using live systems. The transition may be scary at first, but once you realize you can eliminate the 30 percent padding time you used to build into release cycles, the defects you catch earlier and the money that is saved, you’ll be converted.