The world is ready for the consumer-grade enterprise

In the last three decades, we’ve seen a shift in enterprise information technology, from mainframes that automated our financial information, to the client-server and web-based world that aimed to replace most paper-based processes with “systems” like CRM, ERP, e-commerce and email. And now, in the cloud era, we find ourselves on the brink of another transformative shift. This one is driven by the explosion of data and the need for traditional enterprises to find new business value through new business models and building better customer experiences.
A key question becomes how this shift will become a reality and where we will look for a blueprint to begin. I think the answer, or at least the opportunity to see further, comes from “standing on the shoulders of giants.” And in this case specifically, I’m talking about the consumer internet giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
These companies have created significant new business value and blazed new trails in developing ways to manage and extract meaning from massive amounts of data. As a result, they’re able to deliver meaningful products, features, and experiences rapidly to their customers — essentially,giving customers what they want, when they want it and where they want it. Wouldn’t it be nice for traditional enterprises to have the same capabilities?

The traditional enterprise must learn from internet technology

Powered by new data fabrics with custom-built infrastructure, these consumer internet companies interact and serve their customers in the context of who their customers are, where they are and what they are doing in the moment. They are building, deploying and scaling at an unprecedented pace. They are storing, managing and delivering value from large data sets, and they knit all of this together on one unified platform that supports their businesses.

Structure 2011: Paul Maritz – CEO, VMware

Paul Maritz at Structure 2011
(c) Pinar Ozger

Now add to this mix the emergence of the “internet of things,” the fact that telemetry will become pervasive in coming years. Everything from a fridge to a jet engine will be dialing home in the future, constantly reporting its state. This will drive a new avalanche of data that will arrive in huge quantities and will need to be ingested and reacted to in real time.

Successful enterprises must become “consumer-grade” in order to win

Enterprise companies will need ways to store and analyze massive amounts of data cost-effectively, ingest huge numbers of events in real time, reason over the data and events, and react in real time. Teams will need to be able to develop rapidly the new solutions that exploit these underlying capabilities. The need for these capabilities can be seen across a wider set of industries — from industrial control to telecommunications to retail, and even to modern agriculture.
Addressing these opportunities will require new underpinnings; a new platform, if you like. At the core of this platform, which needs to be cloud-independent to prevent lock-in, will be new approaches to handling big and fast (real-time) data. And history teaches us that when the underlying data fabrics change, a lot else in the IT industry changes, as well.
“Carrier-grade” or “industrial-grade” — and yes, of course, “enterprise-grade” — once represented best-in-class products and technology while “consumer-grade” was associated with lightweight technology not fit for a professional, high-performance environment. Well, things are changing; the former lightweight is the new heavyweight. Consumer-grade will become the new benchmark.
Paul Maritz is the former CEO of VMware, current chief strategy officer of EMC and also holds a leadership position with the Pivotal Initiative. He will be part of a fireside chat with GigaOM’s Om Malik on Wednesday, March 20, at Structure: Data in New York.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Oleksiy Mark.