At the recent Container Summit, James Ford (ADP's Chief Strategic Architect) shared insight into how ADP approaches innovation. He talked about how ADP uses containers to innovate, and about the importance of innovation at ADP.
“Our CEO has a Smith Corona typewriter in his office,” Ford said. “On it is a single piece of paper with the words typed on it: 'Don't be the next Smith Corona.'”
ADP could certainly fall into the Smith Corona trap. Like market leaders before them, ADP has managed to become entrenched as the default platform for a major share of their market. They've been around for 67 years, and now do payroll processing for 1 in 6 users in the US, and 1 in 10 in the world. (This in a market where it's easy to be “locked in” as a default solution, due to high switching costs.)
Still, Ford worries that “Zenefits or whoever will pop up tomorrow and start to eat our lunch.”
The problem, according to Ford, is that “a lot of what we're selling for timekeeping or talent management was kind of focused in an older era. We needed to upgrade it to be consumer grade.”
To that end, ADP established dedicated innovation labs, where developers could play on a “green field,” bringing in “a lot of UX, a lot of user research,” to create consumer grade products. Containers are a major part of that initiative, according to Ford.
“For many years ADP was focused on doing what was safe,” Ford said. “Devs were not very happy. They were handcuffed most of the time. We had the classic 'over the transom' problem of releasing code and having it 'work on my workstation.' You know, the usual things you hear when you talk about 'why containers?' In the innovation labs it's pure containers at this point.”
According to Ford, ADP's innovation labs have achieved all three phases of innovation: the “word” phase (when an organization self-identifies as innovative), the “petting zoo” phase (when they have the superficial indicators of innovation, such as innovative-looking people and work spaces), and the all-important product phase, when innovation is actually delivered to the customer.
“Innovation is getting into the customer's hands,” Ford said. “Now we'll see how it resonates.”
For Ford, the next step is to deliver more of containers' benefits to the “brown field,” which includes ADP's legacy systems. Ford is focused on agility and security – on making those two (sometimes opposing) qualities play well together.
Despite his container focus, Ford believes ADP's environment will remain heterogeneous.
“I don't think any of you guys are gonna eat my whole datacenter,” he told the Container Summit attendees. But he said using containers should make heterogeneity easier to navigate.
“Once you're on containers, moving from one container host to another is a lot easier.”
Follow the link below to see the complete conversation between James Ford and Joyent's Bryan Cantrill: