The UK Govt could be kick-starting a revolution. Its motives are sincere, but has it laid down clear enough ground rules?

I’m not sure why but the arrival of the Government’s Cloudstore, a new portal for public sector bodies to procure software, got me thinking about the “Comparethemeerkats” campaign. Bear with me…

Even if you are suffering ‘meerkat fatigue’ I don’t think many would argue this campaign has made a dull subject (price comparison websites) somewhat entertaining.

And without wishing to offend those who spend their lives processing public sector tenders I wonder whether there is something to be learnt from this approach. Many people would agree that the mere mention of ‘Government Procurement’ would be a powerful sedative. I’m not sure what the Cloudstore equivalent of meerkats would be, but surely greater emphasis should be placed on properly promoting the service so that both buyers and the SMEs who are meant to benefit from access to Government procurement maximise the opportunity?

While the tone is generally positive there are outstanding questions. Mark Say’s article in the Guardian worryingly saw an admission from Phil Pavitt, CIO at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC): “How big departments are going to use it (Cloudstore) has not been fully thought through…"

At the very least the Cloudstore signals an intention from Government to act upon long harboured aspirations to move away from expensive, long-term IT contracts and enable more UK small businesses to overcome the bureaucratic nightmare that is Government procurement.

As Stuart Lauchlan suggested this could be a quiet revolution. Yes many of the well-known vendors have made it onto the list, but the message is fairly clear. Be prepared to deliver short-term contracts and strip away the complex implementation costs or we have alternatives. It could be argued that the mere suggestion of alternative is enough to focus minds and deliver greater efficiencies for the public sector (and us taxpayers).

Perhaps when we look back on it we’ll see this decision as one of those moments when Government intervention sparked a truly revolutionary moment.

Question marks

However, the Government’s approach does leave a few questions unanswered. Stuart pointed to learnings from the US’ project on Cloud Computing, which shows there is a lot more to consider than simply listing an application  or service on a portal. Likewise Clive Longbottom welcomes Cloudstore, but recognises that the public sector has to embrace it if it is to be successful.

From my perspective the key questions are:

Buyer/end user education and empowerment:

Using a service from Cloudstore will never be quite as simple as Amazon or the Apple iStore, but it will be consigned to history as another Government-backed dodo without significant investment in buyer education. If we look at SaaS adoption it has often seen end users circumventing frustrating IT policies to use the software they want. While I’m sure central and local Government departments will have checks in place to prevent a ‘free-for-all’ Cloud Computing should empower users and buyers to make choices. But how do they choose between the solutions on offer? What considerations should affect their decision? 

Integration:

Of the 250 vendors already registered on the Cloudstore 50% are supposed to be small businesses often providing just a point solution or at best a suite of similar products. In the main they will be built on one platform, such as Solidsoft on the Microsoft Azure platform. They do not have the resources to integrate their offerings with those of all the major vendors. That is a problem, because central and local Government have invested heavily in IT and cannot afford to discard these legacy systems. So how does the Cloudstore administration ensure smaller vendors can integrate as effectively with existing solutions to ensure the playing field is truly level?

Marketing:

In any industry if a buyer has to choose between a known entity and an unknown one it is no surprise they usually go for the safe option. With Cloudstore there has already been some debate about how the vendors present their offerings, because it is clearly not uniform. That makes marketing these solutions hard and obviously it is going to be harder for the smaller vendors to compete against recognised brands. With culture of risk-aversion heightened by all the high profile IT failures how is Cloudstore going to help to promote the ‘Davids’ to ensure the Whitehall politicos don’t just pick the ‘Goliaths’ they know?

I do believe the Cloudstore can deliver significant value, but as Michael Krigsman has said many times successful IT implementations are a combination of the software working, the implementation sticking to a mutually agreed schedule using the right resources and the customer understanding exactly what goals they want to achieve through the adoption of IT. 

While the Cloudstore could be the start of something the spectre of the ‘IT Devil’s Triangle’ still looms large and these fundamental issues have to be addressed for it to a long-term success

@cairbreUK

Ericsson launches a cloud-based machine-to-machine communications platform to help telecoms operators connect more than just laptops and smartphones.

The company believes that more than 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 and that its Ericsson Device Connection Platform can help operators to quickly deliver M2M solutions to their enterprise customers. Ericsson’s platform will be offered using a Software as a Service (SaaS) model that it believes will minimize barriers to entry in the M2M market.

“We envision a world with 50 billion connected devices in 2020, where everything that benefits from a connection will be connected,” said Magnus Furustam, Vice President, head of Core & IMS at Ericsson. “To get there, Ericsson is working with telecom operators, selected industry verticals and other players across the M2M value chain to create world-leading, innovative technology and sustainable business solutions.”

Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform primarily makes it possible to create tailored connectivity and price plans for M2M services. Ericsson will help telecoms operators to offer enterprise customers a self-service interface, flexible billing, charging and connectivity plans for all devices connected to the network.

“The platform will help operators deliver solutions for devices and applications that have diverse connectivity needs, ranging from sending a single business critical SMS to high-quality video surveillance via the mobile network. Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform addresses these needs and is there to support operators in developing their business in new areas,” said Furustam.

The service will allow telco customers to manage their subscriptions and devices in real time.

Matthew_Whalley

Edel_Telecom

following Monday’s insight from the analyst community on the trends and expectations for the year ahead (check out the full post here), we thought we’d have a bash ourselves at predicting the future. so here are our suggestions for the year ahead – let us know whether you agree with us, or think we’re miles off the mark…

(also – to anyone reading this in December, you have *not* got an eye condition; those floating white dots across the screen are snow. it’s festive.)

…and we’re putting together a mobile special in case you think it’s a bit thin on mobility right now – watch this space in Jan for the 2011 mobile outlook according to Edelman Tech…

Predictions for 2011:

Larry picks a fight…with God

Larry Ellison will never be accused of being the shy retiring type. In fact one of the well known legends is that he bases a lot of his modus operandi around ‘The Art of War’ and over the years he has picked a fight with pretty much everyone in the industry. Bill Gates, Ray Lane, Craig Conway, Tom Siebel and more recently SAP and HP. Frankly there isn’t anyone really left to fight so the speculation surely must be that the only person worthy of a challenge is God. Given the old joke – "What’s the difference between God and Larry Ellison?…God doesn’t think he’s Larry" – this may not be the case.

Facebook emerges as a powerful content player

Just a stab in the dark, but I’d hazard that before 2011 is out we’ll see Facebook commissioning its own content – or co-creating content at least. The ‘Like’ function is powerful – whether for selling products or amplifying conversation around content. We know that young audiences are watching more online. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook will start working closely with production companies to push something like KateModern into stratospheric proportions – the first social entertainment blockbuster.

‘Do no evil’ Google becomes ‘Bad Google’

In some respects it seems almost stereotypical that a company that was once the darling of the industry is now beginning to look over its shoulder, as the mutterings begin to increase. Like Intel and Microsoft before then they have incurred the wrath of the regulators and how the company reacts next year will be interesting to watch.

Hopefully it will have learnt from the mistakes of others, but there’s the danger its senior leadership team has drunk a little too much of the ‘Kool Aid’.’There is no doubt that the ‘noughties’ belonged to Google and today it remains one of the key drivers of the IT industry, but it needs to sustain that growth to justify its market cap. As a result its moved into a number of different areas with mixed results…Google Wave (#fail), Android (#successtodate), GoogleTV (#waitandsee). Similarly it has had the high profile embarrassment around China, which has severely dented its reputation and competitors like Facebook, Youtube and even Microsoft are beginning to make in-roads on its heartland. 2011 may be a sticky year for Google.

We will all be buying coffee via our mobiles by the end of next year

Whether paying for stuff with your mobile, buying online credits, or using Square we’ll be seeing a lot more money changing hands, without touching hands. Much of the rest of the world already is – Africa and Asia are well ahead of Europe and US in this field, (indeed Gartner predict that 60% of this market in 2011 will be in Asia). But there is some key technology coming that will make phones that much smarter and make it that much easier for us all to get involved. Google has confirmed the next version of Android will support NFC (near field communication) chips, and it’s rumoured that iPhone 5 will have this functionality in-built. Nokia and RIM are both also expected to follow-suit.

Creative Agency "ownership" of social media

This year the classic PR v marketing battle was augmented by the arrival of "customer services" onto the scene. The range of customer and support services using social media to support their communications and contacts has led to them claiming ownership (and budget). A valid claim (like all the rest).

Next year customer relationship management (CRM) will join the fray under the moniker "social" CRM, linking customer databases with social media to define whether, when, how often, on what medium companies communicate with their customers.

I see loads of privacy and "ownership" issues but for any company who gets this right it could be huge.

There are however always pitfalls, and twitter is flooded with examples of companies ‘doing’ social media very well and responding to customers and issues, but the actual customer service department in the clients’ back office not following up. To avoid this becoming a fad or people losing faith in social media platforms as a channel, companies need to place the same focus on the back office customer services departments as they do in keeping pace with an external zeitgeist.

Gamification of Life

There’s a lot of chat about the ‘gaming of everyday life’. Truth is ‘social games’ like Farmville  actually aren’t very social (people tell their friends there are playing, but are they playing with friends and telling others? I think not). FourSquare is often touted as the best example of the gamification of life but personally, I don’t think it is a very good game.

To its credit I think it’s a very promising form of direct marketing and I’m sure we’ll see more coupons next year. More interesting – if more niche – social games are playthings like Chromoroma. These sorts of initiatives will continue to garner interest from the press and trend watchers. Whether or not they will engage enough people to become ‘mainstream’ is perhaps unlikely.  But in a game of influencing the influencers – this sort of creative approach will be a top scorer.

Murdoch will just give up with his paywall.

Personally I think it’s all a little too little too late – the industry has sat back and watched itself be destroyed – news on the internet will be, and will always be, free. If you can’t get what you want from The Times you’ll go somewhere else to find it. The quality argument, for me personally, doesn’t stack up, people generally will accept a lower quality if it costs them nothing.

Mobile and application based news might be a short-term saviour, and there will be winners and losers in this area next year. It’s perhaps true that people are prepared to pay for innovation and the novel – but even then, the future of the mobile experience looks set to be a browser/cloud based model. Mobile applications will go the same way as desktop applications at some point in the not too distant future (let’s say 2013 for arguments sake).

News will become hyper-local & hyper-social. A location based service will join forces with a news site for location centric news – what’s happening where you are right now….. bringing you nearer to……

……‘Where’s that ambulance going?’

I don’t think 2010 has quite been the year of location, as many though it might be. Less than 4% of mobile users are using this feature. It’s growing though and expect next year – with the rise in popularity of Foursquare and Facebook places (sorry Gowalla you missed the boat) – for the term “where am I now” to be more popular than ever.

Combine this with the fact that media is looking to innovate, to tap into the power of social, than I can see a very logical next step to be a combination of owned and user generated news to be pushed to users based on location.

What is happening in the world you’re in right now. Whether this is in combination with one of the aforementioned services or a plug-in to a site like the BBC, Digg or the Guardian, I think we’ll start to see this as a powerful service. Indirectly, this may then only serve to fuel citizen journalism, as people are alerted more easily to incidents / events happening close to them.

Someone will figure out how to give everything, no matter how small, an IP address

Long shot this one, and is based on boozy conversations with colleagues on the outerweb and the internet of things, that this could be the next big breakthrough – giving everything a link to the internet.

This could be as simple as me seeing a sofa or salt shaker and “liking” it in real time or adding instantly to an Amazon wish list via a connection to my smartphone. It will happen, perhaps not next year, but it’s always good to have an outlandish prediction – and hell most food products do now have a link to the web via barcodes.

Videogames will shift from products to entertainment services

By the end of 2011, most blockbusters games will turn into an subscription-based service instead of releasing a new iteration each year (i.e.: the Call of Duty franchise). We’ve already seen this happening with the Steam platform offering games as uploads, and annoying retail outlets in the process, but the next year could see this become even more prominent. Gamers are currently predominantly ‘owned’ by their console (although multi-console owners are increasingly more common), but game manufacturers could see a niche in the market for tying them into series through exclusive uploads, game advances and new episodes. Given the dedication the most successful games generate, this would seem a seamless next step.

Cloudy outlook;  another year of unfulfilled promise, the return of hardware storage, and Everything-As-A-Service?

Seriously, can someone just make the cloud revolution finally happen? It’s been on everyone’s lips for years – YEARS – but is 2011 the year the cloud actually becomes the tech saviour it’s lined up as? Granted, there are already plenty of services claiming ‘cloud’ services, but on closer inspection many of these are simply network servers – can we finally envisage a true cloud? If we are to do so, the main obstacle is going to be keeping such services reliable and absolutely, unrelentingly secure – it’s the security issue which has held adoption up in many instances.

And if the security issue does remain unconquerable, we could perhaps see the return of hardware storage with servers and SSDs, as the perceived risks around cloud computing create too many anxieties to warrant full adoption.

If the cloud DOES finally break loose, expect ‘EaaS’ – Everything-as-a-Service – a growing offers with more collaborative tools and more complete applications to be proposed; everything becomes “on demand” with the cloud.

Social media will finally arrive in the enterprise

We’ve already witnessed the growing adoption of social media in the enterprise – for both internal and external usage – and we can expect to see more of the same as IT decision makers start to impact the business strategy discussions.

Once the C Suite understand the role social media plays in business, and how it can (positively) impact business efficiency, we’ll see this boom. Social media is currently viewed as a distraction to staff, but once this misapprehension is dealt with, and its proper adoption, integration and monitoring is understood, enterprises will rush to get involved.

The key issue which needs tackling in 2011 is to dispel the perception of social media adoption being simply an ‘allow or deny’ decision. It is simply not that black and white, and different employees require differing access and controls. The workforce coming into industry now is that which has grown up with the likes of Facebook, and they’ll expect the same in business – and if they don’t get it, they’ll find a way around security to use it none the less. “Allow or deny” is no longer a valid debate.

and the consumerisation of IT won’t be restricted to social media…

…Bring-your-own

We can’t get enough of having a familiar device in our pocket, even in the workplace – we’re moving into the age of ‘bring your own’- your own technology, that is – into work. With more Millennials/Generation Y/the L’Oréal generation, whatever you want to call them, coming into the workplace, we’ll see a shift in the technology we use and how we use it altogether. Businesses will support the idea – in theory. Employees using a familiar device has the obvious efficiency advantages. However, whether organisations, and infrastructure, will be able to support alien devices is another thing. After all, there’s the usual security, technical, data protection and legal issues that cloud computing has been dealing with for years. It will certainly be a step in the right direction, but we may very well get there at a snail’s pace.

with thanks for the following for contributions:

@RogerDara

@cairbreUK

@LukeMackay

@JustinWestcott

@LucyDesaDavies

@wonky_donky

Cloud Computing will put customers in charge in the enterprise IT sector

How to apply the learnings of the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’

We’re hosting a roundtable lunch time discussion with Doc Searls, internet visionary and leading academic from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, on Friday 22nd October.

Whether you call it Cloud Computing, Software/Platform/Infrastructure as a Service or just see it as a variant of the ‘dot com’ ASP model there is no doubt that the technology now exists to enable customers to redefine the relationship with their enterprise vendors. Despite this there does not appear to be a wholesale understanding of how fundamentally this technology platform could redefine the relationship between customer and supplier.

The latest in our series of debates anchored by Edelman’s Cairbre Sugrue, Managing Director, Technology and Jonathan Hargreaves, Head of Technology, Europe, will bring together leaders within the enterprise IT sector to understand how the Internet, in particular Cloud Computing, will fundamentally change the way that vendors engage with customers. It will discuss whether there are lessons to be learned from other industries and how other companies have been successful in this technological era. Above all it will show that with adjustments in the way enterprise vendors use socially-driven communications tools, how they can engage with their existing customers and find new opportunities.

Places are limited and need to be qualified but if you are interested in joining us for a fascinating insight into the engagement future of Enterprise IT please contact me. This isn’t open to sales people but purely senior level people in the industry.

Look forward to seeing you.

“Why Cloud will only see widespread adoption if the IT industry has a Stock Market-style crash”

Given that my job is providing PR consultancy to the IT industry I appreciate the absurdity of recommending some kind of Stock market crash as the way forward for the IT industry. I went through the dot com bubble – it wasn’t pleasant. However, I am not making this suggestion because I enjoy scaremongering or want to see anyone out of a job, but because I am at a loss to understand how else we can correct and move beyond this ‘Age of Institutionalised Complexity.’

Enterprise IT departments, ever since the early days of mainframes, have built up stockpiles of hardware and software, which I would contend they rarely fully use. Sure, technology has pushed greater integration and commoditisation, but major organisations are left with bulky IT infrastructures creaking under the weight of their inefficiency.

Yet models exist which could enable CIOs to become more agile and responsive, but adoption – although on the increase – is not widespread.

It would appear to the cynical eye that enterprise IT environments have become so institutionalised by this complexity that wholesale change isn’t possible without some kind of dramatic event, such as a crash.

“Why isn’t every IT department moving wholesale to the Cloud?”

Ok, perhaps I’m being a little too impatient for change – and probably only have a superficial understanding of the technical requirements – but enterprise customers, in particular, are not grabbing the opportunity of Cloud Computing to move wholesale away from hereto expensive and restrictive relationships with their existing IT providers (as Ray Wang highlighted last year at the SAP UK User Group).

If we believe the analysts Cloud is heading in only one direction with revenues soaring and yet we’re still having a debate about the theory of Cloud – how it should be applied, etc (single tenant, multi-tenant, private cloud, public cloud).

Surely the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges? Yes, cost is stripped out of IT structures, but more importantly it should create IT environments with the flexibility to respond to ever changing business conditions.

Call it resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or plain stubbornness – there is a need to overcome such blockers as the IT industry will collapse under its own complexity unless it adopts new models such as Cloud.

“Stupid is as stupid does…”

Despite the traditional IT vendors taking flak from every angle for their poor innovation (you only have to read Vinnie Mirchandani’s book, which suggests a lot of the innovative application of technology is being done by non-IT companies) we’re still moving quite slowly given that ‘Cloud’ has existed in some form for quite some time. (Simon Wardley suggests the concept first appeared in 1968).

In moments of greater frustration it seems the only conclusion is that humans really are as stupid as some believe. Thankfully, though, further investigation leads me to a different conclusion, one prompted by a term referenced by Dennis Howlett on Cloud – ‘Institutional Memory’.

Like Dennis I reviewed the excellent keynotes by Mark Masterson and Simon Wardley at OSCON and started to build a clearer picture of this notion of ‘Institutionalised Complexity.’

Both speakers underlined the fundamental in the clash between innovation and the desire to achieve predictable success in business. Masterson applies this view to the previous decade, describing an era he calls the ‘Age of Productivity’ which was focused on reducing the likelihood of failure and cost of failure in return for predictable business success.

The outcome has been that companies focused on initiatives – both in business and IT – driven by this need for predictability and as a consequence pushed IT products/service development towards commoditisation. As Wardley explains this creates a fundamental issue for innovation, because it requires a risk-taking, uncertain environment to prosper.

Wardley’s solution for IT vendors and their customers wanting to reinvigorate innovation is to recommend they analyse where products and services have already been commoditised. He highlights functions, such as HR, CRM, and Finance – all mainstays of ERP – as prime areas for exploitation. Areas where value has been eroded so much that they are ripe for the Creative Destruction process. Masterson sees breaking free of the constraints of the ‘Age of Productivity’ as the opportunity for open source software and argues that companies should be focused on the ‘Age of Growth.’

“Trapped in an Institutionalised Mindset”

Logically that should mean the time is right for mass adoption of Cloud Computing. Yet I have a concern that most enterprise IT departments simply aren’t prepared or willing to enter this ‘Age of Growth’ because they’ve become so institutionalised in their adoption of IT. Cloud Computing challenges this mindset at every level, in terms of how IT is acquired, supported and how its success is measured. JP Rangaswami even suggests that attempting to apply traditional measures such as Service Level Agreements (SLAs) is wrong, that IT departments need to be designing their IT infrastructure for a ‘loss of control.’ Applying the linear models of the ‘Age of Productivity’ is wrong, companies need to be thinking in terms of language such as ‘self healing,’ ‘self aware’ and ‘heuristic.’

Having grown up being driven by the need for risk aversion and predictability it will be difficult for any IT department to cope with such significant change, particularly at a time when there is even greater pressure on IT leaders to demonstrate value to their business peers. Therefore I contend that the easiest way for such technologies to gain much wider adoption is that the IT industry has some kind of implosion with both vendors and IT customers being forced to start again.

I appreciate this is slightly insane, well possibly very insane, but let me cite two reasons why:

1. All good things come to an end because they become too complicated: Clay Shirky has written about a book by Joseph Tainter, “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” In it Tainter analyses why supposedly sophisticated societies such as the Romans and the Mayan Indians eventually implode. In his view complexity has stifled each of these societies and it leads Shirky to suggest:

Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond…When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler…Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.

2. History is repeating itself: a quick look at any number of examples demonstrates why this logic is applicable to business and therefore IT. The automotive industry went from innovative to commodity driven by Henry Ford and hung on for dear life, until its recent collapse due to the stress of the global economic crisis and changing attitudes to the environmental impact of car travel. While some of the incumbents fight on (eg: Honda, who’s tagline has been ‘dream the impossible’) a range of new manufacturers are emerging. For many the well-publicised collapse of the Financial Services industry has been due, largely, to the complexity of its products and the inability of regulation to cope with this complexity. The Media and Entertainment industry is in the throes of a similar challenge, with various sectors in different stages.

“An alternative solution would be to simply embrace the chaos”

The simplest conclusion for the IT industry is to embrace collapse and its accompanying chaos, but perhaps we don’t have to see Rome burning. Rather enterprise IT users should prepare for a period when IT structures and their accompanying ‘rules’ have to be reset. Cloud Computing is the vehicle for that change and there is a significant opportunity for Cloud vendors to help their customers move towards this ‘post-proprietary’ era of adoption.

To encourage change Cloud vendors need to follow a number of steps, mainly to appeal to the current institutionalised mindset, but also to lead their customers to place where they believe that risk-taking isn’t dangerous.

Step one – build trust: recognise that technology> won’t lead to change alone – accept Simon Wardley’s point that it is only one of four triggers that drive uptake. Unless the concept for a new technology is clearly defined, unless the customer recognises its suitability for its environment and the customer has been convinced to change their attitude, the technology will always sit on the shelf, no matter how good it is.

Step two – change the benefit discussion around Cloud: both Nicholas Carr and Paul Strassmann have said – in one form or other – that there is little value in IT spend and in fact Jevons Paradox showed that technology adoption increases consumption, rather than saves money. There is a need to appeal to the predictability mindset, because cloud will never achieve widespread, commoditised consumption – similar to other utilities – unless vendors show how Cloud can bridge the default position regarding risk aversion and the desire for repeatable solutions. But making  a conversation solely about cost reduction will never move IT users out their comfort zone to experiment fully with the Cloud.

Step three – embolden customers to take risks: for me this is encapsulated by provoking customers to respond to Shirky’s question: “Would this be an interesting thing to try?”

It goes to the heart of the point about moving the discussion beyond cost. If Cloud vendors can show the benefits of piloting their technologies can be done at minimal risk, they can begin to break down linear approaches to IT adoption. However, to do this they must bring customers on a journey that explains what their roles will be in the future, because a guaranteed blocker to change is an IT Director, who sees his or her role being replaced by a new technology. (Classic example – which I’ve witnessed – try selling database automation technology to a room full of Database Administrators)

Cloud Computing suppliers are beginning to reassure more and more enterprises that they have a role in their IT infrastructure, but they are yet to build significant trust among the broader ‘Church’ of the enterprise IT industry. The danger is that the traditional vendors are not only feeding that hesitation, they are using this period to catch up, so the Cloud specialists don’t have long to drive their advantage home.

For this ‘Age of Growth’ perhaps the new motto should be: “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

Or as Mrs Doyle said it more succinctly, “Ah go on, go on, go on…”

@cairbreUK

There’s a fascinating piece on TechCrunch, live notes from a Google event where CEO Eric Schmidt gave CIOs a look at some new cloud technologies and then took questions from the floor.   

For me, the Q&A threw up two areas of real interest. Number one is the open admission that Google is becoming a competitor to many of its partner companies. How do you manage that sort of relationship? Schmidt talks about the upcoming Chrome operating system and how it will realise the vision of cloud-based computing, removing the need for expensive hardware and bringing down the cost of device ownership. How do you square that vision with the device manufacturers that Google is working with? They’re locked in a constant battle of technical one-upmanship on specs yet Google is talking about a future where less is more. Surely there’s trouble ahead?

Secondly, this piece clearly shows that Google is on a collision course with Apple. We know the relationship has already soured with Schmidt quitting his place on the Apple board, but with him describing Google as an “information company” and talking upfront about the importance of applications, Google seems to have moved on from the world of search and is now on a mission to bring portable, connected, affordable and engaging computing to everyone and anyone that wants it – and that is surely where Apple wants to be as well. There’s a good piece on the ensuing ‘war’ between the two giants on Electricpig.

All told, I find it hard not to like Schmidt and the vision he paints for Google. There’s a simplicity about the company that stretches from the single search box at Google.com right the way through the products and services and into Schmidt’s vision for a more simplified way of connecting and communicating. The question is, do Google’s current crop of partners feel the same?

@paulwooding1973

Either side of Christmas there has been a fair amount of debate about the future of the enterprise software market, particularly whether the big players such as Oracle and SAP are going to start feeling the heat from the software-as-a-service (SaaS)/cloud computing folks. Given the economic conditions and the hefty maintenance fees that many customers have been asked to pay it quite rightly led some commentators to suggest customers have a right to demand more.

SAP has been ‘victim’ of some sabre rattling in Europe as it has just announced that it is backing down on changes to its support license structure – a result of pressure being exerted by many commentators. Frankly, though, I’d rather see that as a good example of an enterprise IT vendor getting the need for dialogue with customers. In fact Dennis Howlett suggests that SAP wants to be the ‘voice of the customer.’ So rather than criticise SAP I say well done!

Rip and Replace Frenzy?

Elsewhere there has been debate about the financial performance of SAP and Oracle with some analysis suggesting the Oracle’s numbers before Christmas told a disturbing story about its reliance on support revenues for its profitability. As I’ve said before Oracle does say its higher maintenance fees are critical to future investment in product/services R&D, but given the financial belt tightening of the last year many customers don’t have the luxury of sustaining such expenditure. (A fact borne out by the growth of the likes of Rimini Street and other third party support vendors, who are seeing more and more customers turning away to them for maintenance contracts)

So does that mean we are about to see dramatic changes in the IT industry? On its home turf Computerwoche dared to raise the question whether SAP could remain independent, while the hotly debated Sapience conference saw the SaaS vendors making very bold statements about their competitiveness against the ‘traditional’ enterprise IT companies. In this more balanced piece Jon Reed did say there are merits to the SaaS model and that SAP needs to be careful, particularly with some of its older customer base refusing to upgrade, but that we are not going to see a dramatic ‘rip and replace’ frenzy.

Integration Rather Than Software to Decide SaaS Success

I tend to agree both from a practical and technical perspective. Practicalities – for instance – IBM AS/400 was around long before I started and is still around today. Ultimately it will always be up to customers to decide which products they use and they would be crazy to throw away long-standing investments. In December Ray Wang also offered advice to companies considering a shift to SaaS, listing 10 recommendations, the most important of which – for me – was a technical one about integration. We have already learnt the lesson the hard way with existing enterprise IT platforms, that unless applications are integrated companies fail to extract their full value.

Certainly, in some areas such as customer relationship management (CRM) and salesforce automation it has been possible to establish a beachhead quite quickly, because these systems can be quite distinct from core IT infrastructures. However, to convince major organisations to switch their critical applications such as financial administration to the SaaS or Cloud model, vendors must demonstrate they can integrate disparate systems to ensure a transparent picture for the customer. That means combining business intelligence with performance management with accounts payable and other core finance applications. That is no easy task and requires a depth of expertise that I don’t think I’ve seen from the SaaS gang.

Who do you Trust?

I guess they would suggest implementation partners ensure the business processes run smoothly together, but if I were a major bank who would I see as having the expertise to implement properly? If the CIO had to guarantee the trading floor had real-time data that linked seamlessly with the back-office finance applications so would the CIO trust a SaaS vendor?

For me that’s the big question. Security is an easy FUD argument against SaaS/Cloud, but integrating business processes is the major area where SaaS vendors will need to convince.

So does that mean the ‘traditional’ big guns can breathe easy? No.

Impact of Conway’s Law and Enterprise IT as a Utility

The reality is that we’re moving to the Cloud/service driven IT model. It will fulfil Nicholas Carr’s view of IT as a utility. At the moment it is driven by economic necessity, but while the SaaS vendors have their chance I am confident they are going to be working hard to get further and further inside the corporate firewall, stripping out the older proprietary systems.

Where does that leave Oracle and SAP? I once had it described to me as moving a world of ‘provices’ and ‘serducts’ rather than products and services. In this excellent overview of the challenges for the enterprise vendors Pete Swabey references Conway’s Law, which reads: “Organisations which design systems…are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations.”

If we follow the model that software will become a commodity and accept the impact of Conway’s law there are going to be a few clear priorities for vendors:

1)      Customer service reputation: historically never a strong suit for enterprise IT vendors, but surely they are going to have to engage more aggressively with customers and be prepared for frank, sometimes awkward dialogue. How far that dialogue should go is the key challenge. If you follow the engagement model to its furthest reaches then surely vendors will involve customers more in agreeing product roadmaps, but that could be a massive, complex headache, which sees profits disappear, much to the consternation of shareholders.

2)      Brand: if you agree that service rather than product will become the priority, that means that the focus on brand identity will have to increase and change. The US technology companies are all fairly sophisticated in protecting their brands, but I’m not sure many of them recognise it as critical to their customer/employee engagement. For example, I don’t really remember either Oracle or SAP trumpeting the capabilities of the Consulting and Support teams much beyond the odd press release. Surely, highlighting the services and expertise of these teams should become even more important than product. And that is not just about tangibles, it is also about the intangibles that customers associate with a brand. For example, would an enterprise IT vendor have the courage to publicise a software implementation that went wrong (and the turn around process), as a positive example of commitment to customers? Today no, but in the future (in the right context) a brave vendor should surely be willing to demonstrate how willing it is to through the kitchen sink at a problem? Creating that kind of mythology enhances loyalty.

3)      People: And if the tangibles and intangibles become ever more important in this service driven model, then obviously people are of paramount importance. A cliché, sure, but again enterprise IT vendors have not always covered themselves in glory when it comes to interaction with their staff. Having worked for an enterprise software vendor (Oracle) and loved it, I know how exciting it can be to work in this sector. However, across the industry the approach to employee communications – more importantly engagement – is frankly patchy. And if you treat staff like mushrooms, then the obvious happens…

So neither a bloody or a velvet revolution, but it would be interesting to be in the boardrooms of SAP and Oracle to hear what they’re saying about the future.

As I am in the process of buying a new house the Estate Agent’s mantra of location, location, location is ringing in my ears. Well actually it is interesting how having spoken this truism they then seem to spend their time showing houses that break the rules of location being the prime determinate. It struck me that a similar game might be occurring with cloud and new computing models. Bear with me.

There was a great article in the Observer this week on the launch of Google’s new OS highlighting how it was likely to change the rules governing computer operating systems. Rather than being the heart of the PC the OS would become simply a “life support system” for a browser, which you use to pull down computing services from server farms over the web. Radical thinking but this chant of location began to ring in my ears.

Well it was at a breakfast to discuss the future of cloud computing that it first began to ring. At this talk Professor Nigel Shadbolt, among others, pointed out that the problem is with access. If you are dependent for a broadband connection on being able to access your computing tools, there will be many times (particularly for the nomadic business person) when you simply can’t compute because you don’t have access. The obvious times are planes and trains but within the office every network failure would mean not just inability to access the web but also your desk top and even LAN. Moreover, this access when it is available is not cheap; with everywhere from a hotel to hotspot, the cost of access, while seemingly small, would actually add up dramatically when used for such a mission critical purpose.

The breakfast revealed many other challenges from legal issues to knotty interoperability challenges, but it did seem to me that the prime determinant for access, if not free access, was being overlooked in the face of exciting new models and futures. Admittedly one option was the idea of software and services put forward by Microsoft, but as one observer pointed out, this was perhaps paying twice. A simplification of a grand vision, never the less it still strikes me that amid all the talk of new futures we should be thinking of access, access, access first.

Jon Hargreaves (@Naked_Pheasant)

In the interests of disclosure we represent Microsoft, HP, Motorola, Orange, Symantec and broolz, all with interests in the field of cloud computing.

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