10 pieces of tech speak we should trash in 2015

Time to circle back, tear down silos and pivot on those deliverables: 2014 was a banner year for the tech industry — at least when it came to spouting jargon. And while everyone has finally dropped the dreaded “open the kimono,” a whole new series of cliches are on the march.

So for the good of tech types everywhere, here’s a ranked list of overused phrases from last year that we can all stop saying (or say a little less) in 2015. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments below.

10) We take users on a journey

Unless your company sells cars, boats or hoverboards, it’s a good bet your company doesn’t take users far beyond their living rooms. So skip the cliched travel metaphors and just say what the damn product does.

9) “Like peanut butter and chocolate”

This phrase is popping up as a way for big tech company execs to describe the serendipitous discovery of complementary business units. It’s a tasty metaphor the first time you hear it — but goes over more like curdled spinach the 10th time.

8) Tech company X’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Apple had one. So did Uber. So did Sony. The rest of us will too if tech reporters don’t stop riffing on the title of Judith Viorst’s 1974 children book in a failed stab at hilarious hyberbole.

7) Startup “story tellers”

Experts say young companies need to hire “story tellers” to share their vision/shake money from VC’s. The term is smarmy and the act is unnecessary. Yes, a narrative is important, but start-ups looking for the right words can just turn to the PR firms they’re already paying. Or in the case of AOL, keep paying the company’s “digital prophet” Shingy to do whatever the hell he does.Ninja

6) Ninjas and gurus

There a still handful of diehards out there who think this is a witty way to convey expertise. If you’ve somehow forgotten to remove “ninja” and “guru” from your Twitter or LinkedIn profiles, do so quietly before you get sent back to 2010 where you belong.

5) “We see around corners”

Hey marketers, if you want customers to think your client can see into the future, better stop using a cliche from the past.

4) Cloud/cloud-based/in-the-cloud

In 2014, a deluge of corporate rebranding meant the end of any meaningful distinction between “in the cloud” and “on the internet.” In 2015, let’s see how the jargon slingers parse the mainstream adoption of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.

3) Bitcoin is like the internet in 1994

In the award for crummy currency of the year, bitcoin beat out even the plummeting ruble. Meanwhile, bitcoin boosters like Circle and the boys at Andreessen Horowitz keep trotting out Netscape and other cusp-of-the-internet analogies in a bid to keep the faith. They’re going to need a new metaphor — or better yet some actual bitcoin adoption — if they want this thing to still going to be around in 2016.

2) Disrupt/Disruption

Most startups and even PR people got the memo that these terms are not just obnoxious, but stale, stale, stale. VC Benedict Evans might be on to something when he points to a possible successor term:

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

1) Sharing economy

Sharing is a positive term to describe free, benevolent acts among friends. Paying for the temporary use of cars, homes or labor is not sharing — no matter how much the likes of Uber and Airbnb invoke the phrase to score points in their PR battle with regulators. While “sharing economy” is still common currency in tech circles, 2015 should be the year it gets chucked. Let’s follow Fred Wilson’s example and use a grown-up term (“rental economy”) as a proper description for this white hot part of the tech sector.

Platforms and crowdsourcing: The office of the 21st century

“Disruption” is one of the most overhyped concepts of the last ten years. A Google Trend search for “disruptive innovation” shows a steeply rising graph, and you can hardly open a professional news website without reading stories about whole sectors being disrupted. Given that “business as usual” is apparently undergoing a profound transformation, how this will impact the people doing the actual work in our economy? One logical consequence is that the way people work and earn money will also radically change. How this will be different is a direct result of the new dominant organization model that is currently emerging.

What do YouTube, Airbnb, and bitcoin have in common that distinguishes them from CNN, Hilton Hotels, and the average bank? The answer is that the former are all platforms. We are witnessing the death of the decades-old industrial organization model, which is being replaced by the organization model of the 21st century: the platform.

What makes a platform a platform? Patrick Savalle’s 2008 book TeamPark: From Crowd to Community lays out the parameters of the platform organization model. It describes how a platform organization provides an infrastructure for crowds of people to create value through an organic rather than a mechanical bureaucratic process. Communication on a platform follows the biological principle of “stigmergy,” which is how ants manage to perform complex tasks without central command and control.

Typically, a platform organizational model has these three features:

Crowdsourcing of resources: Whether it’s a room on Airbnb or knowledge on Wikipedia, the value on a platform is created by mobilizing resources that aren’t necessarily owned or controlled by the organization itself. A major advantage of the platform is that it doesn’t have to invest in all of these resources. Its reason for existence is simply to create synergies between them.

Asynchronous communication: Millions of people simultaneously drive their cars on the road every day without linear planning and direct communication between them. In much the same way, large groups of people can also perform complex tasks on a platform together without having to coordinate their communication in real-time, or even having to meet. For example, Github is home to millions of software repositories, which are often produced by open source developers.

Self-organization: As the behavior on the platform is organic instead of pre-planned, it might create never imagined results. Who could have imagined the incredible diversity in the iTunes App Store, for example?

The direct consequence for the future of work is that the 21st-century office is the platform, without physical boundaries that bind people and teams unilaterally to one location or project. Online platforms are where people will go to add value, and get paid for it. Millions of people are already collaborating productively every day on social networks, forums, Q&As, wikis and other collaboration platforms. This is why mainstream corporations are now heavily investing in “social” intranets, which are essentially platforms to utilize these powerful tools for the internal organization. But companies are generally trying to fit these social technologies into traditional industrial processes and procedures, creating a strict line between inside and outside. Obviously, this is not going to work. 

It’s necessary for businesses to completely rethink their processes and how they reward people, which also means that they should stop rewarding based on linear metrics such as time and predefined and assigned tasks. On a platform, everyone is rewarded based on the actual value they produce. A beautiful example of this is GiffGaff, a U.K.-based telecom operator that pays its customers for running its customer support platform. The company also crowdsources sales from its customers and offers financial rewards for referrals.

The crowdsourcing of labor through platforms is still in its infancy and is not yet at the heart of organizational planning. It is, however, gaining considerable mainstream traction in diverse areas ranging from software development to open innovation, from help desks to content creation. Companies like Google and Samsung are paying serious money to freelancers and to their own internal developers to contribute on the Github platform to open source software projects like Linux. A corporate giant like Unilever uses oDesk to facilitate its flexible workforce policy. London’s top university, Imperial College, uses its community of students and alumni to crowdsource research for corporate clients, and distributes the fees among the contributors using Mobbr’s crowd payment functionality (disclosure: I work for Mobbr).

One of the corporate frontrunners in crowdsourcing labor is General Electric. It has partnered with Quirky to crowdsource product innovation. It uses the data scientist community Kaggle to crowdsource algorithms for air travel flight paths and uses GrabCad to crowdsource engineering solutions. FirstBuild, through its partnership with crowd-based car manufacturer Local Motors, takes crowdsourcing a step further. It uses a crowd of professionals and enthusiasts to ideate, design, prototype, refine, build and commercialize home appliances.

FirstBuild itself is merely the platform that facilitates the entire flow of value. It offers proof that crowdsourcing is not something that is only done online — and shows that it may well be the template for the future of work in the 21st century.

Ernesto Spruyt is chief of growth at Mobbr, the world’s first crowd payments platform for the collaborative economy that makes crowdsourcing online work rewarding for everyone. Prior to joining Mobbr, Ernesto founded Larive Russia, a market entry consultancy based in Moscow, and ran several projects in the Dutch startup scene.

What do cloud consolidation and disruption have in common?

One thing is for sure, we can expect to see much more of cloud consolidation and disruption happening in the IT space over the coming months and years. Recently, Cisco, EMC, HP and IBM have all acquired startups from the cloud space. And each of these acquisitions was disruptive in their own way.

Cloud, in theory, should not be that disruptive. However, the essence of cloud actually presents a compelling disruptive story that is intoxicating to those whom fully understand the potential. That being said, enterprise IT organizations will leverage a combination of traditional IT services and cloud-based solutions.

Not surprisingly, the recent cloud acquisitions sit closest to the current state of the traditional enterprise. Key to this strategy is to 1) expand the portfolio by offering new solutions and 2) evolve the enterprise (and provider) toward a cloud-based strategy.

Keeping score

For those keeping score, Cisco acquired Metacloud. EMC acquired Cloudscaling. HP acquired Eucalyptus. And IBM acquired SoftLayer. Based on the momentum, one could look toward IBM to make the next move. On the other side, with Cisco, EMC and HP going after private cloud solutions, there is a position to take that it is these three to watch. An additional factor to consider is that a startup may have a great solution, but not enough runway (money) to keep them afloat until the market is ready to adopt. Watch for more of these situations, as the overall IT market takes longer to adopt disruptive solutions such as cloud-based solutions.

Shifting the incumbents

Regardless of who moves first, second, third or fourth, the act of acquiring cloud-based solutions will create a shift in the provider’s overall strategy. For the enterprise CIO, one key to watch will be momentum among the cloud startups. Which solutions are up-and-coming and getting quite a bit of attention by early adopters? Two that come to mind are Docker and OpenStack. If OpenStack were a company, this would be the one to watch. In any case, enterprise IT organizations need to keep close watch of this area.

As enterprise IT organizations shift from traditional IT infrastructure to converged infrastructure and onward to cloud-based solutions, the incumbent provider must have an answer to the shift. Let it be noted that the incumbent need not provide all parts of the solution. This is where the ecosystem comes in to create value and fill the gaps in the strategy.

Leveraging innovation

Many ask why the incumbents do not innovate internally and build out their portfolio like they have in past years. With a vibrant industry of up-and-coming potential solutions, there are easier paths to success. Why take the risk and invest significant funding into a number of different strategies only to have one pay off? Instead, watch the space and acquire the right solution that has a proven technology and fits the model well. The key is finding the point when the solution is proven, but not so successful that it demands paying a premium.

For the CIO, this means keeping close tabs on how the cloud space is evolving regardless of the stage of adoption they are at. Cloud solutions impact organization, services, and processes in addition to technology.

Divesting leads to Consolidation

The big breakups of 2014 are leading to further cloud consolidation. Many of the large IT providers have simply gotten too big and too diversified. Divesting is essentially a healthy way to trim their portfolio and refocus the company in leading areas within their industry. Divesting also opens the door to an interesting side effect of acquisition opportunities.

Intersection of cloud consolidation and disruption

Each of the acquisition targets is disruptive in their own right. The market as a whole is also very fragmented with solutions solving a similar problem, but in very different ways. And each company does one thing and one thing very well. The opportunity to explode the solution comes with building out the ecosystem. For the startup, what better way than to sell to a larger organization that has several of the building blocks already integrated and productized. Plus, the alternative of heading toward IPO is just not as appetizing of an equity event as it used to be.

5 things to prepare the CIO for disruption

For years, IT organizations operated in a certain way. They provided a relatively standard service in a particular way. Of course, both of these evolved incrementally year over year. Over the past 5-10 years, that direction has changed pretty significantly. And it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Data Center

10 years ago, if one said ‘death of the data center’ in a room of IT leaders, it would be seen as heresy. Today, IT leaders are actively looking for ways to ‘get out of the data center business.’ If you are one of the corporate environments not already thinking about this strategy, you are behind the curve. No longer is a physical data center a representative requirement to operate IT. Today, many options from colocation to cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) exist to replace this functionality. Not only does it exist, many solutions are already mature and more sophisticated than traditional approaches within the corporate data center.

Organization

At the other end of the spectrum, the organization is undergoing a significant shift too. Traditional organizations thought of their ‘customers’ as the internal users of the organization. The focus was predominantly on the internal operations of the company. Development may have spanned externally to partners and customers, but in specific ways. IT organizations are shifting to determine who their ‘customers’ really are. The shift in thinking starts with a change in focus. And that focus is one of the preparations.

Partnerships

The way IT organizations interacted with ‘customers’ was typically as two different organizations. The discussion typically included a distinction between IT and ‘the business.’ To some, this appears as an us-and-them perspective. The two were seen as very different and therefore required a different level of partnering within the company. At the same time, IT needed to clearly understand how ‘the business’ operated and at times translate between business requirements and IT deliverables. Part of the changes over time created a means to clarify this partnership. However, changes to the perspective assist with the introduction of disruptive methodologies. For example, Shadow IT, to some a threat, can become a real asset.

Changes in customers and users

Consumption expectations for customers and users changed as well. Consumers became more technologically savvy and demanded more. Overnight, consumers become familiar, and more comfortable with solutions quicker than IT organizations could adopt them. The technology available to consumers rapidly became more sophisticated. The combination of these two drove a change in consumer behaviors. Consumers, and customers became more demanding of technology…and by extension, corporate IT.

Getting ready for disruption

So, how does the CIO respond to these changes in a timely and meaningful manner? Start at the top and work down. That means, start with a business-centric approach that takes the perspective of the true customer (the company’s customer) and work your way down.

  1. Business-Centric Perspective: Change the culture and perspective to focus on a business-centric approach. Stop focusing on IT as a technology organization. The CIO needs to be a business leader that happens to have responsibility for technology. Not the other way around. Instill this change within the IT organization that is both meaningful but also helps staff adapt to the changing landscape. This will take time, but must be a mission for IT.
  2. Adopt DevOps: A fundamental premise behind DevOps is the ability for IT to work more holistically across traditional silos (applications & operations). Brining the teams together to work collaboratively and effectively is essential to the future IT organization and their customers.
  3. Stay Flexible & Responsive: Customers expect quicker response to change. Instead of building a fortress that will withstand the test of time, build one that will adapt to the changing business climate and requirements.
  4. Engage Cloud: Cloud is the single largest opportunity for IT organizations today. Plan a holistic strategy to leverage cloud in appropriate ways. For many this will look like a hybrid strategy that evolves over time versus a haphazard approach.
  5. Challenge the Status Quo: Lastly, do not assume that the way things were done in the past will work moving forward. Many organizations struggle to find success with newer methodologies because they apply past paradigms. In some ways, it is almost easier to forget the past and think about how to start from scratch. Momentum can provide some resistance, but it is healthy to challenge the status quo.

Each of these steps provides a different perspective that helps shift the thinking around IT. It starts with the CIO and involves both the IT organization and the business organizations outside of IT. Each of these five steps provides the change in perspective to evolve the IT organization and value it provides.

Announcements from Microsoft and Amazon that will impact the world for decades

Last week we witnessed the reorienting of two giant work technology players — Amazon and Microsoft — with enormous impacts for the industry, and the marketplace.
Amazon announced Zocalo, its entry into the enterprise distributed core sector (also called file storage, and file sync-and-share; see Amazon enters the distributed core market, competing with Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and a few dozen others). Amazon is one of the most respected players in the cloud computing space, and has built its S3 file storage service into one of the most successful platforms, ever. Indeed, Dropbox, with hundreds of millions of users, is built on top of s3.
Amazon Web Services has become an enormous disruptor for several reasons. First, the service scales in a way that most companies couldn’t concoct for themselves because of the technological challenges, and it is elastic, so that as users applications or websites need more resources, the service scales automatically. Second, Amazon is playing a long game, and as a result is merciless in cutting its margins to the point that competitors — except the really large ones — can’t afford to compete. As just one example, Amazon launched the Fire Phone recently, and offered unlimited photo storage to those buying the phone, for life.
So, Amazon isn’t just rolling out a new service: they are intending to disrupt the sector for enterprise distributed core, from top to bottom. And they probably will.
What is the impact of this going to be?
Let me step back for a second, and describe what the enterprise distributed core market was, immediately prior to the announcement. There were a great number of players — 20 or more — that had come into the market from different vectors.

  1. Dropbox, Box, and a number of others were consumer-oriented start-ups only a few years ago, and after raising hundreds of millions of dollars in our frothy investment climate, had developed enterprise-style administrative capabilities, and even some of the security provisions that some enterprises require.
  2. Companies like Intralinks, Egnyte, Accellion, and others were always oriented toward the enterprise security value proposition, and in many cases developed a distributed core solution on top of earlier secure capabilities, modeling their newest offerings on the Dropbox-style user experience.
  3. The majors — like Google, Microsoft, and Apple — developed distributed core capabilities as an aspect of a wider strategy: to own the user experience of consumers and business users of their devices, productivity suites, and cloud services.

All of these players stand to be disrupted.
The last group — the giants — are playing a long game and have billions to invest to achieve their aims, and each of the three has control of key elements of the stack. Google has Android, Chrome, Google Play, Google Drive/Docs, and Google Apps. Apple has iOS, OS X, iPhone, iPad, Mac, the App Store, iTunes, iCloud, iCloud Drive (coming), and the Apple productivity tools. Microsoft has Office, OneDrive, and a long list of enterprise solutions that integrate: Yammer, SharePoint, Analytics, etc.
Amazon has only a tiny foothold in the device world, with Kindle and the recently announced Fire Phone. But their position in cloud services is a direct challenge to Google and Microsoft’s enterprise position. Especially if they follow up with enterprise email and productivity apps. So I expect they will.
Apple is the player least impacted by Amazon’s announcement.
Those in group two are going to have to move quickly to differentiate their offerings, or they will wind up like Bambi in Bambi Meets Godzilla.
And group one? I think they are going to be cut to pieces, because of Amazon undercutting their enterprise legitimacy, and the giants undercutting their consumer play.
And what about Microsoft’s non-announcement? The fire behind all the smoke in Satya Nadella’s memo to the troops last week (see Satya Nadella wants to focus on the core of Microsoft’s business, which is… everything). The clearest part of Nadella’s somewhat fuzzy and very, very long memo was that Ballmer’s repositioning of Microsoft as a ‘device and services’ company need to be rerepositioned. Microsoft is now a ‘productivity and platforms’ company.
Considering that Ballmer’s repositioning required a top-to-bottom reorganization of the company and the acquisition of Nokia, we might prepare ourselves for a similar series of events in Microsoft’s near future.
Jean-Louis Gassée wrote a funny and telling piece about Nadella’s memo, which he rips for Nadella’s lack of clarity and a seeming desire to conceal the implicit, wrenching change lurking between the lines. Then, Gassée rewrites the memo:

Tortured statements from CEOs, politicians, coworkers, spouses, or suppliers, in no hierarchical order, mean one thing: I have something to hide, but I want to be able to say I told you the facts.
With all this in mind, let’s see if we can restate Nadella’s message to the troops:

This is the beginning of our new FY 2015 – and of a new era at Microsoft.
I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is the old Devices and Services mantra won’t work.
For example: I’ve determined we’ll never make money in tablets or smartphones.
So, do we continue to pretend we’re “all in” or do we face reality and make the painful decision to pull out so we can use our resources – including our integrity – to fight winnable battles? With the support of the Microsoft Board, I’ve chosen the latter. We’ll do our utmost to minimize the pain that will naturally arise from this change. Specifically, we’ll offer generous transitions arrangements in and out of the company to concerned Microsoftians and former Nokians.
The good news is we have immense resources to be a major player in the new world of Cloud services and Native Apps for mobile devices. We let the first innings of that game go by, but the sting energizes us. An example of such commitment is the rapid spread of Office applications – and related Cloud services – on any and all mobile devices. All Microsoft Enterprise and Consumer products/services will follow, including Xbox properties.
I realize this will disrupt the status quo and apologize for the pain to come. We have a choice: change or be changed.
Stay tuned.

If Gassée’s hypothesis is right, the other shoe is about to drop, and Nadella is not really planning just a repositioning around a new marketing message — productivity and platforms — but is really planning to focus the company on a smaller number of winnable markets. Note that the word ‘devices’ is one that was clearly left out of the new word salad. So,  is Nadella planning to end the fight in devices? Will he milk the Windows cow on the PC as long as possible, but drop the so-far-fruitless efforts with Windows phones and tablets? We’ll have to wait for the next long and tortured memo, but perhaps the next one will actually tell a tale instead of concealing one.
So then, two major events: one which is as clear as a slap in the face, the other as opaque as a foggy morning. But both represent watershed events, and their repercussions will be felt for decades to come.

Smart transportation: the disruptor-broker model

Here are a couple of low- and high-end examples of how real-time data is being applied to disrupt the public transportation sector:

  • As today’s Boston Globe reports, there is a “Data-driven pop-up bus service set to roll out”. When a critical mass of customers is ready for a ride, Bridj will dispatch other bus companies luxury buses to provide point-to-point service within the Boston metro area. The pricing, at $5, is higher than the $2 cost of a subway ride, but less than the $9 that one customer is quoted as otherwise paying for the Uber crowd-sourced taxi alternative.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Evo-Lux finds and makes markets between excess helicopter capacity and shared-ride customers. The firm refers to its service as a “sky-limo”. Like Bridj, Evo-Lux is focused on providing a more comfortable and efficient ride for customers in congested metro markets, although Evo-Lux also provides transport outward to popular get-away locations.

In both cases, the disruptor is something of a broker, matching excess capacity to a small aggregation of customers with a commonality of temporal and locational need. A membership structure helps the company to identify transportation matches, and the result is a lower price than would be available for a fully private ride.