Case study: IBM Bluemix

By Kieran Cannistra.


Every great innovation runs through a developer’s hands. We rely on developers having the time to create well-conceived solutions for us. And yet they inevitably spend a lot of time—days, weeks, or even months—focused on functional requirements, runtime environments, database configuration and the like.

“Traditional app development for the enterprise relies on pulling together many disparate resources within an organization,” says Tarun Gangwani, one of the IBM Bluemix team members from IBM Design. “This is a nightmare for companies wanting to adopt a DevOps strategy. Due to a lack of flexibility and scalability of IT resources on which many companies depend, it can be tough to experiment with new ideas.”

IBM’s objective was straightforward, if lofty: completely reimagine the cloud app development experience. How could we empower developers within enterprises by giving them a safe, secure and scalable environment in which they could develop the ideas that keep a business active and competitive?

The IBM Bluemix designers’ inspiration board, used to spur creative thinking, share ideas and build consensus.
The IBM Bluemix designers’ inspiration board, used to spur creative thinking, share ideas and build consensus.

The Bluemix team used IBM Design Thinking to focus on users—not functions or capabilities—with the goal of letting developers focus on their work, rather than on infrastructure and configuration.

The team began by working directly with developer Sponsor Users—dozens of them—to understand their needs. Kevin Suttle, senior front-end developer and UX designer, emphasizes the tremendous work the team put in to understand their audience. “We’re designing for enterprise developers, developers in midsize businesses, developers in startups, and for weekend-warrior developers. There’s a great deal of understanding that has to take place to design for people—especially when the user base is so diverse. I’m proud that we’ve got people with a lot of design experience influencing a developer platform. It’s gratifying to be part of an organization and a team that takes true user experience research and applies it to developers’ work.”

The team distilled data gathered during interviews, usability tests, contextual inquiries, experience mapping and heuristic evaluations into robust personas, each representing one developer type. Using these personas, Bluemix designers collaborated with product management and development to identify three Hills that they could together set as their guide for the project:

1. After discovering Bluemix for the first time, it should take no more than 30 minutes for a developer to build and run an app using IBM and third-party APIs.

2. Application owners can purchase the exact capabilities they need using a credit card or purchase order.

3. Without leaving Bluemix, a developer can securely discover approved enterprise APIs and incorporate them into an app.

“Designers, developers and product management worked together closely, which made triaging decisions easier,” says Tarun. “Everyone knew where everyone else was heading. As a result they were able to stay on track and get there more quickly than we thought we would.”

Designer Jarrod Joplin agrees. “IBM Design Thinking was a new spin on design thinking for many of us, and a refreshing approach to working on an IBM product. For me, the most rewarding part of this project was getting everyone—product management, engineering, design, marketing—into a room to talk things through. Design wasn’t dictated to us; it was completely collaborative, from conception to delivery.”

As they worked toward their Hills, the Bluemix team continuously returned to the Sponsor User personas they’d built from their research, adjusting direction without shifting focus from the destination. And, of course, they shared progress with developers and client teams in the form of Playbacks.

The Bluemix team presents at IBM Impact.
The Bluemix team presents at IBM Impact.

One such Playback went so well it actually threw off plans to demonstrate a Bluemix use case at the IBM Impact 2014 Global Conference. “We showed one client an imagined use case with one example of what their developers could do with Bluemix,” laughs Tarun. “They came back to us super excited. And asked us not to show the use case at Impact, as planned, because they wanted to move forward with it and make it real. They didn’t want anyone working on the idea before they got to build it.”

It’s this excitement that has driven Bluemix’s rapid and enthusiastic adoption by developers. The team reached their registration goals for the year by April—a full eight months ahead of projections. “What is so interesting about the Bluemix project is that everyone pulled together across the entire company,” shares Meg Swanson, director of Bluemix marketing. “Few actually reported into the same team. Groups of IBMers that spanned all geographies with differing reporting chains unified behind our single focus.” And this led to results. Fast. “The only rules were to move fast and listen to feedback. By following these rules, we delivered Bluemix half a year ahead of schedule, and with more adopters than we’d expected by this point in time.”

Jarrod looks forward to continued work with Sponsor Users and clients to build on the Bluemix foundation. “There are still a few things I look at and think, ‘This is really good. But I want users to find it delightful.’ I’m always aiming for a product users love; there’s always a moment that could be improved.”

GameStop, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and other clients are using Bluemix to develop software rapidly in the cloud, enabling developers to focus on what they do best: delivering rapid innovations to their users. In minutes, not months.

But don’t take our word for it: Join a Bluemix Meetup or visit the sandbox and help build the future.

For more information about IBM Bluemix, part of IBM’s $1 billion investment in cloud computing, visit or on Twitter at @IBMBluemix

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