San Francisco - Gartner Symposium/ITxpo — The last time I was at a Gartner Symposium/ITxpo (last Spring's event), the charismatic Michael Fleisher was the CEO and he had established a reputation of giving very forward looking keynotes in an effort to give the IT professionals in attendance some idea of how he'd strategize if he were them. By making predictions based on what he saw in his crystal ball, Fleisher ran the risk of (1) alienating the more conservative of the attendees, and (2) of being wrong when it came time for those predictions to be held up to reality. While I sometimes thought he was too far "out there," he still deserved credit for glomming onto current trends (some that were just getting out of the gate), alerting the audience to them, and trying to plot their logical conclusions. Even if the conclusions were wrong, the attendees could easily form their own conclusions.
So, this morning, it was a bit of a shocker to hear the company's new CEO Gene Hall swing completely in the opposite direction in his Symposium/ITxpo keynote. Granted, the CIO/IT manager-set that's in attendance is a conservative bunch. But RFID and portal software are not new technologies, as Hall declared them to be. (OK, RFID is sort of new.)
Compared to previous Symposium themes like the Real Time Enterprise (an admirable IT goal that can give companies serious competitive advantage if they, too, establish it as a theme and look to leverage new innovative technologies), conquering complexity (the current event's theme) is one of the industry's most prehistoric themes.
At Gartner's October event in 2001, on the heels of the world's 9/11 wake-up call, Gartner very nimbly rewired that Fall Symposium's theme to include business continuity as one of the event's major themes. The newly added after hours sessions addressed very real decisions with which IT managers were now faced. For example, how to set up redundant data centers and how to leverage telecommuting as a means to keeping the enterprise in business during times of disaster. One of the best lessons that came from that Symposium was the constant reminder that companies need to regularly test their continuity plan. Left untested, your plan, if you have one, is doomed to fail.
So, conquering complexity? Either Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is screaming "rip off", or he's shaking his head saying "See? I told you so." Maybe Ellison should have given the keynote. In 2001, just before using the term "war" became politically incorrect, he was touting the war on complexity in his keynotes.
Here are some excerpts from Hall's keynote this morning:
- Conquering Complexity… that’s the theme of this Symposium. This topic is at the core of being a technology leader today… and it's the toughest challenge we face.
- And if that’s not enough – there are new components coming all the time – like portal software.
- New technologies are raising complexity: IP telephony, wireless networking, RFID, streaming video, and instant messaging.
Streaming video--new? Tell that to Real's Rob Glaser. IP telephony--new? Tell that to Cisco's John Chambers? Instant messaging? Talk to my 14-year-old.
So, what theme would I have picked? Personally, I would have stuck with the Real Time Enterprise, highlighting the newer emerging technologies such as WiMax and hive computing that can be the enablers. Since new technologies can sometimes introduce complexity, and since Gartner is claiming that 58 percent of those it surveyed cited complexity as one of their biggest problems, I'd make the war on complexity a sub-theme to RTE. In other words, in the quest for the RTE, be careful not to take on more complexity. Then, I'd send a clear message to the audience that, in the name of keeping a lid on complexity, they shouldn't tolerate proprietary technologies where standards make more sense and that the attendees collectively have the power to shift the burdens of complexity to their solution providers. After all, if you look at the bulk of difficult complexity -- largely interoperability problems -- who is to blame? In most cases, it's a proprietary technology. This is one reason that Microsoft and Sun should be commended for proving with their collaborative work on identity standards that progress can be made when vendors put the customer's needs first.
In Sun and Microsoft's case, their resolve was obviously part-galvanized by customers and part-galvanized by their mutual enemy (IBM). But, by telling vendors that they'll lose the business if they can't bring themselves to set aside the greed that ultimately results in complexity and lack of interoperability, Hall could have really established himself as an advocate for the IT pros in attendance. Real examples (for example, the discord over e-mail authentication in the name of spam reduction) and who is to blame would have been good, but here, Gartner, like other research outfits, are between a rock and hard place since they serve two masters (IT pros and vendors).
As I've written before, adoption of standard technologies puts you -- rather than the vendors -- in control of your information technology. By keeping your wallet in your back pocket until vendors respond with standard interoperable solutions that, just by virtue of their standards compliance, strip out complexity, vendors will have no choice but to respond. Complexity reduction should be as much their problem as it is yours. More importantly, although dealing with complexity can help drive cost out of IT, figuring out how to leverage technology so that IT really does matter -- for example, making your company more nimble and more responsive to its constituents -- is what will make the difference between winning and losing.