Archive for April 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on our way to the Cloud…

April 23, 2014

It was a day of thunderstorms and epiphanies.

The conference: BoxDEV in San Francisco: plenty of news about their solid platform, an energetic community of developers, and, of course, that jazzy CEO with his fine sense of humor. My “Aha” at the conference, however, was not about the company’s gutsy path toward an IPO in this Strange Days economy, nor the new technologies unveiled throughout the day. It was my discovery of a New Symptom, further evidence of the transformation of the Enterprise. Observing that new symptom led, in turn, to an epiphany about the changing role of the CIO in our journey toward Enterprise 2.0.

First, as a frame for this epiphany, allow me this brief back-story.

I’ve been reporting on the role of the CIO since 2000-2001. As the CIO for Jamcracker, I interviewed dozens of IT executives and academics across the United States and, from that research, published a white paper about the future of “the New CIO” – less absorbed by internal operations and more engaged with customers and partners, and a variety of system architectures “outside the firewall.” This was a different time, before the advent of social media (though the folks at a company called Flypaper had some really interesting ideas, and a company called LinkedIn was beginning to make noise in Berkeley). It was the early stages of “hosted systems,” Tom Siebel’s company challenged by the “new” multi-tenant architecture of

An all-too-frequent topic of industry media at the time was the struggle for the CIO “to get a seat at the table” with so many of my colleagues lamenting their still-secondary role inside of their companies, along with a relentless wave of industry research exclaiming that hosted systems would surely lead to “the Death of IT.” (Forrester, 2000.) And yet, over the decade to follow, IT did not die and the CIOs of the Enterprise were not eliminated. Rather, those CIOs and the technology organizations they managed, have continued to adapt (to the technologies and new business models that have emerged), though it is true, they are no longer the internal plumbers of that bygone era. Pulled into a future of external systems-as-a-service and the disruption caused by a) subscriptions in lieu of outright purchase, and b) the surge of devices, data, and demand for fully-integrated Systems of Engagement, the role of the CIO and the organization she directs is a very different one.

How different? That’s what my BoxDEV afternoon led me to recognize.

The agenda at BoxDEV included three panels (one composed of Venture Capitalists, one of notable CIOs, and a third composed of Startup CEOs as panelists). With apologies for the absence of names (except for a remarkable few), I’ve chose to emphasize anonymity because my observations are less about personality or presence and more about their perspective on the state of our industry. 

My initial impression of the CIO panelists?

Confession: Having held that role, I suffer from lofty and perhaps unrealistic expectations for my peers: frankly, I was somewhat disappointed with the conversation. With the exception of one panelist (Rebecca Jacoby, CIO, Intel – who was remarkably astute and articulate about the complex challenges of Enterprise IT ), my initial impression was that the IT executives on stage struggled to find an adequate vocabulary for the very technical audience, relying upon Old World phrases (like my grandparents who spoke Yiddish not for clarity but because they never learned English): “strategic alignment with the business,” “burdened by legacy systems,” “empowering teams…” to describe their current environments changes (epitomized by but not exclusively the result of social media, mobility, and the omnipresent Cloud). 

My initial impression of the StartUp CEOs was quite the opposite.

Each CEO panelist had a different perspective (on employee engagement, culture, and managing both success as well as failure), and each had their own vocabulary as if there were distinct dialects spoken by various tribes within a common neighborhood. For example, one panelist summarily dismissed the need for explicit publication of cultural values, while another candidly praised the value of seeing his company’s “core values” on the wall.

What was more impressive, (though they came from different backgrounds and histories, and while their companies were dissimilar in many ways (business models, functions/features, markets) – these CEOs seemed much more attuned to the shifting sands of the Enterprise client, much closer to the pulse of current team challenges, and far less dependent upon jargon as they described the New World.  In the water with their Enterprise customers, swimming with them, shivering with them – as such, they can offer much more compelling descriptions of the State of IT. In short, these startup executives knew and understood their Enterprise customers better than the IT leadership seemed to know their own employees.

It was a new symptom, this dislocation of familiarity – outsiders with a more intimate understanding of IT organizations than the internal leadership of those organizations. I didn’t know what to make of this oddity, and as I will occasionally do when I’m thinking through a new problem, I asked a few people for their thoughts on the matter, colleagues with careers that I admire and opinions that I respect. Here’s what they advised.

Geoffrey: It is essentially an issue of layers – Process vs. Program, and the disturbance cause when one is confused with the other. CIOs, in his opinion, attend to the orchestration of business and technology issues at the Process level; what I may have observed, he suggested, was that the Startup CEOs were familiar with the Program level – pertinent to their product or service but not necessarily a reflection of a broader comprehension of the entire business that comprises the enterprise.

John: It’s been going on for a long time and it will continue to unfold for years to come; John was less inclined to draw certain conclusions about this point in time, nor convinced that the cycle is about to be complete – he suggested that it was a multi-generational (evolutionary) change and that we are only in the midst of that much longer cycle – as such, we should be cautious about over-simplifications and conclusions.

Hypothesis: Each little-service-provider-connected-to-one-small-team within a large corporation (Startup panelists) are closer, in many ways, to the inner workings and daily ebb/flow of work within the larger enterprise, and this proximity allows for more accuracy today’s State.

Corollary: The Enterprise CIO (now a business executive viewing the world around them, not from the trenches, but from their truly executive position) is re-focused upon macro-level directions, risk mitigation strategies, stateless orchestration – and has delegated her technical role to those on her team who are “closer” to the technology. In other words, she has arrived

The transformation (Systems of Record -> Systems of Engagement), the commercialization and consequent mobility of any-device-any-application, and the architectural redeployment of infrastructure from owned (on prem) to rented (AWS, Google Drive, etc.) now allows for many more service providers (HP is tracking 1000 apps currently in use within the company) in an extended ecosystem (per my notion that Enterprise 2.0 needs Governance 2.0). One symptom of this shift (one which I’ve not yet seen in previous transformations): as CIOs attend to higher level business processes and strategies for their respective companies, the ecosystem of trusted partners (specialized, project/program-oriented) potentially assumes a more vital role in IT governance

When asked to take the pulse of her own organization, she now turns to her staff for the answer and those delegates (her senior staff) are the interface with the company’s broad ecosystem of partners.  These “little-service-providers” connect directly into critical business processes via the API of senior management, whereas the CIO works for orchestration, etc.  As such, each ecosystem participant (like embedded journalists during the Iraq invasion) actually knows current events better than the generals in Washington. This is not a criticism of generals – only recognition that their success as leaders must be augmented by a vital and more resilient matrix of subject matter experts. In the world of Enterprise 2.0, those experts reside both inside and outside of the organization.

A funny thing happened on our way to the Cloud. CIOs have arrived “at the Table.”



Life in the Digital Diaspora

April 6, 2014

Let us set aside, for the moment, the comforting belief that current technologies and “new” business models are dramatically different than they were in 1995 when the Internet revolutionized our access to (and capacity to disseminate) information.

Instead, for the moment, consider a broader history within which these innovations exist:  marked by a true conclusion of the Industrial Age (itself heralded by the electrification of industry, fueled by steam and internal combustion engines and enabling mass production of things that could be bought and sold) and the beginning of the Information Age, when “knowledge workers” became the primary source of value production.  In this context, the past twenty years should only be viewed as the first phase of the Information Age – one that continues to unfold, transform, and facilitate every part of our daily lives – and let us assume, as a consequence, that this Age (like its industrial predecessor) will remain for the next 100 years.

From this vantage-point, we might understand that this isn’t the end of a 20-year cycle of innovation but rather the very early stages of a much longer and more dramatic shift – economically, socially, historically.  From this vantage-point, we realize that our current fascinations (the best Cloud, the newest Messaging Service, the soon-to-be-released device that combines everything we might ever want in every color and shape) are not end-points but merely the next in a series of tool-and-service waves that alter, professionally and personally, the means to enhance our lives and entertain ourselves.

What changes are visible on the near horizon?

Twenty years from now, we will not need to carry those “everything” devices – we will wear them and drive them.  Twenty years from now, what will be valuable will be the data we own (who we are and what we do and where it was done) and the data we aggregate for others.  (Note: Whomever invents the method for establishing the actual value of our personal information and presents a mechanism for monetizing that value will lay true claim to the next Big Thing.)

We’ll no longer need to send our teen-aged sons and daughters to the grocery store when we need more milk and eggs.  Our refrigerators and pantries will monitor our household supplies, relay needs to central distributors who store, provision, and deliver the “stuff” of our lives in the manner that utilities (natural gas and electricity) is provided today.  And we’ll no longer need to send our college-bound children across the country at great expense for graduate educations, because Princeton will be in the cloud.  Dartmouth, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa?  In the cloud – No need to physically go to where knowledge is resides, because knowledge will be usefully distributed (selected, paid for, updated, improved upon) and consumed as popular music is now i-delivered.

My grandfather made the desk that I now use to support the television/game-station/routers needed in this generation.  He made things and sold them.  My father changed the family business to focus upon the sale of things made by others.  What do I make?  Essays like this one, composed only of words, responding to the words of others, adding my teacup of water into the relentless and burgeoning information stream.

What will my son make? Surely his contribution will be as different from mine as mine was from my father, and his father – because our “work product” changes as the world changes.  And his son will wonder what he does for a living, just as my son wonders about me, just as those who were born at the end of the Industrial Age could not imagine automobiles that talk or television with more than three channels.

As the Information Age continues, should we construct more office buildings?

That’s the old way of doing things.  Like the huge factories of the previous age that now sit, empty, in blighted neighborhoods no longer filled with bustling communities, the way we work will surely be transformed in much the same manner.   If I had been asked to provide advice (they didn’t ask) I would have discouraged Apple’s executives from the immense expenditure for their new (“spaceship-style”) headquarters, because it is the Old Way of Doing Things.  If I had been asked (they didn’t ask) I would have applauded Adobe’s decision to transform itself from selling “stuff” (delivered via CD or downloaded onto last year’s device) to leasing a constant flow of tools that function “in the ether”  – because that is what corporations will provide when my son becomes a primary wage earner and needs the next productivity innovation allowing him to gather-improve-disseminate his specialized contribution, whatever it may be.

Of course, there are constants.  Some things will remain the same.

We will always need shelter.  We will continue to rely upon networks and communities and the occasional helping hand of a neighbor.  We will still value fine things, the excellence of heroes and artists, and the efficient gathering of goods that nourish our activities.  We will still depend upon the selfless protection of those who battle fires, and diseases, and the unfortunate things humans sometimes do to other humans.  These constants will be interwoven with unimaginable technologies to fill such needs, and equally unimaginable ways to circumvent them, deplete what is scarce, and hoard what should be shared.

We’re not finished, now that the Cloud has been adopted and mobile devices are ubiquitous.  These are only pre-cursors to what comes next, and what comes after that.

This is an Age, not a trend, and it is just now unfolding.