The democratization of IT

The democratization of IT

Summary: Web 2.0 was a grassroots revolution, not consumerization but democratization. That is the trend that is now transforming IT - even IT service management, as demonstrates.

TOPICS: CXO, Browser

Earlier this week I attended the EMEA user conference of, probably the leading SaaS pureplay vendor in enterprise IT service management. Co-founded by former Peregrine Systems and Remedy CTO Fred Luddy, Service-now champions a Web 2.0 approach to systems management, an approach that's often described as the consumerization of IT. But watching Luddy's opening presentation, it struck me the term is a misnomer.

'Consumerization' is the trend of making unwieldy and complex enterprise software as easy to use as the applications and services ordinary people use on the Web. We dress it up in a long word that implies the industry is doing its customers a favor, but what's so special about making software people can actually use? Isn't that what the industry should have been doing all along?

Furthermore, I don't think the word consumerization is an adequate description of what's really going on here. It's a mass media term, which makes it sound as though the IT department has bowed to popular demand and started beaming crowd-pleasing, populist software out to users' desktops in place of the challenging, highbrow applications it used to offer. The unspoken undertone of the analogy is that the users are dumb couch-potatoes that have to be cajoled and tricked into engaging with their work.

But passive consumption is the last thing Web 2.0 is about. If the media barons of Web 1.0 had had their way, users would have sat in their walled gardens and meekly consumed whatever Yahoo, AOL and the rest saw fit to distribute. Instead, users seized control, told each other what they thought of online content and started generating their own blogs, videos and commentary. Web 2.0 was a grassroots revolution, not consumerization but democratization, and that is the trend that is now transforming IT.

In IT service management (ITSM), which is the market Service-now addresses, that process of democratization has meant giving users the tools to find their own answers to problems instead of leaving them dependent on the availability of a limited pool of IT experts. This is a concept that's becoming known as 'shift left' in the service management world, said Luddy: "We're really trying to push more and more knowledge out to the end user," he explained, "to empower them to solve their own problems."

Service-now launched in 2005 with the aim of being an ERP system for ITSM, a vision of a single system of record showing what's happening across the IT organization. The timing was fortunate, allowing the start-up to ride a confluence of three disruptive trends that are buffeting the established ITSM vendors: not merely the advent of Web 2.0, but also standardization on ITIL and finally the emergence of the SaaS delivery model. These enabled Service-now to challenge what Luddy now calls the "Soviet era technology" of the established vendors with a user-friendly, flexible alternative that took its design cues from the consumer Web.

"The whole Web 2.0 dynamic ... showed people you could have extremely simple yet phenomenally powerful applications in a browser," he told me. "Nothing is a better testament to that as Facebook."

Service-now hasn't stopped to look back, building a 300-strong customer base that ranges from Deutsche Bank to Facebook. It has more than doubled its revenues to $28 million in the latest fiscal year and is targeting a $50m+ run rate by the end of the current year, Luddy told his audience this week. Fiscally frugal, the company has taken just $7.5 million in venture funding and has been cash flow positive for the past two years, he added.

Recession has helped rather than hindered its advance, he told me in a later conversation. "The economic times have really played well in our favor. Prospects that were swimming in cash twelve months ago are now drowning in red ink. Our job of selling SaaS has become much easier."

Elaborating on the Web 2.0 theme, the company's upcoming release adds new social features such as knowledgebase article ranking and feedback, integrated chat, and other aids to user participation. "The only way to make support truly scalable is to help users help themselves," said Luddy.

User acceptance rates illustrate how well Service-now has achieved its objective of being accessible to the average user. One large customer nearing roll-out of the application warned the vendor its infrastructure would have to be robust enough to handle as many as 55,000 cases a month. In the event, the monthly numbers rapidly soared to 150,000 because users found the system so much more accessible than what it had replaced.

Getting that right is more a matter of culture than technology, Luddy told me. "It's really a thought process more than an underlying technology. How am I going to build my technology so it can be used by the widest audience?"

Coincidentally, I noticed some debate this week whether Social CRM is just an extension of CRM or whether it's part of a Web-connected transformation that companies are undergoing "into a socially-driven business". Since you'd have to class what Service-Now is offering as Social ITSM, that provides strong evidence that the move to socialize business computing is already pervasive, permeating across many different enterprise activities and processes. Luddy's use of the term "Soviet-era software" to describe his competition is appropriate, since you could easily see Web 2.0 and associated moves to democratize computing as IT's Velvet Revolution — the moment when the people take over.

Topics: CXO, Browser

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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  • Get your head out of your paradigm

    "democratization of IT"... are you serious? Look at any complex multipolar situation in the world and you'll see that when there are diverging forces, democracy is a liability.

    Iraq... competing religious factions turned the idea of democracy into a joke.

    The Palestinian territories... Democracy resulted in a shift from the Fata party to Hamas. Not sure that was a win for democracy.

    Afganistan.... Karzai has won his re-election as president in a sea of corruption and minimal voter turnout in a country fractured by ethnic and tribal loyalties. Not exactly democracy's finest hour.

    And let's not forget America, Canada, UK... all countries with apathy and poor citizen participation.

    Information Technology is just like that - a set of polarizing technologies and trends that are often mutually exclusive. IT is trending into a mess of fractured services and technologies much like a 200 channel cable TV service: 200 channels to pick from, and crap on all of them.

    I suspect I'm not the only one that thinks a large chunk of the "web" is crap, and that the proportion of crap to valued knowledge is increasing.
    • Couldn't agree more. Well put.

      And these mindless "social networking" sites are yet one more step towards creating a society of people who have no clue how to interact with others in a face-to-face situation.

      Society is creating a race of brain-dead youth.
      • This is so off the mark ...

        Research shows that social networking actually reinforces close relationships - and that conventional office environments do the reverse. Check out this article:

        "Fifteen years ago, factory or office workers were cut off ... Now, through their communication channels, they are breaking an imposed isolation that institutions are imposing them."
        phil wainewright
        • Well Phil...

          ...everyone's entitled to their opinions...even you.

          Did you actually READ the article you linked? If you actually believe the BS this woman is spouting, then I feel sorry for you.

          "Fifteen years ago, factory or office workers were cut off ... Now, through their communication channels, they are breaking an imposed isolation that institutions are imposing them."

          Don't you think that people should actually be WORKING while they are at work? Or is as this clown says:

          "Young factory workers on night shift will sneak out of the sight of CCTV cameras to call their girlfriends. Migrant Filipino mothers are using Skype to remotely parent their children."

          You find this behavior OK? What if you are paying their salaries?

          And this?

          "This is why she is concerned with legislation that leads to the dismissal of bus drivers in New York if they are seen with a mobile phone in their hand on the grounds of safety and security.

          This is not about security and safety. This is institutions trying to determine whether people can decide whether to be isolated. They are trying to block this greater possibility of intimacy."

          Well try this on for size:

          Or maybe this:

          Ask the families of the 25 dead poeple in the L.A. how much the driver should be "isolated".

          Sorry're barking up the wrong tree on this one. You're dead wrong. Maybe you need to find a new line of work.

        • I'll have to agree with IT_Guy_z

          I'll have to agree with IT_Guy_z. That article
          isn't very convincing, and frankly demonstrates
          how bad it's really getting if that crazy
          "Anthropologist" thinks she's gonna get my
          support by supporting people who "sneak out of
          the sight of CCTV cameras to call their
          girlfriends" or pretending safety rules are
          really a case of "This is institutions trying
          to determine whether people can decide whether
          to be isolated."
    • Good point

      But the reason for the factions in computing is lack of usable standards and money. When inventions are new, it's all about just getting them working. For a large number of technologies, this is still the case. Once the technology has matured, it can then be subjected to standards that allow interopability. The problem is that lack of interop is a competative advantage. It's like a reward for staying backwards. So the standards are not implemented as a business tactic.
    • Democracy is three wolves and a sheep

      deciding what's for dinner.

      Which is why the United States was not established as a democracy.

      But Democracy is the worship word for people who want an all-powerful
      government and think democracy is the way you get one without
      • Good points

        Others would say that "democracy" is another word for "mob rule". To minority groups (on whatever basis), democracy is repressive. Which, of course, is why in the U.S. the states have equal representation in the Senate.

        But apparently the Internet isn't chaotic enough yet. Maybe we'll get there by "Web 3.0"?

        Carl Rapson
      • Democracy is the only way of people getting a fairer chance of a say

        All other systems involve self-chosen (or from similar class) people making decisions for other people totally without their consent.
    • I get the impression that you have never worked in IT.

      What Service Now is doing is infrastructure management, this is done by well known principles and documented practices. Much of you r comments are not relevant to the article nor supportive of your conclusion. If you have never managed heterogeneous infrastructures, you really can not comment on a subject or service like this.

      ITIL is an established set of practices that work IT infrastructure management. Most relational databases hold to some basic principles as per language and how things are handles in them, thus you on have to deal with dialectic issue. There are more similarities than differences between platforms than you think. Single sign-on are specialized, but you can manage them all though software f it is designed correctly.

      Get some actual exposure to IT before yo post to articles that relate to that or infrastructure (both of which you appear to know nothing about).
    • RE: The democratization of IT

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  • Impressive company

    I've also spoken with Fred Luddy and they have a compelling story.
  • Doesn't look very exciting to me.


    Took a look. All it appears to be is an automated help desk. I'm supposed to be excited about this? All this about some sort of weird people/computer management app?

    "It?s a mass media term"

    I think I'll add "democratization" to that list as well. And pretty much anything that ends with "ation." What's with you people and creating new names for any pattern you notice?

    "The whole Web 2.0 dynamic ? showed people you could have extremely simple yet phenomenally powerful applications in a browser"

    I'm still waiting for "phenomenally powerful." What I've seen so far doesn't impress me.
    • That's because we're in the middle of yet another IT swing

      Central vs. distributed computing is the oldest of all the tug-of-wars. What will see eventually is that the thin client cannot handle the workload of what you want to do and a fat-client will appear again. It's all about control. If I can get you to go central, then you do not control the assets and you will have to continue to pay me to use the system. If I go distributed, then you are stuck maintaining the system. There's pluses and minuses for both. In the end, distributed usually wins as the user retains control.
  • CZAR by Obama

    Don't worry folks Obama is going at almost 40 CZARS now who answer to no one but the almighty......

    He is going to monitor Internet usage and find out who disagrees with him so he can put them in a GULAG!

    • U.S. czars...

      This idea that Obama invented czars is propagated by
      Fox News. Following is the number of "czar" positions in
      the last 20 years:

      George H.W. Bush 2
      Bill Clinton 7
      George W Bush 31
      Barack Obama 32
      • Here a czar, there a czar, everywhere a czar, czar...

        Why argue the numbers? The numbers don't matter. Anybody in the administration can be called a czar, even a cabinet member. It's all irrelevant to the more important questions surrounding the czars.

        Regardless of the name or title or word used to describe those people, it doesn't matter. What matters is that those people are not subjected to the scrutiny of the senate hearings which oftentimes do a good job of investigating an appointee's background and his associations and work history.

        And, it doesn't matter who the president is; if it's wrong, it's wrong from all sides.

        So, why play games with the number of czars? The worst part about the game is the people involved who become the appointees. Nobody with a very questionable background, such as Van Jones, should have even be thought of as an appointee. And there are others still there, and there may have been others in past administrations who likely weren't qualified or had questionable backgrounds.

        And, your bias against FOX news serves no purpose in the discussion and dismisses the material questions being presented lately. Even if you don't like FOX, the questions being presented by FOX and others do deserve a lot of attention and a lot of investigation. Furthermore, I don watch FOX news and nowhere in any of their broadcast have they ever claimed that "Obama invented the czars" nor have they led anyone to deduce that the idea of czars are strictly an Obama creation. The lies being propagated are the ones such as yours in your post. Why go there? Why not just address the points being raised? Beck and FOX have raised some really good questions regarding the czars and those questions deserve some real answers. And Beck has also mentioned the czars that Bush had and how wrong the idea was even back then.

        I myself don't like the term "czar"; it brings back the bad history from the old USSR era. I would prefer to call them what they are and according to what they do, so my preferred term is "special assistant to the president" in charge of, as an example, "border security". A little bit longer title, but without the demonized connotation that "czar" brings.
    • RE: CZAR by Obama

      You realized that the "title" of Czar is a made up title that has nothing to do with the government... the Czar is a nicknamed that goes back well before Obama... for example, the "Drug Czar", as the person is nicknamed by media, is actually, The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, this position was created by Bush #1 in 1989.

      The Intelligence "Czar" is the Director of National Intelligence, created during the Bush #2 administration in 2005.

      The list goes on, do a little research. The United States does not have "czars" and the media outlets that are propagating these nicknames seem to forget that most of the positions they are complaining about were created under Regan, Clinton and the two Bushes... They are just nicknames that aren?t real.... They have real Job titles that do real things... We are not turning into a socialists or communistic country

      Move on people, stop spreading the lies.....
      Obama is just doing what presidents do, Just like all the presidents before him. why certain parts of our country seem to think he is making up rules is beyond me... Stop listening to the lies....
      hiccius doccius
      • You are right, but you're also very wrong...

        It is true that Obama wasn't the first to appoint "czars". It si also true that it was the media which coined the term for those special positions.

        That's where your truthful statements end.

        The part that you're very wrong about is in the kind of "czars" that Obama has appointed to their positions. While it is true that not all Obama's "czars" are communist or socialists, there are quite a bunch of them who have self-described themselves as communists or socialists. Van Jones, the departed "green czar" was a communist, and so is Jeff Jones and a few others in Obama's cabinet and in his czar ranks. Carol Browner is, indisputably, a socialist. But, the worst part is that, although he's not a czar, Obama himself is a socialist and in many ways, a communist himself.