Morning on cloud planet

Cloud thinking is everywhere this spring with diminishing fear factor and business advantages being seriously considered. As this new era of enterprise technology gains momentum, fluffy conceptualizing needs to be replaced with more pragmatic thinking if challenger momentum is to gain weight and heft
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

It really feels this spring in the USA as though cloud technologies are being accepted as viable just about everywhere, and that much of the fear, uncertainty and doubt has somehow dissipated, replaced by familiarity. My end user conversations are very different these days, with remotely hosted data and software as a service now part of planning, albeit with plenty of focus on cornerstones like governance, compliance and data location...Some things in the business world never change.

It's easy to get pulled into the highly polished world of silicon valley hype about what technology's next and what it replaces, but what feels different is the way enterprise scale is slowly changing as those in a position to enable change in organizations weigh up the value and advantages, both personal and on a business level, of considering new ways of working , leveraging the new  infrastructure possibilities.

Perhaps I'm being naive but somehow in the last few months there seems to be real change in the air around enterprise software. It's as though the industrial strength - and industrially styled - old world is slowly being eroded away by the forces of change. What was once as unchanging as railway track and trains is evolving into much more agile services and technologies, largely answering the demands of business.

The foundational elements of enterprise technology at scale, such as business reporting, payroll and systems of record are emerging out of their silos into many different permutations and combinations of interoperability. Meanwhile there is significant information fragmentation across smaller, more agile technologies which also drill down into existing wells of data. This fragmentation can be a good or bad thing for efficiency, since there are now often significant issues around multiple collaboration silos and channels, a product of multiple choices of venues to interact.

The famous TV spot above 'Morning in America' written by Hal Riney (who also recorded the voiceover) for Ronald Reagan's 1984 US reelection campaign has some resonances in North America around what is happening in the business technology world. If you're in the US this spring's advertising blitzes are coming as much from the Republicans vying to be the challenger in the fall presidential election as they are from enterprise software vendors. With Iran looming large on the world diplomatic stage and the straits of Hormuz and gasoline once again at the center of global geopolitics it's deja vu all over again, to quote another American icon Yogi Berra.

Listening to the newer generation of cloud and SaaS innovators it is mourning in America for the MISO old guard, struggling to continue to wring profits out of a vast back catalog of creaky, brittle and inflexible old systems.  Supporting the old (and collecting onerous maintenance contracts which have made old guard vendors very unpopular) while attempting to continue to innovate with next generation offerings is tough and getting tougher in the face of the now rapid growth of what were once minor challengers, they will loudly claim.

From the old guard's perspective they can feel they can afford to move last in the great game, buying up innovation and converting 'best of breed' point solutions into features of their suites. Their client rolodexes are full - they already won the Monopoly game and are collecting on Park Lane every day - and nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. The new generation have a different sales issue: successfully expanding their reach into the deep social relationships MISO enjoy across the planet with their clients.

The 'Morning in America' hi tech moment comes when I speak to a wide variety of people and hear their feelings that it's no longer the same old, same old enterprise world... a sort of business Arab spring, to mix political metaphor, is tipping the balance.

Despite the distractions of the vast majority of individual participant's 'always on' connected personal lifestyles, there is now much greater understanding across society of how people could work together within newer online and mobile work environments, as opposed to exclusively using old processes around documents, email and meetings. This evolution is jumping into focus across society because of individual use models of social networks, which of course are now a major component of targeted marketing based on data mined knowledge of individuals interests and habits.

The focus on 'social media' marketing and the powerful historical influence of Public Relations 2.0 thinking on marketing communication has arguably skewed strategic perceptions of the needs of businesses in the interests of short termism. Marketing communications and public relations efforts typically have short term objectives and goals, with a six month messaging campaign considered a lengthy innings. Chief Marketing Officers have a much shorter tenure than most line of business staff, just as election campaign ads only need to be powerful until the day after polling day.

Enduring use models for enterprise class software are desirable, and have always been an important part of prospect software selection bake-offs in the past. There's a balancing act between enabling agility and creating a durable, consistent workspace where we can quickly find things and which can accommodate rapid personnel change. No one wants to adopt one way of working one week, then adopt another solution a few weeks later and another after that, unless it is a very small team working tightly and all moving on together to new pastures.

The PR 2.0 movement found its way into early enterprise strategic thinking because it was central to driving consumption of short term new ideas and concepts around the future of work, to get people thinking about possibilities and to visualize the future. That time is now here and lightweight ideas about ways business can use modern technology can be more harmful than useful in the real world of practical, pragmatic roll out.

There's a world of difference between fluffy keynote speeches, stratospheric webinars and cumulus laden advertising copy and a tight deadlined commitment to roll out viable strategy starting at eight am on a Monday morning to a sometimes hostile workforce suspicious of motives.

"The future ain't what it used to be" to quote Yogi Berra again - it's here today and the serious work of making enterprise class cloud strategy stick is a major part of the battle royale between the old guard and the success or defeat of their challengers.

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