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Software should be at the center of any effective business strategy

Is Amazon the most influential company of this era? It just might be. Like its namesake river, it’s a powerful force of both creation and destruction.

As it follows its own unpredictable path, it’s done something truly extraordinary. It’s made just about every company in just about every industry worry about being “Amazoned” – overtaken by younger, nimbler and more digital-native competitors.

From its online retail and cloud computing roots, Amazon has expanded into a broad array of traditional industries: grocery stores and delivery, TV production and distribution, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, logistics, consumer electronics, home tech support, fashion and more. Are they coming for you next? Maybe, maybe not. But a healthy level of paranoia is certainly appropriate.

So, let’s talk about software. Specifically, how excellence in software delivery can help you fend off digitally astute competitors in the Amazon mold. Software plays a key role today in almost every product and service.

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The silhouette of an attendee is seen while he works on an Apple Inc. laptop computer while participating in the Yahoo! Inc. Mobile Developer Conference Hackathon in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. The Hackathon is an opportunity for mobile developers to come together and hack around the Yahoo! Inc. Mobile Developer Suite. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Amazon anticipated this world and designed its business accordingly, from the ground up. So it has a built-in advantage over traditional organizations. But that doesn't mean you can’t pull from its playbook. Here’s where to start.

1. Align your software development to big strategic initiatives

Amazon doesn’t do short-term, and you shouldn’t either. When crafting your IT budgets, think beyond year-to-year projects. Rather, use software delivery to create long-term products that create clear long-term business value.

How can Amazon incorporate so many disparate elements into its core operations? By building a technical backbone strong enough to support whatever it wants to do next, and next after that, and next after that.

Digital-native companies like Amazon are great at understanding how software delivery can propel their businesses forward. They know how to use frameworks such as Lean, Agile and DevOps to achieve important outcomes – and ensure that everyone can see, measure and optimize the business value of their work.

2. Then, make sure your IT tools are fully connected – to each other and to the larger business.

Speaking of Agile and DevOps, many organizations use these tools and methodologies to improve software delivery. For example, Agile practices help developers commit code faster, while DevOps help operations deploy code faster. These are worthy and important steps, but not enough, because they often result in only local “team” improvements rather than big strategic gains.

Why? Often, IT is just not very well connected to the larger business. Traditional businesses may have thousands of IT tools, teams and processes working on both core and contextual activities. These toolchains are usually disconnected, by design. As a result, managing core business priorities can be very difficult. With this unwieldy legacy IT infrastructure, there’s no formal process to prioritize work to determine whether or not it’s central to the business.

In contrast, Amazon connected IT to the business from day one. IT is the business. Its in-house toolchains are all connected, so staff can plan, build and deliver software to meet mission-critical activities quickly and effectively. It’s perhaps the ultimate model of a modern, well-managed IT infrastructure that focuses on delivering value – and views software as a key strategic driver.

Some important questions to ask yourself

First, what is your process for meeting business needs through software?

Then, how does work flow from the time a business request is made? How does an idea become reality as it travels from customer need to design, development, delivery, service and support?

Software is a complex, creative and iterative process. Customer needs and market demands are constantly evolving. Once you connect your teams through their tools, you can improve the way work flows, and build products that deliver greater long-term value. You can maybe even do it better than Amazon could. After all, who knows your customers and markets better than you do?

Great software delivery is powered by the people and systems that plan, build, deliver and support it. Amazon knows this deep in its DNA.

When Jeff Bezos took the company public, he made it clear that he would not be bound by a quarter-to-quarter mentality. Rather, he would take the long view, and build the connected technical infrastructure to solve big problems and constantly bring more value to market. The success of this approach speaks for itself, and it’s a lesson every IT organization should take to heart.

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