Polymaths see the bigger picture

To really take advantage of cloud for business transformation, you have to be what Vinnie Mirchandani calls a 'new polymath', joining up the dots between cloud computing, mobility, social networking and other aspects of the Web

One of my big themes these days is to look at the huge opportunities available to businesses that transform their operations, cost base or market reach through their use of the cloud. So I'm looking forward to meeting up this week with my Enterprise Irregulars colleague Vinnie Mirchandani, whose new book is all about a strategy that's fundamental to the success of these initiatives — as I'll explain in a moment.

Vinnie will be in London this Thursday as part of a European tour to promote The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations, which came out last month and has already been reviewed and discussed by several ZDNet bloggers, including Jason Hiner and Larry Dignan, Brian Sommer, Chris Jablonski and Joe McKendrick (twice). In fact, the ZD blog network gets a mention in the book and several of us have had review copies.

A polymath is someone whose talents and knowledge span many disciplines, and Vinnie's book is about leaders and enterprises who have connected up multiple strands to create innovations and business opportunities. This links up to the message I've been putting across to cloud vendors and buyers, most recently at a SaaS seminar at UK industry group Intellect last Thursday.

Too many people look at cloud merely in terms of the underlying technology of virtualization and IT automation. Although there are some very useful incremental improvements available there, what I've been spelling out in my pitches is that this very narrow view misses out the bigger picture of global, real-time connectivity that provides the defining context for cloud computing. Disruptive, game-changing business innovation becomes possible when you start to join up the dots and take advantage of the interplay between cloud computing with mobility, social networking and other aspects of the Web. Thus, to really take advantage of cloud for business transformation, you have to be what Vinnie Mirchandani calls a 'new polymath', harnessing multiple technology strands.

The cloud is at its most transformative in its ability to collapse distance and, through automation, bring all kinds of resources into play on demand. One of my favorite examples is LiveOps, which uses web connectivity and automated reputation systems to manage thousands of call center agents who work ad hoc and on-demand from their homes across the United States and beyond. This kind of crowdsourcing of professional labor will revolutionize the cost base for all kinds of business activities, including professional activities such as accounting and bookkeeping. One of the examples in the book is Corefino Services, which uses the Web as a platform for providing outsourced accounting services to businesses alongside SaaS accounting software. One sentence from the book not only typifies the author's relaxed yet compelling writing style but also captures the essence of the transformation the cloud is enabling:

"Corefino is a new breed of service provider — wait, is it a service provider? Increasingly, the lines between software, services, and networks are blurring — it's about results."

This is an example of the insight that makes me look forward so much to welcoming Vinnie to Thursday's event (22 July), hosted by EuroCloud UK [of which I'm chair: see disclosure], where he'll be doing a short presentation and a book drawing, with plenty of opportunity to chat one-on-one with those attending. We'll have some people there from one or two organisations cited in the book, including FinancialForce.com, which is supporting the event financially. ZDNet blogger Joe McKendrick is planning to attend, and we'd be glad to see any ZDNet readers from the enterprise IT world. Please register online if you'd like to be there — add the tag #zd to your job title when you register and if you're in the first six I'll authorize a complementary registration.

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