Revolution at the Edge

This is a guest post by Christian Gheorghe, founder and CEO of Tidemark.

It's a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothing's strange
People, people we are the same
No we're not the same
Cause we don't know the game
What we need is awareness, we can't get careless
You say what is this?
—Public Enemy, Fight The Power

In retrospect revolutions appear self-evident, yet at the time they seem unlikely. Today, the end of Communism in Eastern Europe seems so obvious, but in my home country of Romania, until the day Nicolae Ceausescu was shot dead, I thought he would rule forever. Technological revolutions follow a similar psychological dynamic. In 2012, most everyone takes the Internet for granted and believes its emergence to be a logical, evolutionary step. People point to Marc Andreessen’s Mosaic browser as the point at which everything changed, but that’s not what actually happened. Marc released Mosaic in 1993. A review of the technology press in 1993 and 1994 reveals that almost nobody believed the Internet would be important. In the late year of 1995, IBM acquired Lotus Development, makers of the Lotus 123 spreadsheet and a proprietary Internet predecessor, Lotus Notes, for $3.5B—more than the combined market capitalizations of Amazon.com, eBay, Yahoo, Netscape and the entire Internet sector.

Leading up to a revolution, each contributing variable seems unrelated until suddenly there is a convergence, which ignites radical change until the truth becomes self-evident. When change occurs, the great uncertainty transforms into tremendous creativity. This results in the utter destruction of the old and emergence of the new: new insights, new markets, new rules, new leaders and a wealth of new opportunities. But to have such a birth, we must first have a funeral.

Today we stand on the verge of a revolution in enterprise computing. In five years, the old guard will go away as the explosive new regime takes over. Which side of history will you be on?

The nature of the IT revolution

Unlike political regimes, technological rulers are comprised of products rather than people. These aging products, developed in earlier times now represent bankrupt ideologies, weak paradigms and byzantine complexity.

The people of IT—CIOs, network engineers, system administrators, IT developers and their brethren—get captured and held hostage by the technological dictators. This reminds me of one of the most unbelievable vestiges of communist Romania: the so-called “Department for the Betterment of the People”. It had of course nothing to do with “betterment”, but rather oppression, and it was one of the first places the revolution touched.

Today’s IT departments separate their efforts into two categories: development of new capabilities and maintenance of the current capabilities. In a clear expression of the current regime’s brutality, IT shops spend anywhere from a whopping 50 to 80 percent of their resources maintaining the status quo. Specifically, IT deploys huge workforces to:

    • Maintain virus-ridden, windows-registry-rotting desktops
    • Keep hand-rolled, brittle server, storage and network infrastructures working reliably
    • Install, upgrade and train people on hard to use slow, ancient-looking enterprise software

Theses efforts result from neither neglect nor incompetence, but are simply taxes imposed by vicious technology regimes that have outlived their usefulness.

The king is dead, long live the king

Three revolutionaries will replace the current IT dictators: Cloud, Mobile and Social.

Cloud

While the cloud concepts first emerged in the late 1990s, the technology only recently matured to the point where it is poised to break the chains of handcrafted infrastructure and enterprise application software.

On the infrastructure front, modern programmers can completely separate the code they develop from the infrastructure that it runs on. This opens incredibly powerful, once unheard of capabilities such as elastic applications and economically efficient infrastructure outsourcing. More importantly, it frees the army previously assigned to maintaining the massive custom infrastructure to pursue higher purposes.

On the application side, cloud computing magically removes the largest organizational constraints to adopting new capabilities: the costs to deploy, maintain and train people on enterprise software. Freed from these horrors, modern IT organizations, which previously could only introduce 1 or 2 new capabilities per year, can now introduce two new applications in a week, unleashing massive efficiencies and competitive advantage for their companies.

Mobile

Back in the mid-1990s, in order to escape the horrors of every employee having their own kind of computer complete with different hardware, operating systems and software, IT standardized on the Windows PC leading to a Wintel duopoly. The duopoly dictated the capabilities and constraints of end user computing for the next 15 years, rendering creativity in the ecosystem moot and increasingly slowing desktop innovation to a crawl.

Then Apple introduced the iPhone, leading to a revolution in full-blown computing devices that were completely mobile. In Q2 of 2012, 362 million mobile phones shipped and it is increasingly rare to see business users who don’t have smartphones or tablet devices. With the pending arrival of the iPhone 5 in September, as well as new tablets from Amazon, Microsoft and Apple expected in the fall, the world is progressively mobile first and the Windows duopoly has been completely cracked, resulting in more end user computing device application development in the last two years than in the previous 10.

In addition, a whole new world of usability and mobility has emerged, leading to technologies that can knowledge-enable much larger portions of the workforce, creating new opportunities for IT organizations to create advantage for their companies.

Social

The rise of Facebook and Twitter made clear that communication in the enterprise—despite many attempts—had made little progress since email’s introduction in the early 1990s. This spawned a social enterprise market with companies like Jive, Salesforce.com’s Chatter, Yammer, 37 Signals, Do and Asana emerging to bring modern benefits to enterprises.

The revolution at the edge

The combination of these changes leads to a systemic change happening at the edge.  Users are now in control. They can buy and deploy applications, choose what’s usable and useful, and collaborate fully with zero IT support. Users are now buyers—as the always-excellent Vinnie Mirchandani points out. In fact, many new companies employ no IT people at all. In the Andreessen Horowitz portfolio, no companies deploy applications on premise, every employee has a mobile device and all deploy modern social software. So what will become of IT?

Power to the people, the new role of IT

With the largest functions of the old IT regime—desktop support, system administration, network engineering and training—becoming obsolete, what is the future of IT?

Let’s begin to answer by contrasting the old world with the new:

Old World               New World

IT Driven                    User Driven
Email                           In-context collaboration
Static tools                 Actionable apps
Laptop                         Mobile first
On-premise                Cloud
Limited few                Everyone


Clearly the old paradigms will not work in such a different reality. As a result, we propose a new IT paradigm. In modern IT, the CIO will become the CCAO or the Chief Competitive Advantage Officer, unlocking data, devices and processes to unleash new levels of productivity and business value. How will the CIO do this?

By redeploying her efforts around a new motion focusing on new activities:

Analyze – Advances in cloud computing have lead to a great breakthrough in a company’s ability to gain transformational insights by analyzing huge amounts of relevant internal and external data in smart ways. Great CIOs will take full advantage of this change enabling business users to deliver key advantages to their businesses as they figure out where their markets are headed well before the competition.

DevelopFreed from the never-ending quest to keep the lights on, winning CIOs will aggressively develop and acquire new capabilities to boost their teams. If the new applications prove unproductive, these CIOs will simply discard them and move to the next capability. In a world with little maintenance friction and pay-as-you-go business models, we enter the age of the disposable application.

Enable In the new world rather than controlling technology and application choices, CIOs will enable dimensions that add real value:

    • The flow of proprietary, mission critical data – e.g. did material, non-public information make its way into an unsecured dropbox?
    • Access to data and applications based on – e.g. when an employee is fired, do they get removed from all applications, including ones purchased from cloud providers without IT’s consent?
    • Costs – e.g. how many of the licenses that were purchased for the various cloud applications are being used as anticipated? What’s the ROI?
    • Experience – e.g. are the cloud vendors performing as advertised? Do users get the information that they need, when they need it, where they need it, in the most consumable way possible?

Communicate – The most important challenge in managing any large organization is communication. In the new world, winning CIOs will partner with CEOs to design state-of-the-art communication infrastructures designed to optimize any company’s most important resource—its people.

Final thought

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Revolution is an idea, taken up by bayonets.” In today’s world, the intersection of cloud computing, mobile devices and social networking replace the bayonet. The question for everyone is, “Which side of the bayonet will you be on?”

To have a birth requires a funeral.

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