Singin' springtime for enterprise at Dreamforce

Democratization of IT is turning angry and will bring down enterprise leaders. Just be careful what you wish for.

I've been pondering my take on this whole 'enterprise spring' meme that CEO Marc Benioff was pushing at Dreamforce [disclosure: is a client and funded my accommodation to be at Dreamforce]. Can we really compare the popular uprisings in the Arab world to the way enterprise users feel about their business systems? Is it over-the-top to compare the likes of SAP and Oracle to dictators like Mubarak and Gaddafi? Then I suddenly remembered that I wrote my thoughts on this almost exactly two years ago in a post titled, The democratization of IT:

"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 ... 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."

Evidently, I do agree that we are seeing a shift in the balance of power in relation to enterprise IT, one that feels rather like a popular uprising. It shares a common thread with current events in society at large, not only the downfall of Arab dictators, but also the debasement of News International, the summer outbreak of rioting on London's streets and the hacking and release of confidential material by Wikileaks and Anonymous. Technology has made it easier than ever for anyone to publish, communicate and organise, undermining the stability of long-established power structures. In the corporate world, consumers, pressure groups and other stakeholders are asserting themselves and will force unexpected, rude awakenings on unprepared enterprise leaders. In these angry times, the dénouement will not be velvet.

Even so, there seemed a danger at Dreamforce that the analogies would stray into bad taste territory, making light of tragic events. There was a risk of hubris too, in predicting the misfortunes of others. I thought of the musical from Mel Brookes' film The Producers, with its tale of unintended consequences, and in my mind the lyric mutated into 'Springtime for Enterprise'. The moral is, be careful what you wish for.

See also: The promise and challenges of Benioff's social enterprise vision