Digital transformation is all about the use of technology to radically improve the performance or reach of enterprises
Last week was spent at the IBM InterConnect and Green Data Center conferences in Las Vegas and San Diego respectively. At each of the conferences, there were a ton of great conversations around the CIO, cloud computing, social media, big data analytics and data centers. While more details will come out in future posts, a common theme became crystal clear. We are squarely in a period of extreme disruption and no amount of Dramamine will settle the tides. The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of one, two, or three.
The power of social media
Social media plays a central role to gather our collective thoughts and banter. The conversations that ensue will further the development of innovation through the development of new ideas and critiques. However, today, we are only scratching the surface with social. Many of the ‘conversations’ happening across social media are one-way conversations usually sharing information, but with little interaction. The vast majority of tweets coming from the conferences are either a promotion or sound bite overheard during a session or conversation. In addition, there is quite a bit of ‘noise’ that contributes to the confusion. If one were to try and follow the threads, it would appear an eclectic mix of varied thoughts taken from some complex juxtaposition. A better approach is needed to improve the level of two-way engagement.
Cloud, the great equalizer
Cloud is very similar to social in terms of missed opportunities. Cloud presents the single-largest opportunity for organizations today regardless of size. At the InterConnect conference, cloud was in the forefront of many discussions. The challenge many had was how to effectively embrace and leverage cloud. Those tie back to a gap between the freeway and the on-ramps. We do not need more freeways, we need more on-ramps. Yet we continue to build new freeways.
Is it possible that cloud has gotten too far ahead of itself? One of the many discussions was that of the speed of innovation versus adoption. Is it possible we have reached a point where we are actually innovating too quickly without fully considering the ramifications? There is more to be written on this issue alone.
Understanding the customer
Ironically, much of this may go back to understanding the customer. For the vendor or provider, it is understanding who is buying (or should buy) the solution and why. It is about shifting from a transactional sale to a consultative one. That is easier said than done, as context is required to do so.
Enterprises are not immune from the confusion. According to a recent IBM survey of CEOs, 31% doubt c-suite executives understand the changes from customer and the marketplace. That is a huge number when looking across the entire c-suite. If the same question were asked of the CIO specifically, the number would most likely increase. That is not a good position considering the emphasis tech plays in the customer relationship today.
Changes in paradigms
The chasm may simply tie back to a difference in understanding evolution. The customer base is moving very quickly. For the past decade, the number of digital natives in the workplace has only increased. And they are having a strong influence on other generations. They are more familiar with technology and comfortable with rapid adoption. Yet the solutions we deliver leave them wanting.
Understanding the root of discomfort
And so the problem comes full-circle. As with any problem, it is important to understand the root of the issue. When I discuss this in detail with IT leaders and staff members the root issue comes back to uncertainty. There is a level of uncertainty with the solution, nerves, job loss and a general path forward.
Forging a path ahead
Change is hard. Change is confusing. Change is stress and burnout. And at the edge it kills. Think that is being a bit dramatic? Just read my friend John Willis’ moving post about Karojisatsu.
But change is not something we should fear. At this point, we must stick together and drive hard toward the future. Our very future depends on the success of our ability to adapt and change.
For the foreseeable future, the tech industry will continue to present confusion and uncertainty. Our ability to adapt and accept uncertainty is directly related to our ultimate success.
InterConnect 2015 Las Vegas is the combination of a few IBM conferences. Past conferences carried quite a bit of overlap in content. As the conversations blurred, it made sense to combine the conferences. The challenge is the conference is spread across two hotels in Las Vegas that are not connected. A whopping 21,000 people are in attendance with another 15,000 joining via their online portal InterConnectGO.
Logistics aside, the first day kicked off with a bang. The opening sessions includes all the glitz and glamor one might expect from a Vegas show. The content covered a wide spectrum of IBM’s portfolio from cloud to data analytics.
In my opinion, IBM’s SoftLayer and Watson stories are gems among a varied portfolio. In addition, the social engine is in full swing here at InterConnect. Analytics play a great role in defining different social metrics and IBM is not missing the opportunity. But more about that in a minute.
All about cloud
The cloud story is starting to gel for IBM, but still needs a bit of sharpening. They covered all the buzzwords in cloud, but it left me wanting to hear more than buzzword bingo. Much of the story hinges on the success of SoftLayer. Taking a deeper look at SoftLayer, it addresses a number of the core enterprise requirements for the broader market. It is not everything for everyone, but doesn’t need to be. This is where the ecosystem comes in. Ecosystems are everything today.
During the opening session, IBM announced ‘OpenStack as a Service’. It is not clear how this fits into the overall strategy as it was glossed over. This is an area to watch closely from two perspectives: 1) What exactly is the offering and what market is it intended to address? 2) How will this affect and/or divert SoftLayer’s existing VMware offerings. Will it cause SoftLayer to abandon VMware in favor of OpenStack as others have done? Each of these questions could govern the future success of SoftLayer both short and long-term.
Coursing through the data analytics
Many references are made to the growing accumulation of data. Terms like ‘data lake’ and ‘data ocean’ are used to describe the growing mass of untapped data. During the opening session, IBM outlined several use cases where companies have leveraged their technology to gain insights to the data problem.
Many of the examples continue with the financial services and healthcare use cases. Healthcare is one, if not the largest industry ripe for disruption from data analytics. Citi joined on stage to talk about their approach to innovation. Their mantra: Unleash, develop, disrupt. In the case of Citi, “Nobody needs banks, but everybody needs banking.” Great analogy. For healthcare, May Clinic mentioned that only 5% of cancer patients are engaged in a trial. Meaning there is a huge disconnect (read: opportunity) in connecting patients to potential treatment courses.
Cloud and data analytics aren’t the only topics here at InterConnect. IBM is heavily leveraging their analytics platform to demonstrate the value of social here. And the social media elite are in full force. There are a couple of mis-steps by use of the longer hashtags (#IBMInterConnect and #NewWayToWork), but otherwise, the twitter stream is flowing pretty heavily. The longer hashtags are definitely leading to a myriad of typos, which defeat the purpose of the hashtag. One change would be greater engagement in the conversations happening on Twitter. Like some conferences, the twitter feed is mostly one-way with little two-way engagement.
Aside from the downsides, it is impressive the flow of tweets coming from an IBM conference. Considering the perception of IBM, it appears they’re moving in the right direction socially.
On tap for Day 2 and beyond…
It’s all about the cloud. Looking forward to the cloud discussions today along with the Executive Session and Shark Tank presentations.
Overall, it’s apparent that IBM is turning the corner on the conversations. IBM does have it’s flaws as any company that is 400,000 employees strong. That aside, IBM needs to continue on their quest to drive toward cloud and data analytics dominance. SoftLayer and Watson are two shining gems in the IBM portfolio that will need to blossom as they mature.
One of the key attributes to a successful cloud deployment is thinking about the strategy holistically. In my post ‘CIOs are getting out of the data center business’, I introduced the idea of a Data Center/ Cloud Spectrum. The spectrum provides one dimension to consider your cloud journey.
The second dimension considers that of the IT portfolio. What are the different classes of applications and their potential disposition? Over the course of working with companies on their cloud journey, the applications generally break out into this classification structure.
IT Portfolio Categories
The three categories are Enterprise Applications, Application Rewrites and Greenfield Development. There are even sub-categories within each of these, but to provide a baseline, we will stick to the top-line categorization.
Enterprise applications are by far the largest contingent of applications within the enterprise portfolio. These encompass everything from the traditional ERP application to custom applications and platforms built before the advent of cloud. Enterprise organizations may have the opportunity to virtualize these applications, but little else. These applications were never designed with cloud in mind. While these applications are technically legacy applications, they will range from an age of 20 years to recent. Regardless of age, the effort to retrofit or change them is not trivial.
Application rewrites is a category of applications (Enterprise Applications) that could be re-written to support cloud computing. Even thought just about every enterprise application could technically be rewritten to support cloud, there are a number of hurdles to get there.
Economic and priority challenges are two of the top inhibitors for application rewrites. Even if the will to change is there, there are a myriad of additional reasons that could prevent a full-blown application rewrite. Some examples include risk profile, skillset requirements, application requirements and cultural challenges.
Eventually, many of the applications in the ‘enterprise applications’ category will move to either Software as a Service (SaaS) or into an application rewrite phase. There is a much smaller contingent that will actually retire.
Greenfield development is probably the most discussed area of opportunity for cloud computing. However, it also represents one of the smallest areas (relatively speaking) of the overall IT portfolio. Over time, this area will grow, but at the expense of the existing enterprise application base.
For established enterprise organizations, this area represents a very different model from web-scale or new organizations. In the case of new organizations or web-scale companies, they have the ability to start from scratch with little or no legacy to contend with. Unfortunately, the traditional enterprise does not have this luxury.
The forked approach
In order to address the varied demands coming to the CIO and enterprise IT organization, a forked approach is needed. First, it is important not to ignore existing enterprise applications. The irony is that many providers, solutions and organizations do this. The reality is that greenfield development is new, sexy and frankly more interesting in many ways. At the same time the traditional enterprise applications cannot be ignored. A holistic, forked approach is needed.
The holistic effort needs to take into account all three categories of demand. That may mean different models and solutions service them for some time. That’s ok. Part of the strategy needs to take into account how to integrate the models short-term and long-term. For some workloads, over time, they may shift to a different delivery method (private cloud -> SaaS).
Planning and execution
Ignoring the shift and full set of requirements is not an option. Disrupt or be disrupted. The key is to develop a clear strategy that is holistic and includes a well thought out execution plan. The change will not happen overnight. Even for organizations that are strongly aligned for change, it still takes time. For those earlier in the process, it will take more time. The sooner you start, the better.
Enterprise organizations are actively looking for ways to leverage cloud computing. Cloud presents the single-largest opportunity for CIOs and the organizations they lead. The move to cloud is often part of a larger strategy for the CIO moving to a consumption-first paradigm. As the CIO charts a path to cloud along the cloud spectrum, Private Cloud provides a significant opportunity.
Adoption of private cloud infrastructure is anemic at best. Looking deeper into the problem, the reason becomes painfully clear. The marketplace is heavily fractured and quite confusing even to the sophisticated enterprise buyer. After reading this post, one could question the feasibility of private cloud. The purpose of this post is not to present a case to avoid private cloud, but rather expose the challenges to adoption to help build awareness towards solving the issues.
Most enterprises have a varied strategy with cloud adoption. Generally there are two categories of applications and services:
- Existing enterprise applications: These may include legacy and custom applications. The vast majority was never designed for virtualization let alone cloud. Even if there is an interest to move to cloud, the cost and risk to move (read: re-write) these applications to cloud is extreme.
- Greenfield development: New applications or those modified to support cloud-based architectures. Within the enterprise, greenfield development represents a small percentage compared with existing applications. On the other hand, web-scale and startup organizations are able to leverage almost 100% greenfield development.
The disconnect is that most cloud solutions in the market today suit greenfield development, but not existing enterprise applications. Ironically, from a marketing perspective, most of the marketing buzz today is geared toward solutions that service the greenfield development leaving existing enterprise applications in the dust.
Driving focus to private cloud
For the average enterprise organization, they are faced with a cloud conundrum. Cloud, theoretically, is a major opportunity for enterprise applications. Yet the private cloud solutions are a mismatched potpourri of offerings, which make it difficult to compare. In addition, private cloud may take different forms.
Keep in mind that within the overall cloud spectrum, this is only private cloud. At the edges of private cloud, colocation and public cloud present a whole new set of criteria to consider.
Within the private cloud models, it would be easy if the only criteria were compute, storage and network requirements. The reality is that a myriad of other factors are the true differentiators.
The hypervisor and OpenStack phenomenon
The defacto hypervisor in enterprises today is VMware. Not every provider supports VMware. Private cloud providers may support VMware along with other hypervisors such as Hyper-V, KVM and Zen. Yes, it is possible to move enterprise workloads from one hypervisor to another. That is not the problem. The problem is the amount of work required to address the intricacies of the existing environment. Unwinding the ball of yarn is not a trivial task and presents yet another hurdle. On the flipside, there are advantages to leveraging other hypervisors + OpenStack.
Looking beyond the surface of selection criteria
There are about a dozen different criteria that often show up when evaluating providers. Of those, hypervisor, architecture, location, ecosystem and pricing models are just some of the top-line criteria.
In order to truly evaluate providers, one must delve further into the details of each to understand the nuances of each component. It is those details that can make the difference between success and failure. And each nuance is unique to the specific provider. As someone recent stated, “Each provider is like a snowflake.” No two are alike.
The large company problem
Compounding the problem is a wide field of providers trying to capture a slice of the overall pie. Even large, incumbent companies are failing miserably to deliver private cloud solutions. There are a number of reasons companies are failing.
Time to go!
With all of these reasons, one may choose to hold off considering private cloud solutions. That would be a mistake. Sure, there are a number of challenges to adopting private cloud solutions today. Yes, the marketplace is highly fractured and confusing. However, with work comes reward.
The more enterprise applications and services move to private cloud solutions, the more opportunities open for the CIO. The move to private cloud does not circumvent alternatives from public cloud and SaaS-based solutions. It does, however, help provide greater agility and focus for the IT organization compared to traditional infrastructure solutions.
Many often ask for my thoughts on traditional enterprise vendors compared with their startup and mid-size contemporaries. Without going into naming names, let me outline a few real situations that happened in just the past week alone. Each of these are large traditional enterprise providers and publically traded on either the NYSE or NASDAQ exchanges:
Direct line to sales
Last week, I called the main number of an IT services provider from their website. In the phone menu, I selected ‘sales’. Someone from ‘operations’ answers. I state that I’m looking for sales and was told “we take information for sales and pass it along for them to return the call.” It has been 5 business days and someone has still not returned my call.
Companies need to offer customers (and prospects) a direct line into sales. It is ok to leverage inside sales, but responses need to be quick while the customer is still engaged.
Keep reasonable hours
In a separate case, I called a second company that provides telecommunications, IT and cloud services. I used the main number from their website. Theoretically, telecom should be part of their strong suit. Unfortunately, the experience was not. My call was met with a greeting “Thank you for calling <name omitted>…Our hours of operation are 8-4:30pm Eastern Standard Time.” I was calling mid-morning Pacific Time, well within their hours of operation. But then the phone just rang and rang. No answer. After a few minutes, I hung up and called back a while later. Same thing, the phone just rang with no answer.
Two problems here: 1) their hours are 8-4:30pm Eastern? That means that anyone from the West Cost of the US better call in the morning before 1:30pm Pacific. That assumes that 2) there is someone to take the call. Even if not, there should be an option to leave a message with a quick callback. For a telecom company, this seemed like a big miss on multiple fronts.
Listen carefully to what the customer is saying
In yet another case with a third company, I wanted to explore their cloud services. First, getting to the right person was not trivial. Once I did, I clearly stated what I was looking for and wanted to understand more about their products. The person kept coming back to a script that involved a process to evaluate my needs before talking solutions. In most cases, this would be stellar. However, I knew what I was looking for. I just needed to know which of the vendor’s solutions fit best. It seemed that was not possible without running some involved tool that characterized my environment for some period of time first. I kept asking for more information about their solutions to no avail. They were not budging. Eventually, I had to actually state, “I don’t know how to explain what I’m looking for any other way.” And that was the end of the conversation.
Simplicity over complexity
Let’s face it; working in a big company has its issues. Big companies are complex beasts that are hard to traverse. In the first case, I’m certain my request for sales fell through the crack somewhere and may never surface again. Even if it does, I’ve already moved on. In the second case, I finally got to a person that could help me out. But not without the help of social media and a few extra hops finding the “right” contact for my specific situation. Again, far too many people in the process. In the third case, the person was not listening to my needs. They were more focused on the official company process.
Comparatively for their mid-sized contemporaries, the process was far more direct, complementary and simple for a customer to traverse. It is clear that mid-sized competitors do have an edge on their larger, established enterprise companies.
As a result of the experiences above, 2 of the 3 enterprise IT providers lost the opportunity. The third almost lost it, but barely made the running…for now. Unfortunately, those are not good odds.
My point of view
If enterprise IT providers are going to play in today’s ecosystem, they need to change their game. The game itself has evolved and is quickly leaving them behind. The sad part is that most of them either 1) don’t realize it or 2) refuse to believe it. My advise: believe it, step up and make a change.
Three years ago, Gartner predicted that by 2017, the CMO (chief marketing officer) would spend more on IT than the CIO. This one prediction spurned a number of follow-up predictions pointing toward the end of the CIO. The bottom line that everyone wants to know: Is the CIO role indeed going away? Is another c-level function replacing the CIO? And if so, who will take over the IT function?
Changes affect the entire IT ecosystem
It is not just the CIO and IT organization that are affected by a potential realignment of the IT function. Any change would have significant ramifications from people to vendors to architectures. No aspect of IT would be spared.
If IT were to go away or otherwise move to a different organization (or organizations), it would have a significant impact on how we think, operate and support the IT ecosystem. The focus would move to the immediate problem being solved for. However, the CIO and IT as a whole carry a broader responsibility that spans the entire enterprise.
The $64,000 question: What happens to the CIO & IT?
Before answering those looming questions, it is important to see the trends that drove these predictions. Looking back, there is absolutely a decline in IT demand. Specifically, demand for Traditional IT is in decline.
At the same time, the demand from marketing is stronger than ever. So, it makes sense that some of the waning demand may be transferred to marketing.
Unfortunately, this only tells part of the story. If the story were to stop here, it would be easy to understand the logic behind the CMO taking over IT. As demand for the traditional CIO wanes, the CMO picks up and carries the function forward. The reality is this is only a very small part of the overall movement underway.
Transformational CIO on the upswing
The transformational CIO, unlike the traditional CIO, is in high-demand. In many cases, organizations do not understand what this means or what a transformational CIO looks like let along what they are capable of. A transformational CIO, unlike traditional CIO, is far more aligned with the business of the company. They are in-tune with how the company makes and spends money. They also look for opportunities around customer engagement and business growth. Transformational CIOs are more about business and data than they are about technology. In many ways, the transformational CIO is a business leader (first) that happens to have responsibility for IT.
Mapping the transformational CIO along with the traditional CIO and CMO brings the true picture into focus.
One of the biggest challenges for transformation to take place requires all three components come together: The CIO, the IT organization and the rest of the company in terms of how they look at, leverage and engage IT. This evolution is referred to as the CIO’s Three-Legged Race.
One unfortunate point to make is that few traditional CIOs will have the mettle to truly transform into transformational CIOs. It can be done, but requires a level of intestinal fortitude well beyond that of many CIOs today.
Reporting structure for the CIO
Much of the change will come from the reporting structure of the CIO. Traditional IT organizations are often seen as a cost center and therefore report into the CFO. Transformational CIOs typically report directly to the CEO signaling the importance of IT (and the CIO) in leading the company. Consequently, a CIO reporting to the CMO may make sense temporarily, but not long term. The CIO’s prevue needs to be both broader and more strategic than any one function.
Every CMO I spoke with is not interested in taking on the IT responsibility. They are today, because they have, not because they want to.
The CIO is just getting started
Taking all of this into account, the role of the CIO is only starting to expand in ways it rarely has before. The same goes for IT. Sure, it may leverage a strong relationship with the CMO today. That is a very good thing! But it will evolve into a more impactful role that truly fills the qualifications for a seat at the CEO’s table.
Take yourself back a couple of decades and the IT industry looked very different than it does today. Back then the number of solution choices was relatively limited and only available to those with the finances to afford it. Many of the core services had to be built from the ground up. Why? There simply wasn’t the volume or maturity of the IT marketplace for core services. Today, that picture is very different!
For example, consider email. Back in 1995, Microsoft Exchange was just a fledgling product that was less than two years old. The dominant email solutions were cc:Mail (acquired by Lotus in 1991), Lotus Notes (acquired by IBM in 1995) along with a myriad of mainframe, mini and UNIX-based mail servers.
Every enterprise had to setup and manage their individual email environment. Solutions like Google Apps and Microsoft 365 simply did not exist. There was no real alternative…except for outsourcing.
In the mid-late 90’s outsourcing became in vogue as a means to divest the enterprise. The theory was centered on economies of scale and expertise that most enterprises simply did not possess. Back then, IT was squarely seen as a cost center.
Unfortunately, outsourcing did not deliver on the promise. It was an expensive, opaque option that created significant challenges for many enterprise organizations. Even today, these wounds run deep with IT leaders when they think of leveraging cloud-based solutions.
The intersection of IT maturity and focus
Fast forward to present day. Today, organizations are re-doubling efforts to catapult their position through leverage. This effort brings laser focus upon the IT organization to pinpoint those efforts that derive differentiated value.
At the same time, the IT marketplace is far more mature. There are multiple options offered through a number of avenues. A startup company is able to spin up all of their technology services without purchasing a single server or building a single data center. Cloud computing is a key to this leverage point.
The intersection of these two dynamics is causing CIOs and IT organizations to rethink their priorities to better align with the overall business objectives. IT organizations are looking for leverage where they no longer have to do everything themselves. This demonstrably changes the dynamic of speed, agility and focus.
Moving to a consumption-first paradigm
Enter the consumption-first paradigm. Whereas past IT organizations needed to take a build-first methodology out of necessity, today there is a better option. Today, organizations can move to a consume-first paradigm.
Within the paradigm, applications and services are evaluated through a consume-first methodology. If the application/ service is not a good fit, then it moves to a configure-first methodology. If all else fails, it falls to build-first. But the goal here is to consume as much as possible without having to build or configure.
The evaluation process is as important as changing the paradigm. It is critical to clearly understand what is strategic and differentiating for the company. That then becomes a hallmark for guiding which components present the greatest opportunity for focus and leverage.
Paradigm change is hard
Changing the paradigm does not happen overnight. Many will fight the change and develop reasons why consumption is not a good idea. It is important to understand the motivations. From experience, the fundamental concern often comes back to job loss and confusion. For the CIO, it is important to tackle these components head-on.
Equally important is to maintain a balance in evaluating the holistic situation. Understanding the impact on people and processes is often harder than the technology shift. I wrote about this two weeks ago with Time’s Up! Changing core IT Principles.
Coming full circle
Moving to a consumption-first paradigm is not limited to email. It is starting with data centers and core applications (like email) and moving up the stack. The question is: How prepared are you for the coming change. Newer generations of staff, employees and customers are already demanding a different class of services.
The evolution has just started. Moving to a consumption-first paradigm is the core component in making the transformation. Ironically, a vast many organizations are still working with paradigms from the 90’s by trying to do it all themselves. In their case, they believe (mistakenly) that they ‘have’ to. The reality is often very different when taken from an objective perspective.
Do not get caught flat-footed. Change is already happening and picking up momentum. Unlike past evolutions, this is not one you want to be on the trailing edge of.
This week, Amazon announced their WorkMail solution as a business-class email and calendaring solution in the cloud. Over the past several years, Amazon has produced some amazing solutions. But is WorkMail something that the enterprise CIO should really take note of? And are we really in need of another email and calendaring alternative? There is a very important lesson to learn here. Read on.
Ask yourself this question: If this press release were launched by a completely different company, say Acme, would it have garnered as much attention and praise? Probably not. So, why are so many interested in this announcement?
New and innovative features?
If you read the details in the press release and on the WorkMail preview site, it is all motherhood and apple pie. Nothing new. Nothing innovative. In fact, many of the touted features are merely table stakes for any email and calendaring solution today. In order to supplant an incumbent, especially something as ingrained as email and calendaring, there needs to be a significant advantage.
Simply stating support for SSL, Active Directory or a Web-client is not going to get anyone excited. Or at least it should not. Those should be table stakes. If, however, you do get excited about those, it may be time to re-think your priorities. Conversely, the absence of those features should immediately garner a no-go.
The argument Amazon is making is really against on-premise email solutions today, namely Microsoft Exchange. The argument is for cloud-based email and calendaring solutions. The irony is that there are two solid, mature solutions in place today: Google Apps and Microsoft 365. There are other cloud-based solutions in the market today, but they are a distant 3, 4, 5, etc behind Google and Microsoft. In addition, WorkMail’s cost is right in line with that of Microsoft and Google. So, why try to compete? What is the advantage?
Enterprises are increasingly in need of better integration between solutions. Email, calendaring and file storage are some of the top areas of need. That is why we have seen the Google and Microsoft solutions include these core functions. But integration goes quite a bit further than simply backend integration.
Quite often, companies forget about the users and their perspective. This is one issue Google has faced from day-1. Using Google’s ‘tag’ approach vs. Microsoft’s files/ folders approach in use for years creates a significant learning curve. And that is one reason Microsoft 365 has seen a marked uptick in interest over Google Apps.
Anything in this space that is less than mature is simply an extremely hard sell to any enterprise. It is simply too risky to put email, calendaring and file storage to a less than mature solution. In addition, the integration needs to be solid and robust. It is not clear how/ if WorkMail is able to address this.
The only thing I can come back to is marketing. Launching WorkMail is an opportunity for Amazon to garner wider interest and keep their name in the press. If that was their goal, they succeeded based on the number of articles written about WorkMail. If it were WorkMail by Acme, I doubt we would have heard about it.
Keeping your company in the public’s eye with fresh launches is one of several key initiatives. Launching WorkMail certainly does that. But in order to remain of interest, it needs to differentiate itself. In that area, WorkMail has failed. There is another side effect in that the perception will start to question why Amazon is going after such a mature market like email/ calendaring with such a basic offering. It definitely leaves some open questions.
Amazon is heading down a questionable path. Enterprises are not chomping at the bit for a different email and calendaring alternative. They are, however, looking for easier ways to adopt and leverage public cloud solutions. Same goes for service providers.
My advice to Amazon would be to focus on what they do best and not go after email and calendaring. There are still a number of gaps in the public cloud space that could use their expertise and leadership.
There is a theme gaining ground within IT organizations. In truth, there are a number of examples that support a common theme coming up for IT organizations. And this very theme will change the way solutions are built, configured, sold and used. Even the ecosystems and ancillary services will change. It also changes how we think, organize, lead and manage IT organizations. The theme is:
Just because you (IT) can do something does not mean you should.
Ironically, there are plenty of examples in the history of IT where the converse of this principle served IT well. Well, times have changed and so must the principles that govern the IT organization.
Take it to the customization of applications and you get this:
Just because IT can customize applications to the nth degree does not mean they necessarily should.
A great example of this is in the configuration and customization of applications. Just because IT could customize the heck out of it, should they have? Now, the argument often made here is that it provides some value, somewhere, either real or (more often) perceived. However, the reality is that it comes at a cost, sometimes, a very significant and real cost.
Making it real
Here is a real example that has played out time and time again. Take application XYZ. It is customized to the nth degree for ACME Company. Preferences are set, not necessarily because they should be, but rather because they could. Fast-forward a year or two. Now it is time to upgrade XYZ. The costs are significantly higher due to the customizations done. It requires more planning, more testing, more work all around. Were those costs justified by the benefit of the customizations? Typically not.
Now it is time to evaluate alternatives for XYZ. ACME builds a requirements document based on XYZ (including the myriad of customizations). Once the alternatives are matched against the requirements, the only solution that really fits the need is the incumbent. This approach actually gives significant weight to the incumbent solution therefore limiting alternatives.
These examples are not fictitious scenarios. They are very real and have played out in just about every organization I have come across. The lesson here is not that customizations should be avoided. The lesson is to limit customizations to only those necessary and provide significant value.
And the lesson goes beyond just configurations to understanding what IT’s true value is based on what they should and should not do.
Leveraging alternative approaches
Much is written about the value of new methodologies and technologies. Understanding IT’s true core value opportunity is paramount. The value proposition starts with understanding how the business operates. How does it make money? How does it spend money? Where are the opportunities for IT to contribute to these activities?
Every good strategy starts with a firm understanding of the ecosystem of the business. That is, how the company operates and it’s interactions. A good target that many are finding success with sits furthest away from the core company operations and therefore hardest to explain true business value…in business terms. For many, it starts with the data center and moves up the infrastructure stack. For a bit more detail: CIOs are getting out of the data center business.
Preparing for the future today
Is your IT organization ready for today? How prepared is your organization, processes and systems to handle real-time analytics? As companies consider how to engage customers from a mobile platform in real-time, the shift from batch-mode to real-time data analytics quickly takes shape. Yet many of the core systems and infrastructure are nowhere ready to take on the changing requirements.
Beyond data, are the systems ready to respond to the changing business climate? What is IT’s holistic cloud strategy? Is a DevOps methodology engaged? What about container-based architectures?
These are only a few of the core changes in play today…not in the future. If organizations are to keep up, they need to start making the evolutionary turn now.