I hope some of you gamers out there still remember playing Mega Man on your Nintendo Entertainment Systems in the 90’s.
Mega Man was the 8-bit cyborg hero of an entire franchise who could run, climb, and blast his way through themed levels (what gamers today would call “maps”) full of evil robots, traps, and other pitfalls. Each game had 8 levels, were Mega Man would face an army of single-purpose, specialty-built robots. At the end of each level, Mega Man would face a boss robot with a unique skill and discrete special power. By defeating each boss, Mega Man would acquire that special power and would add those capabilities to his repertoire of weaponry.
An invention of the benevolent Dr. Light, Mega Man would begin his journey with a single-shot blaster, but as he defeated more bosses and discovered more power-ups, he would gain the ability to slide, climb walls, and even charge his arm-mounted blaster to release more-powerful shots against his foes. Mega Man had many more capabilities by the end of the game than when we started.
Once Mega Man had defeated the boss robots and gained their specialty skills, he was powerful enough to face the evil Dr. Wiley, inventor of those robots and rival to Dr. Light, and save the day.
They were an amazing collection of games that I spent hours playing. So what did Mega Man really teach us about buying modern software today?
First let’s take a step back and see our hero for what he is:
Mega Man himself was a platform on which to add-on additional capabilities. We were able to add new features “on top of” the blue bomber and expand his effectiveness and usefulness throughout the game. Each robot boss was a proprietary, stand-alone system that one “did one thing” and had a single purpose. Bubble Man with his bubble blaster was only an effective system in an underwater environment. Heat Man could shoot fire, which was useless in the water environments (and he was in fact highly susceptible to the bubble cannon and could be defeated in just three shots from that weapon). Each boss robot was specialized and fit a niche, but was not very transportable.
By Mega Man having the ability to grow and expand his usefulness, we learned that having an extensible platform is a much-more effective strategy than having multiple, single-purpose stand-alone systems.
Let’s now step outside the gameplay, and view the Mega Man world from a logistics perspective:
If we compare Dr. Light’s strategy vs. Dr. Wiley’s strategy and for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Mega Man and the slate of 8 boss robots he faced in each game were equal in their chances for victory.
Dr. Light only had a single cyborg to build, maintain, document, QA, and deploy. Dr. Wiley had eight different robots and required 8x the resources. With a platform strategy, Dr. Light was able to do more with less and often with better results.
Finally, let’s address the power-ups we gained outside the platform.
Mega Man also discovered some power-ups that didn’t augment him, but still provided him with an edge. The best-example of this are the skills that Mega Man’s robotic dog, Rush, gained throughout the adventure. This trusty (and rusty) companion would eventually learn to fly, provide a springboard, and serve as a submarine.
This shows us that in some cases, we can have platforms of platforms, and expand each in the best-way possible. But one of our platforms should serve as the master, and authoritative source for the others. Sometimes we adopt the skills we start out with, sometimes we bolt capabilities on, and sometimes we create new capabilities.
How many mini-bosses do we battle each workday?
Each of the lessons Mega Man taught us is exactly how enterprises are buying software today. Enterprises are looking for platforms that they can expand over time. Often these PaaS “Platform-as-a-Service” systems are hosted in the cloud which enables easily deployment to the business. ServiceNow, Pega Systems, Mendix, and IBM Bluemix are great examples.
Enterprises have also learned that they don’t want single-purpose, stand-alone systems. Like Dr. Wiley being forced to maintain 8 different systems, CIOs realize they need to streamline. Unfortunately, modern IT budgets don’t include allotments for 8x the trainers, maintainers, supporters, and documenters for such single-purpose systems either. Modern IT organizations want to manage, maintain and govern one system, not 8 (or 15 or 300).
CIOs have also realized an effective way to acquire software is using a 3-level approach where they can opt to Adopt, Buy, or Create the capabilities they need. The enterprise should first Adopt what they already have, or Buy the capabilities they need to add-on quickly. Only if the first-two options aren’t available, should they Create a new features that they’d have to maintain and manage. This keeps the number of stand-alone system low, and gives us few robots to have to maintain. A subcategory of PaaS systems, aPaaS (for Application-Platform-as-a-Service) is a model that highlights and embraces new applications being built into the platform. Great examples of aPaaS solutions are Force.com and the ServiceNow Store.
Who would have thought that a Nintendo game originally from 1987 — 30 years ago — would give us a blueprint today on the best strategy for enterprise software? Perhaps it was Dr. Light or perhaps the game designers at Capcom. The introduction to the game does tell us that it is the year “200X”, so other than flying, evil robots and the cyborgs who fight them, they weren’t too far off their mark.
As for me, I have a horde of robot bosses to vanquish.