Welcome to the latest BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcast, Vol. 41. Our latest discussion centers on the next era of information technology (IT). Suddenly, cloud computing is the dominant buzzword of the day, but the current confluence of trends includes much more. There's business process management (BPM), business intelligence (BI), complex event processing (CEP), service-oriented architecture (SOA), software as a service (SaaS), Web-oriented architecture (WOA), and even Enterprise 2.0.
How do all of these relate? Or if they don't relate, is there a common theme? Is there an overriding uber direction for IT that we need to consider?
So join our panel of analysts to help dig into this current and budding new era of IT: Jim Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research; Tony Baer, senior analyst at Ovum; Brad Shimmin, senior analyst, Current Analysis; Joe McKendrick, independent analyst and ZDNet blogger, and Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink. The chat is moderated by me, as usual.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Are we oversimplifying what's going on in IT by just calling everything new that's going on cloud computing?
Kobielus: Of course ... There is just too much stuff, too much complexity, too many themes, and too many paths for evolution and innovation.
Shimmin: ... The postmodern IT world is perhaps what we're living in. Maybe that's okay, where there is no really overriding sort of thematic vision to IT. ... My attempt with this is to describe just the zeitgeist I've seen over the last year or so, and that is just to call things ... "transparent computing."
IT resources and business solutions are becoming more visible to us. We're able to better measure them. We're able to better assess their cost-to-value ratio. At the same time, the physicality of those resources and the things that we call a business are becoming much more transparent to us and much more ethereal, in terms of being sucked into Amazon EC2, for example. ... Application programming interfaces (APIs) have made things much more transparent than they were.
McKendrick: Perhaps computing has become so ubiquitous to our everyday lives and our everyday work that it no longer needs to carry a name. We don't call this era the "telephone era" or the "television era." For that matter, we don't call it the "space age" anymore. The novelty and the newness of all this is worn off.
Computing is such an everyday thing that folks understand. At the same time, the IT folks are beginning to understand the business a little bit better and we're seeing those two worlds being brought together and blending.
Schmelzer: We could say that we're still floating through the information era, but ... I'm going to bring back the drug theme here. We like to self-medicate in IT. We have these chronic problems that we seem to be continuously trying to solve.
They're the same problems -- getting systems to talk to each other, to extract information, and to make it all work. We try one drug after the other and they provide these short-term fixes. Then, there's the inevitable crash afterward, and we just never seem to solve the underlying problem.
Gardner: Is this really a psychological shift then? Do we need to stop thinking about how technology is shifting and think about how people are shifting? I think that people are acting differently than they used to.
Schmelzer: ... There is a digital divide, and I'm not talking about the parts of the country that have more IT than the other. I'm talking about the experience at home and the experience at work.
When I step into work, I'm turning the clock back 10 years. I have this wonderful, rich IT environment on my own at home and on my phone. Then, I see these enterprise IT systems that had very little in the way of influence from any of these movements from the last 10 years. It's like the enterprise IT environment is starting to stagnate quite a bit from the personal IT environment.
... If we had to do it all over again, would we really be building enterprise IT systems -- or would we be doing it the way Google is doing it? Google would just be laughing at us and saying, "What are you doing putting in these mainframes and these large enterprise applications that take X millions of dollars and multiple years and you only achieve 10 percent of your goals and only use 5 percent of the system you just built? That's just hilarious."
Kobielus: What you're hitting on is that there is this disconnect between what we can get on our own for ourselves and what our employer provisions for us. That causes frustration. That causes us to want to bolt, defect from an employer who doesn't empower us up to the level that we absolutely demand and expect.
Shimmin: This is representative of what I'm seeing in my area of research, which is in collaboration, social computing, that stuff. Most of the vendors have got the traditional, on-premise software, and they're all putting it in the cloud.
They're also saying to me, in their go-to market schemes, "We're trying to take IT out of the picture, at least at the outset." They're seeing IT as a roadblock to getting these technologies into the enterprise. The [business] people in the enterprise realize they want it. The worker bees in IT realize it, but IT's hands are strapped.
Schmelzer: You ask people, "Well, do you want a 42-inch plasma television in your house? Do you want TiVo? Do you want the latest MacBook and the latest iPhone?" Something like 90 percent of the people are going to say, "Yes." They want the GPS. They want all that stuff.
So what is it about enterprise IT? It's not the technology that they're blocking. It's this complexity. And it's not just the complexity. It's this perception that enterprise IT is a nonconstructive hassle. So they look at Google and they think, "Ah, constructive, productive." They look at enterprise IT, and they think, "Barrier, bottleneck."
McKendrick: ... When it first became apparent that GM and Chrysler were on the skids, Andrew McAfee of Harvard posted this proposal to help these companies. If he were given the option to rebuild one of
these companies from the ground-up, he would go in with a very strong social networking system, enabling the folks that are working on the front lines, assembly, production, sales, marketing, and so forth to communicate with each other real time, on a regular basis, to find out what everybody is doing, and to build the base of knowledge to move the company forward.
Gardner: So, we don't have a generation gap. We have a corporation gap. The corporations have a huge burden of trying to move and do anything, whereas individuals or small companies or people that are aligned by their social networks can move swiftly.
Kobielus: ... Auto companies of necessity are chained to platforms. It's the basic chassis and design and the internal guts in terms of the transmission and engines and so forth for a wide range of models. When they make a commitment to a given platform, they're stuck with it.
Gardner: Well, the same can be said for your enterprise IT department, right?
Kobielus: Yes ... When some cheaper, more lightweight solution, maybe in the cloud, comes along, the users can get it quickly and more cheaply. It's essentially mocking the investments that this company has made. You spent millions of dollars on something that you could have gotten in the cloud for pennies per hour. That's a disruptive force in IT.
Shimmin: IT's challenge is to be able to allow those [changes] to happen and to encourage them to happen without locking them down, controlling them, and destroying their ability to make people in the enterprise more productive and flexible.
Gardner: The technology needs to be there, but perhaps doesn't need to be visible. The transparent notion that Brad has makes sense, or maybe we need to be the "post-IT era." The IT has to be there, but under the covers, convenience and information become essential, along with the ability of people to act on it.
Schmelzer: ... Really what we're doing is empowering individuals within the organization to have greater control over their use and provisioning of IT capabilities.
They're shifting it away from these central oligarchies of enterprise systems that have had way too much control and way too little flexibility. ... Technology is making information accessible to all, for all to leverage.
I like these populist movements in IT. Once again, just remember your IT experience at home and how much you would wish it would be in your work environment.
Gardner: So, perhaps technology, habits, and the cloud are shifting sovereignty away from countries, companies, and even groups based on geography. ... Having power is now shifting down to amorphous groups and even individuals.
... It's interesting. Just as we're embracing cloud, we're also seeing that, if you have a couple of mainframes, you can create a cloud. You could provide services out to a public constituency, or you could take your old mainframe inside the enterprise and put some new hubcaps on it.
Schmelzer: ... That's the irony of it. In order to get reuse, which is what people talk about all the time, you have to have legacy. Just think, if you're never keeping anything around long enough, you're never going to get reuse. But, having legacy doesn't necessarily mean also not spending a lot on new things, which is the weirdness of it. Why is it that we're soaking up so much of the IT budget on legacy, if we're not creating anything new?
There's something malfunctional in the way that we're procuring IT that's preventing us from getting the primary benefit of legacy, which is extracting additional value from an existing investment, so that we can make the old dog get new tricks and get new capabilities provisioned on a cloud, without having to invest a huge amount in infrastructure.
Shimmin: To me, whether it's mainframe or a bunch of PCs on Google's data center doesn't matter. What matters is what it does. If we're able to make our existing mainframes do new tricks, that's really great, because it allows us to make use of investments we've already made.
That's why, when I look at things like SaaS, I see it being more beneficial to the vendors who are providing those services than to the customers using them. Instead of having something they can depreciate over time, they just have to pay it out every month like a telephone bill. You don't ever own your services -- you're just paying for them, like leasing a car versus owning a car.
Gardner: I think I've come up with a word for us. If we look at what happened perhaps 500 or 600 years ago, there was a collective word that came to represent it. It was called Renaissance.
Are we perhaps at a point where there is a renaissance from IT? Even though we thought we were enabled or empowered, we really weren't. Even though we thought that centralized and lock-down was best, it wasn't necessarily. But it wasn't until you got the best of all worlds that you were able to create an IT-enabled Renaissance, which of course cut across culture and language, individuals, even the self-perception of individuals and collectively.
Baer: Just as long as we don't have to go through the Black Plague before it.