People-centric IT for a new decade

People-centric IT for a new decade

Summary: You could call it people-oriented architecture: democratization of IT that puts computing power in the hands of users and lets them get a job done without having to adapt their processes to the way the technology works.


Continuing my review of emerging trends that are going to be big in 2010, here's one that I suspect will be a defining theme for IT throughout the coming decade. In one of my favorite postings of 2009 back in September, I called this trend The democratization of IT. Developing those thoughts over the past few days on my ebizQ blog, I picked the term People-Oriented Architecture, which of course is a play on a more familiar technology term:

"I've used the term people-oriented architecture to make a deliberate contrast with our experience of service-oriented architecture in the past decade. Unlike SOA — which too often sought to remake the way that computers talk to one another without any reference to or consideration of user needs and business results — people-oriented architectures have to be developed collaboratively and iteratively with users and business owners, giving them as much freedom and autonomy as possible to control and manage information and processes to achieve the results they want. It's an acknowledgement that people are both the commanding providers and the ultimate end consumers of any of the services in a computing architecture."

Another way of looking at this is to agree with blogging colleague and SOA maven Joe McKendrick that SOA is moving into a low-key "roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-the-stuff-work stage", while the business and user context comes to the fore. As an ebizQ reader commented, calling it people-oriented architecture is to use same technology jargon that has kept IT apart from the users, who just want to get on with it and don't care what it's called.

Of course it's been the Web that has been instrumental in putting computing power in the hands of users in a way that lets them get a job done without having to become computing experts. Many of the trends I write about, including cloud computing, software-as-a-service and enterprise 2.0, are at the forefront of bringing the same access to computing power into the enterprise environment. This is a highly disruptive process on all fronts, but I think the biggest pressure points surround the more controversial fusion of social computing and enterprise applications that comprise enterprise 2.0. Many people are uncomfortable about using the word 'social' in an enterprise context, but I made the opposite case in a post in November:

"... you can't erase the human dimension out of the enterprise altogether. Ultimately, it's the people that assess risks, do deals, manage change, take decisions and earn the rewards of success (or carry the can for failure). Corporate management and business itself are essentially social activities in that they depend on interactions between people. That's why computing has to evolve to become social — to become people-centric instead of merely machine-centric ... Enterprise 2.0 is technology that seeks to eliminate many of the inefficiencies that get in the way of productive interaction and collaboration, automating social processes in the same way that earlier generations of computing automated data processing."

That's not to say enterprise 2.0 is an instant cure-all. People-centric IT only makes sense if it empowers people to achieve results. This is exactly what Dennis Howlett cautioned about in his blog post yesterday, Enterprise 2.0: Totally Unacceptable: "... of itself and even with technology adopted, you gain nothing of substance without context and process. All you gain is more content ... What we have so far is content and some context. We're missing process strategically designed to achieve business goals."

I believe we're at a breakthrough point precisely because technology has matured to the point that it's flexible enough to be adapted to what the people who use it are trying to achieve — to empower them to refine the automation and processes that help them fulfil their roles as effectively as possible. We no longer have to ask people to change their processes to fit in with the demands of punch card runs or application stovepipes or implementation and upgrade cycles. We now have information technology that's sophisticated enough to fit in with how human beings work and behave, and that's why people-centric IT is a defining theme for the new decade, requiring information technologists to develop new skills and ways of working that deliver results the people demand.

Topics: Hardware, Browser, CXO, Enterprise Software, Software, Software Development

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Political implications of technology

    Phil, I agree with your post and believe there is something even more fundamental at work. As technology enables transparency in business and government and it allows ordinary people to put powerful tools to work, there is a great potential for the advancement of human liberty. We already see the high stakes battles in China, where Web transparency is feared so deeply, but we will continue to see the implications in the West, where individuals will be able to gain greater insight into what government is doing and at the same time use low cost tools to create businesses and wealth to enable them to be truly free individuals.

    Thank you for your insights.

    Morris Panner, CEO, OpenAir, a NetSuite Company
  • Death of a (on-premise software) Salesman

    Could not agree more. Enterprise IT reminds me more of a military industrial complex than the small, creative problem solving teams from which it evolved.

    Enterprise IT has become a self perpetuating cash eating machine. What percentage of knowledge workers in the US need full versions of MSFT Office? 5% maybe? The rest could get along just fine and arguable better with Google Apps or Zoho. IT managers hide behind complexity of issues that businesses should no longer be concerned with. "Google Apps is not secure." Email, calendar, doc, and IM are commodities. Dedicating resources to maintain "a secure email infrastructure" is a complete waste of capital. It is not, nor ever will be, a core competency of the firm.

    There is an entire economic framework around enterprise IT that has a multibillion dollar vested interest in the status quo. MSFT gets to "sell" Exchange Server over and over and collect support, the LAR processes the order, the HW vendor sells the box along with all the other jigsaw puzzle pieces required, the SI helps put the puzzle together, and the ISV has some cool code to put on top of everything. Everybody in the process is on message and there is plenty of cash to keep everyone well paid.

    We really don't mind that most of our projects fail because Microsoft customers keep buying Microsoft, Oracle customers keep buying Oracle, and Notes customers are all over 50 and work with their buddies who are also over 50.

    The system works great. The CFO can be bought off with a long presentation about a ridiculous topology graph that is a perfect snapshot of meaninglessness. There is always the fall back of security - very important of course even though every sales rep in the firm has every piece of confidential company information on their desktop and have started emailing documents to their personal email so they can actually find them.

    You don't keep your cash (THE most important resource) onsite because you're not a bank. You won't keep your data onsite because you're not an IT services provider. It's NOT complicated and that's the real dilemma for all of us who have made our living 'fixing' complicated problems. The cloud breaks our nice little world and makes me wonder how I'm going to make the payments on my Subaru. It's harder to find a place in a simpler world. The on-premise enterprise rep is headed the way of Willy Loman. I for one don't want to go along for the ride but I'm not sure the cloud's car will have enough room for all of us... @JoeTierney
  • Fear Still Dominates Enterprise Decision-Making


    I totally agree with the sentiments of your post but only this week I was reminded of how retarded large enterprises are, when it comes to making rational decisions and choices about IT - and how it should be people-centric.

    In a meeting with a very large enterprise, attended by top sales and marketing executives, they all agreed on the need to increase sales effectiveness by adding tools to CRM - in the cloud - to better guide sales people at the point of customer interaction. This was exactly what we were pitching in the meeting and everyone liked it - until it came to commit to action - e.g. spend money and be responsible for changing business-as-usual.

    Suddenly, everyone in the room folded their arms or put their hands behind their heads and revealed the body language of what large enterprises are still riddled with - people who are paid a lot of money to lead and manage, who do little of either - somehow waiting for the CEO to tell them what to do. They wanted to bring IT into the discussion - not because IT wanted to be there - but because these feeble, overpaid corporate staffers didn't want to step-up to a democratisation of IT opportunity. IT isn't blocking the way here and no one is arguing for on-premise versus cloud - it's just the same-old do-nothing corporate staffers who prevent Enterprise 2.0 and cloud computing from being adopted at the speed the business requires.

    In truth, these executives are like other executives we see in large companies. In back-to-back meetings, hiding from real decisions and not being either punished or rewarded as a consequence of real results. So, cloud computing in the enterprise isn't being held back by IT people - it's feeble, do-nothing corporate staffers brought-up in the vacuous, unaccountable 2000s that are the problem.