Innovation Tax : Developers are being held back from driving innovation because of complex and legacy data architectures

In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Mr. Sachin Chawla, Vice President – Asia Pacific, MongoDB, discusses the importance of innovation — and the hidden tax that holds it back. He also shared in-depth insights about the findings from the recent 2022 MongoDB Data and Innovation Report, which surveyed 2,000 developers and IT decision-makers (ITDMs) across Asia.


Can you tell us about the key findings for India in the Innovation Tax report?

The market in India is brimming with opportunities and technology teams understand that innovation is the lifeblood of competitive advantage. And for most organisations in the modern world innovation is delivered through software. At MongoDB, we are always looking to better understand the role of data and developers in enabling innovation, so we surveyed 2,000 technology professionals in India, Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan. The resulting report has some clear and practical findings for Indian businesses.

In India we found that while 94% of respondents agree that regularly building new, innovative applications and features is crucial for their long-term success, many organizations are still not spending their time on innovation. Both development teams and ITDMs report spending just as much time maintaining existing data, apps and infrastructure (27%) as they are on building new value-added features or applications (27%).

The reasons for this were clear – data and complexity.  86% of technologists reported that working with data is still the hardest part of building and evolving applications and that this was the single biggest technical challenge in application development. The report also brought to the fore that the majority of the respondents (63%) describe their organization’s data architecture as complex and 86% believe this complexity is a limiting factor when it came to innovation.

And last but not the least, businesses reported that if they were unable to innovate, the most serious consequences would be their inability to enter new markets and meet new regulations, which are the kinds of things that could potentially cripple a business.


How best can ‘Innovation tax’ be defined?  and some of the biggest challenges that are stopping organizations to innovate?

In the digital age, an organizations’ success is often tied to how fast they can build and deploy new solutions and applications. This has increased the strategic importance of developers who have become the driving force for innovation. However, our research found that today many developers are being held back from driving this innovation because of complex and legacy data architectures which take significant time and resources to work around. This can be clearly defined as a recurring tax on innovation.

Now, what are the underlying causes of that complexity? The first place to look is the traditional data architectures that are still used by many businesses but that simply can’t scale to support modern applications. To try and make them fit for purpose developers are forced to build workarounds and add band-aid solutions, which only create further complexity and don’t solve the underlying problem. In parallel some companies may introduce niche data solutions which can be run alongside their existing infrastructure, but they then spend months integrating these services. While the cloud offers massive advantages for developers, teams are wrong to think that it will solve all their problems if they simply lift and shift their existing infrastructure into the cloud. In fact, 21% of respondents in our report said that the cloud was increasing complexity.

However, with the right approach technology professionals can be better equipped to overcome these barriers to innovation and working with data.


What are the most common consequences of failure to innovate?

All technologists foresee a wide range of difficulties if their companies do not innovate successfully. The most common consequences of a failure to innovate range from an inability to respond to competitors or enter new markets to difficulties recruiting new talent, among other effects. These are fundamental questions of survival for many businesses.

Our study demonstrated that IT decision makers, on average, are more concerned about problems of failing to innovate than developers themselves. Possibly because they are more likely to be held accountable for business outcomes. On average across APAC They chose 3.0 negative outcomes of failure to innovate on average, while the developers picked 2.5.


What are some of the main reasons for developers spending relatively little time on innovation

It’s fascinating to watch how technology workers’ perspectives on innovation differ from how they really spend their time. Despite general agreement on how important innovation is, technology teams only devote 28% of their time to developing new features and applications. They spend about the same amount of time supporting existing data, apps, and infrastructure.

In fact, according to our recent data, only 9% of developers spend at least half of their time defining and implementing new features and applications, which is a dismal number while 13% spend 10% or less of their time doing so.

Why is that? Well, it’s the innovation tax. It’s now clear that traditional data architectures cannot scale. To solve for that organisations’, add on more solutions, this results in a spaghetti architecture comprising different databases. All of this creates significant operational overheads and requires context switching for developers – which slows down the development of apps and the company’s overall innovation.

As Stephen O’Grady, principal analyst and co-founder of analyst firm Redmonk, writes, “The overhead today of having to learn and interact with multiple databases has become more burden than boon.”


What are the key challenges of working with data that hold back application development?

When respondents were asked to name the most challenging technical hurdles to application development as part of this survey, the main reason was clear: 86% agreed that dealing with data was the hardest part of app development.

But it’s not the only challenge. Security and control of data, working with large volumes of data in various forms, and integrating diverse data sources were all issues that came to the fore as key challenges that slowed application development. Other problems, such as operationalizing new apps and learning new languages and technologies, were placed lower.

In India, the biggest contributor to data complexity (which as we’ve seen has knock on effects to application development) is the need to meet regulatory constraints and pressure to create new products and features.


How does MongoDB help companies deal with security and data governance

MongoDB gives businesses the freedom to move quickly and simplify the data-building process for any application. Having a general-purpose data platform with a single unified query language makes it very easy for developers to handle a wider range of workloads and use cases, bring new ways of future-proofing apps, and remove the heavy lifting of working with data and fostering innovation. Improves database functionality with features such as privacy and security, whether driven by regulatory and compliance regimes or customer demand.

With our data platform, tech teams can use one interface for any application and run it anywhere – on-premise or on the public cloud, including running it on multiple cloud providers at once which is a huge advantage. Throughout the data life cycle, we place a premium on data privacy and security, providing customers with a number of cutting-edge security features to keep them secure.


Tell us more on the future roadmap and plans to educate huge developer community in India on innovation

To support developers wherever they are, MongoDB has a number of different programmes. First we make our core database open source, so any developer can easily get started with it. Then we focus on making all the skills they need as easily accessible as possible. We do this through a mixture of global events (like MongoDB World, happening this week in New York) and more focused local events that bring the developer community together, in a mixture of existing, new and potential users to share knowledge and best practices.

To support developers more formally, we also have MongoDB University (with more than 1.5 million global registrations and more than 360,000 in India), where anyone can go and sign up for free and learn MongoDB skills and then get accredited.

We’re focused on bringing all these resources together in India to support the massive developer and business community. We already have a large customer base of 2000+ customers (growing at more than 60% year on year) across Enterprises, Startups & SMBs and we know we’re just getting started. We believe India is just at the beginning of an era of massive technological change and our mission is to help the local developers and companies take advantage of it.

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