Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cloud is falling, says Gartner: tablets and mobility should top IT's list instead

Just when you thought cloud computing was receiving an unending supply of positive hype, the Gartner Group pulls a fast one on us.

Gartner rolled out their list of strategic technology trends for IT to pay attention to for 2012 at their annual Symposium this week in Orlando. And, instead of Gartner piling on with more publicity for cloud, it seems they pulled a bit of a switcheroo.

Cloud computing, which reigned supreme atop their 2011 list, dropped all the way down to No. 10 this time around. Which might cause a cloudwashing vendor or two to worry that the sky (or at least the fluffy white parts of it) is falling.

Cloud drops

David Cearly, the analyst who presented the list in Orlando, gave a number of reasons for cloud coming down to earth this time around. “We could see the failure of the cloud to live up to the hype…The luster could wear off.”

But that’s been a distinct possibility for a few years now. In fact, most of us expect it. Gartner themselves placed cloud just over the peak of inflated expectations and starting to slide into the trough of disillusionment on their hype curve released earlier this year.

However, according to Jason Hiner of Tech Republic, Cearly also noted that cloud is not necessarily seeing a big drop in interest; in fact, it’s actually getting incorporated into lots of other various IT operational areas.

That leads to two potentially opposing conclusions. Either cloud computing is on its way to disappointing its many ardent (and often fanatic) supporters…or it’s gathering sufficient understanding and adoption, that it’s becoming a de facto part of the way IT runs itself in multiple areas.

I think I agree with Hiner’s assessment: neither of those diametrically opposed reasons is likely to be the true reason that Gartner knocked cloud computing down a few pegs. Hiner suggests that they might actually have done it for the shock value. Sounds entirely plausible to me. And if that was the reason, it worked. It got me (and many other more reputable writers) to write a post on the topic, didn’t it?

The new champs: tablets & mobile apps

So cloud is down and out…what took its place?

The new leaders at the top of the list are two topics that are the subject of a bit of a frenzy by enterprises – at least in the enterprises that I’ve been watching as part of my New Thing: tablets & mobile.

In fact, Larry Dignan of ZDNet wrote that “simply put, the analysts and the CIOs in attendance [at the Gartner Symposium] are a bit tablet happy.” Gartner analyst Nick Jones even started his early morning mobility-themed session on Tuesday welcoming the “smart people that realize mobile is more important than breakfast” [thanks, @mattfusf].

For “media tablets and beyond,” as Cearly put it, “the implications for IT is that the era of PC dominance with Windows as the single platform will be replaced with a post-PC era where Windows is one of a variety of environments IT will need to support.”

And as I’ve noted a couple times recently, tablets open up all sorts of interesting possibilities, alongside some pretty strategic development, support, and operations choices. The native interface for tablets like the iPad is very compelling and enterprises want to make use of it. Somehow.

The No. 2 item that Hiner reported Cearly mentioning onstage was “mobile-centric applications and interfaces.” If an enterprise is going to play in the mobile space, new types of tools are needed to take the data feeds from applications and transform them so they are usable on the target device.” This, Cearly notes, takes legitimate “engineering skills,” given all the screen sizes, operating systems, and applications themselves.

Mobility projects will have many follow-on effects, too

The mobility efforts that enterprises have underway or are considering will also likely have much broader and more profound effects, cascading into some of the other items mentioned on Gartner’s list, like context-aware computing and the rise of app stores and marketplaces.

In fact, once enterprises get past the initial roll-out efforts of mobile-enabling their applications and working on tablet support, that’s when a whole set of second-order effects would start to get attention. What will all this mean to application design? "Big" and "monolithic" are not ideal for small and frequently disconnected devices. There’s an opportunity to look at things differently, to re-evaluate how capabilities and services are surfaced to a user.

So, as Dignan noted, much of Gartner’s list comes down to the single concept of mobility. “The list makes distinctions between technologies, but in a nutshell you have mobility on the front end and back end that will keep companies busy for the next two years,” Dignan writes.

Quibbling over the order

The order of Gartner’s 10 strategic technologies for 2012 may seem like it had a bit of meddling from the PR department, but, in the end, I think the list feels about right.

Why? Cloud computing has users and providers that are working to make it standard operating procedure in many situations. It’s on its way. Meanwhile, tablets and other mobile devices have jumped into such prominence and have such sway over our personal life that making them enterprise-connected seems like a no-brainer. And something that needs immediate attention.

Besides, if you don’t like the order of Gartner’s list, just wait until next year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs' not-so-accidental role in the consumerization of enterprise IT

There was a wistful feeling that hit me (and from the sounds of it, many of us in Silicon Valley) last Wednesday when I heard about the loss of Steve Jobs.

After pausing for a moment or two to take in his career as a whole, that melancholy quickly turned to something close to amazement. It is hard not to be amazed at all Steve had been able to accomplish. He somehow brought a simple beauty to
technology that had previously been complex and, well, stodgy at best.

However, in the flood of tributes and “what I learned from Steve” articles that came after, the ones about Steve’s impact on enterprise IT were some of the ones that I found more controversial.

How Steve put consumer pressure on enterprise IT

Lisa Schmeiser’s InfoWorld article, for example, caught my eye because it underscored many of the points I thought were so amazing about Steve in the first place. Under his direction, Apple created devices that were so great, you wanted to use them. First for personal tasks. Then for everything. In this way,Apple and Jobs went from “always being an outside force” (as Joe McKendrick of ZDNet put it) to turning up the consumerization pressure on enterprise IT in a big way.

How did he do it? Like Lisa, I think the consumerization of IT push owes a lot of its strength to the iPod. I certainly fell for it. For me, that innocent iPod Shuffle I got as a Christmas present was the gateway drug for me to buy my way up the chain. Next came a Nano, a full-sized iPod, another Shuffle, an iPhone for the wife, 2 more Shuffles for the kids, at last an iPad, and most recently a MacBook Air.

And while I didn’t use the iPods at work (much), the iPad and the Air instantly became part of my work life, given how they helped me get my work done better (and despite some reservations about the iPad by the IT department at my company at the time).

Was his impact on enterprise IT accidental?

“Steve Jobs's disregard for enterprise IT was not a secret,” writes Lisa in her article. “Yet without him, there would be no consumerization of IT. He entirely changed the nature of enterprise computing -- accidentally.”

This is where I have a hard time with Lisa’s article. I agree with a tweet I saw by @robhof: Lisa’s premise that all this was accidental on the part of Steve Jobs misses the point. I think part of his genius was to make it seem accidental, but it to be part of a bigger plan. Or at least part of a logical evolution.

Mixing “insanely great” with enterprise IT

My feeling is this: when you design things to be “insanely great” and to delight the human beings that are supposed to be using your product, it isn’t that odd that they want to use those very same products in all parts of their lives. Personal and work. And enterprise IT would be a bit foolish not to figure out how to embrace what these devices can do eventually. That pressure on large company IT orgs is very real (from what I’ve seen) and today is coming from all sides. That’s an opportunity for both IT and the vendors in this space to help make this possible.

And it won’t stop with hardware. I think we’ll find that the App Store/iTunes metaphor will become the dominant way that software gets purchased going forward. It may have started with Amazon-style on-line stores, but Apple perfected it with music and quickly pivoted to applications, too. The software and mobile industries have learned from this and will never look back. Things like the Android marketplace and even the Cloud Commons effort I helped get underway at CA Technologies (my previous employer) were driven or at least inspired by this approach.

I think seeing all this as accidental on the part of Steve Jobs is probably not right. Jobs had his focus on the only thing that matters, whether the initial target is consumers or enterprise IT – human beings.

Dave Ohara’s Green Data Center Blog pointed me toward a Jobs quote that underscores this. “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” He may not have been plotting to take over every aspect of IT, but Jobs certainly picked the best way to do it: whatever you create, create it well so human beings want to use it.

Thankfully, enough time to reflect

The news of Steve’s death leaves a hole, for sure. The way it played out, I thought, was actually kind of fitting. By stepping down from his role as Apple’s CEO in August, Steve gave people a rare chance for reflection (I collected and posted some of my favorite Steve Jobs stories published at the time). Whether he meant to or not, he afforded the industry a chance to say good-bye while he was still alive.

Hopefully he also had the chance to see how much of a difference he made. And how much that difference was appreciated.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bridging the mobility (and fashion) divide: can enterprise IT think more like the consumer world?

GigaOm’s Mobilize 2011 conference last week seemed to be a tale of two worlds – the enterprise world and the consumer world – and how they can effectively incorporate mobility into their day-to-day business. And in some cases, how they are failing to do that.

I could feel that some of the speakers (like Steve Herrod of VMware and Tom Gillis of Cisco) were approaching some of the mobility issues on the table with their traditional big, complex, enterprise-focused world firmly in view. Of course, that approach also values robustness, reliability, and incremental improvements. It’s what enterprises and their IT departments reward, and rightly so.

But there was another group of speakers at Mobilize, too: those who come at things with the consumer world front and center. Mobility was certainly not optional for these guys. Another telling difference: the first thing on the mind of these folks was user experience. This included the speakers from Pandora, Twitter, and Instagram, among others.

Even fashion was a dead give-away

In what seemed like an incidental observation at first, I’d swear you could tell what side of this enterprise/consumer divide someone would fall on based on how Mobilize speakers and attendees were dressed. The enterprise-trained people in the room (and I have no choice but to begrudgingly put myself in this category) were sporting dress shirts, slacks, and shiny shoes. Those that were instead part of the mobile generation were much more casual, in a simplistically chic sort of way. Jeans, definitely. Plus a comfortable shirt that looked a bit hipper. And most definitely not tucked in.

This latter group talked about getting to the consumer, with very cool ideas and cooler company names, putting a premium on the user experience. Of course, many of these were also still in search of a real, sustainable business model.

So, GigaOm did a good job of bringing these two camps together, and giving them a place to talk through the issues. The trick now? Make sure the two contingents don’t talk past each other and instead learn what the other has to offer to bridge this divide.

Impatience with the enterprise IT approach?

In conversations with blogger and newly minted GigaOm contributor Dave O’Hara (@greenm3) and others at the event, I got a feeling that some of the folks immersed in the mobile side of the equation don’t have a good feel for the true extent of what enterprise adoption of a lot of these still-nascent technologies can mean, revenue-wise especially. Nor do they have a good understanding of all the steps required to make it happen in IT big organizations.

Getting enterprises to truly embrace what mobility can mean for them faces many of the same hurdles I’ve seen over the past few years with cloud computing. Even if the concepts seem good, enterprise adoption is not always as simple as it seems like it should be. Or as fast as those with consumer experience would expect or want.

That’s where maybe folks with an enterprise bent, I think (selfishly, probably) can have a useful role. If you can get enterprise IT past the initial knee-jerk “no way are you bringing that device into my world” reaction, there are some great places that these new, smart, even beautiful mobile devices could make a difference.

Getting the enterprises to listen

The mobile trends being identified at Mobilize 2011 were on target in many cases, but in some cases even the lingo could have rubbed those with enterprise backgrounds the wrong way – or seemed slightly tone-deaf to what enterprises have to deal with.

Olof Schybergson (@Olof_S), CEO of Fjord, made some really intriguing points, for example, about key mobile service trends: digital is becoming physical. The economy of mash-up services needs orchestrators. Privacy is now a kind of currency. And, the user is the new operating system when it comes to thinking about mobile services.

There were many good thoughts there that IT guys in a large organization would probably take as logical, or even a given. But that last point, the bit about the user being an OS, just doesn’t ring true, and would probably get a few of the enterprise IT guys to scratch their heads.

The user isn’t the OS; he or she is the design point and the most important entity – the one calling the shots. Instead, the user is really the focal point of the design for integrating mobile devices into the existing environment.

Consumerization is pressuring enterprise mobility

But many of the right issues came up in Philippe Winthrop’s panel on mobility in the enterprise.

Bob Tinker from MobileIron believed that this is indeed all coming together nicely and we’ll look back and see that “2011 was the year that mobile IT was born. It was the year that the IT industry figured out mobile. It’s the year the mobile industry figured out IT.” Why? For no other reason than there is no other option. And, people are themselves becoming more tech savvy, something he called the “ITization of the consumer.”

Chuck Goldman from Apperian noted that there is considerable pressure on the C-suite in large enterprises not just to begin to figure out how to incorporate a broad array of mobile devices, but to “build apps that are not clunky.”

Tinker agreed that the IT consumerization effect is significant. “Users are expecting the same level of mobility they have in their consumer world in their workplace. And I think the ramifications for this are fairly profound.” That seems to be the underlying set-up for much of what’s happening in the enterprise around mobility, for sure.

Mobility is causing disruption…and opportunity

Which begs the question: who is looking at the integration of consumer and enterprise approaches in the right way to bridge this gap? At Mobilize, Cisco and VMware certainly were talking about doing so. I saw tweets from the Citrix analyst symposium from the week before about some of the efforts they are doing to try to connect the dots here.

But mobile will turn IT on its head, said Tinker in the panel. And it will rearrange the winners and losers in the vendor space along the way. “Look at the traditional IT industry and ask how will they adapt to mobile. Many of them will not,” said Tinker.

To me, this signals a market with a lot of opportunity. Especially to innovate in a way or at a speed that makes it hard for some of these larger companies to deliver on. Frankly, it’s one of the opportunity areas that my New Thing is definitely immersed in. And I expect other start-ups to do the same.

Another golden chance for IT to lead

Apperian’s Goldman believes that this is a great chance for IT, in much same way that I’ve argued cloud computing can be. The move to adopt mobility as part of a company’s mainstream way of delivering IT means that “IT has an opportunity here that is golden,” said Goldman. “It gives them the opportunity to be thought leaders. Once you start doing that, your employees start loving IT and that love translates into good will” and impacts your organization’s top and bottom lines.

Loving IT? To most, that sounds like crazy talk.

It certainly won’t be easy. Getting ahead of the curve on IT consumerization and mobility requires a bit of imagination on the side of the enterprises, and a bit of patience and process-orientation by the folks who understand mobile. It will require people who have been steeped in enterprise IT, but are willing to buck the trend and try something new. It will require people with mobility chops who can sit still long enough to crack into a serious enterprise.

As for my part in this, it probably also means I’ll have to learn to wear jeans more often. Or at least leave my shirt untucked. And, frankly, I’m OK with that. I’ll keep you posted on both my take on this evolving market and my fashion sense.