Building a World for Non-Geeks: K2 Founder on Data Democratization, Apps + BYOD


6/21/2013 10:44:50 PM

Read the article at Siliconangle.com

Possibly the most exciting topic we’ve covered in depth this year is the Industrial Internet and its consumer component around The Internet of Things, contextualizing the promising technology that’s evolved around Big Data and real time analytics these recent years.  A revolution in the data center has borne new capabilities that are trickling down from IT to an organization’s many departments and teams, spanning the boardroom to the break room.

The result of this trickle-down effect is that more employees within an organization require more access to more data, on more devices.  Anywhere, any time, on demand.  This kind of data democratization relies heavily on application design and distribution, compatability with other software solutions and services, and a unified management portal for keeping things compliant and congruent.

Enter K2, a platform that builds and run business applications including forms, workflow, data and reports.  K2 feels its time to move away from slow, costly business process management (BPM) efforts and toward a model where business apps can be built quickly and rolled out in great numbers for viral efficiency.  K2′s founder Adriaan van Wyk believes that this model will change the BPM market forever, and is already leading that shift with K2’s modern platform for business application development.

Adriaan van Wyk, K2 founder

Below is an interview I recently conducted with Adriaan, who was raised in South Africa and has a unique perspective on application design, data democratization and, of course, South African wine.  He speaks on the current paradigm shift taking place in the enterprise, how he maintains a spirit of innovation within K2, and his favorites beaches to work from, now that the cloud has enabled an enlightened era of mobile-driven, application-ready workforce.

K2 makes it easy for non-engineers to build apps, and regular workers to gain access to the right data.  How does this scale, and what scenario do you anticipate once everyone in an organization is empowered in this manner?

I was eight years old in 1980 when my father did his doctoral thesis in phycology. I clearly remember going with him to the university’s only mainframe computer, which he had to book days in advance, to enter data using punch cards. This allowed him to run statistical analyses and break new ground in certain research areas. It took days of preparing the punch cards and weeks to analyze the data afterwards.

Not even 10 years later we were using spreadsheets in high school to do exponentially more complex things, in minutes.

Today I cannot imagine not being able to run daily pivot table reports to analyze hundreds of thousands of rows of sales data, measuring our business performance.

That is the same paradigm shift that will happen when non-developers and less technical users can solve their own business problems in organizations, without being tied down by the limitations they face today.

The ability to build apps, run them on your mobile devices and delete them when a task is done, at marginal costs that delivers exponential ROI, will change how we think about productivity.

As a company we have developed and patented the technology that will cross this chasm and drive this paradigm shift. Hundreds of our customers are rapidly building apps that integrate with SAP and SharePoint, are accessed form their mobile devices and are changed and adapted by people who understand the business, not developer tools.

The reach and scale once this reaches a tipping point is fascinating.

You’ve described your team’s willingness to explore as a beneficial contribution towards K2’s ability to push the envelope and truly innovate.   How do you instill this spirit across your organization, but rein it in when necessary?

We are big believers in focusing and measuring success based on outcomes, not inputs. If there is a culture in an organization that recognize exceptional outcome/results it creates a razor sharp focus, urgency and energy to be part of success. We clearly define the goals we are striving towards and what beating them will look like. Once you establish this culture and people start seeing the effects, it becomes far less important to rein it in. It’s similar to a 100 meter sprint athlete. You never have to encourage them to run slower or rein them in because the goal line is clear.

Given your viewpoint that today’s industry partner channels are increasing direct communication between buyers and sellers, marginalizing demand for “high priest” analysts, what do you think of Gartner’s recent Magic Quadrant report, which another analyst calls out of touch with today’s market needs?

This is a longer answer, but bear with me:

Imagine the following: A time when there was no internet, no telephones and we all lived in our own little villages or islands with little or no communication to the outside world. Every Friday a “well-travelled” out-of-towner visits and shares the latest news, including their impression on how things are going in other parts of the world, what exciting events are occurring and what the future holds. If at all possible, imagine how isolated your views in your little town will be and how much you depend on the “traveler’s” view of the world.

Adding to this, if you helped pay the traveler’s costs they would make sure your news was read first when they got to the next town.

Now jump to a time where, with a click of a button, you can not only read the news yourself, but interact in real time with others who are experiencing the news.

The world changes completely and so does the role of the news-carrying traveler who used to be the authority on what happened in the world, outside of your little town.

I think the role of analysts will change dramatically. They don’t play the role of informing customers who have limited information. They have to evolve into being trusted advisors in order to help customers deal with an overload of options and information. It puts a new kind of pressure on them to work much harder and change their research approach.

I think Analysts that are thinking of themselves as the experts, rather than advisors and researchers, will become irrelevant. Unfortunately many of the “old hands” and larger forms are set in their ways and not adapting fast enough and are in fact, becoming irrelevant.

There are individuals and organizations that are getting this right. We have worked with some great people at Forrester who get this and are taking a new approach. It’s valuable to work with them under these circumstances.

I hope the simplified “traveler with news in an isolated world” makes sense.  Imagine how ridiculous it would be if we all went to the local town hall to hear what happened yesterday, when we can just Google it.

LIFE LESSONS

You once said that trends are important, but aren’t to be chased.  What’s it mean to you, then, to “live in the now?”

Adriaan van Wyk, K2 founder

I think trends create a certain momentum and velocity, which is exciting but dangerous if you get caught up in it. It’s a little like being in a speeding car and only focusing on the road ahead and not the surrounding scenery. You might miss a turnoff or a short cut.

Anyway, I simply mean that chasing trends can cause tunnel vision which kills broader innovation.

As an example, I think the world has enough chat apps. If some of these developers and companies spent their energy and time on innovating something else, they could come up with the next big thing, rather than something that is 5% better than the other 30 existing apps.

It’s much more difficult to do this though…

You’re also not ashamed to make mistakes, if, in your words, “it only happens once and you have a good reason for why that happened.”  How do you personally assess the reasons behind a mistake, and in turn prevent it from happening again in the future?

You only need to disqualify a few things. If there was no recklessness or sloppiness and enough planning, thought, and hard work went in, yet it still failed, then you need to learn from it and move on.

Don’t over analyze it. I just look for simple things. If your staff knows this, they focus on the simple things that make things successful and drive the right outcomes.

Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.  Ownership and accountability is critical. There should be nowhere to hide.

A South African red wine you’d take out only for a special occasion?

The Chocolate Block is an excellent red wine. They are a little hard to get hold of in the USA, but you can find them. The name is not an indication of the taste.

A second one is Allesverloren the name translates into “everything lost”.  The farm burnt down many, many decades ago and was regrown from a small patch that survived. The wine today is incredible.