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2019 - the Jon version

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed December 31, 2019
Jon narrows a whirlwind 2019 into his top ten themes. As he punctured hype balloons and documented use cases, Jon found himself amidst a clash of ideas on transformation, AI, analytics, and B2B buyers.


If I had to pick one overriding enterprise theme for 2019, it would be: putting next-gen tech to the real-world test.

Across events, customers told me of their disdain for vendor tech hype. But some also had terrific stories to tell. Amidst the deluge of data and ongoing problem of integration, quantifiable results are sign posts: maybe "transformation" isn't just a slide deck fairy tale.

Each year, Stuart gives us the unenviable delightful task of boiling a year of tarmac-blogging into our top ten themes of the year. So, let's fasten seat belts and cross-check one more time.

Retailers are in the data business now - and so is everybody else

Add retail to the list of industries where data has become an obsession - the driver of all the visionary tech. If you can't harness your customer/supplier/employee data, forget about competing with Amazon.

Why? 2019 got off to a frigid vivid start via the NRF Retail "Big Show." As I moved on to a blur of events, from retail to CX to connected manufacturing to finance transformation, the underlying theme from customers was the same: win with smartly-applied data, or lose in data silos.

Of course, customers wanted to spend a lot more time on the nitty-gritty of data preparation, integration, privacy, and security than most chatbot-loving vendors did - at least from the keynote stage. But at least we know where the heavy lifting needs to be. Here's some fave retail pieces from my travels, but be sure to check Stuart's best-of piece for the definitive year-in-retail rundown.

AI gets real - fields results and skills in focus

Most of the panelists are investing in some type of AI/IoT COE (Center of Excellence). Give me a COE over a POC (Proof of Concept) anyday. A COE reflects a grittier commitment - and a recognition of the skills transitions needed.

Why? Even as we debate the meaning of "AI" and protest the obvious misuse of the term, what I noticed on the ground was companies beginning to speak to AI results. Even if those results were mixed; even if skills issues still loomed large (a potent topic I'll return to in 2020). Consider that other sexy tech trends, like enterprise blockchain and, to an even lesser extent, quantum computing, have few live projects for us to draw insights from. AI has moved on - we'd best keep up.

Transformation is real(ly) hard

Transformation goes hand-in-hand with "modernization," which, conveniently, seems to translate to loads of new software - even if some of it might be open source. Get your customers to buy into transformation, and software dollars are likely to follow. So the question I posed to Solis about digital transformation hype takes on new urgency. Customers should be motivated by market realities, not digital fantasies.

Why? Define it however you want. I see digital transformation as the natural response of companies in the face of dramatic external change - change which goes far beyond customer behavior, into culture, politics, and just about everything else. But we still need to undermine the hype, document the use cases, and ensure that culture/process/business model gets just as much attention as the tech.

Debating the needs of the B2B buyer - and content versus experiences

I tend to emphasize how the informed B2B buyer poses a fundamental challenge to how marketing and sales operate. Meanwhile, Gartner's Hank Barnes has been blogging up a storm on the problem of buying complexity - a big takeaway from his team's latest buyer research. In other words: just how informed is today's buyer? And how do buyers turn all that information into better buying?

My multi-year debate/dialogue with Gartner's Hank Barnes on today's enterprise buyer reached a new pitch with our first-ever podcast. Barnes points to the problem of buying complexity and inertia; I emphasize the informed buyer's ability to see through vendor hype. Wherever you land, you have a fundamental challenge to sales and marketing.

But can content bridge that gap? Now we go smack into the dreaded buzzwords of "experiences" and "context." Suddenly I found myself the provocateur in a debate with big name marketers and various gurus. I'll break this out in an upcoming diginomica dbook on the informed buyer.

From data to insight - a perilous but essential adventure

Girardi has learned the hard way: don't go far down the road of custom BI projects until you give your clients a chance to see their data in a new way. Girardi learned his lesson. Let the data breathe - and spark discoveries.

Why? Getting from data to insight - not as easy as the brochure made it sound, eh? What about getting from insights to actions to results? What is the role of AI to "intelligently" prescribe those actions? I didn't completely answer those questions in 2019, and I suspect I won't in 2020 either. Instead, I seek out the expert practitioners with outspoken views - and client track records. These aren't necessarily the most famous folks, but they provoke a dialogue that matters.

Build, buy, or fund next-gen apps from within?

Every business wants to get closer to their customers. But how do you pull that off? Packaged cloud applications? Yes, perhaps - though the build versus buy debate is intensifying again. Staples' Pavan Kumar Prathivadi Bhayamkaram takes on that challenge every day.

Why? Last year, the best-of-breed vs suite debate surged again, provoked by the appeal of modern SaaS products. This year, the build-versus-buy debate got a fresh coat of enterprise paint. That ties into a theme I also picked for my top ten last year: using cloud/open source IT savings to fund next-gen projects from within.

There isn't one magical approach here. But: it's encouraging to have serious discussions on customer choice, multi-cloud over lock-in, and how IT can earn business relevance without busting budgets.

Tech for good isn't just lip service

Whether it's this five year old dancing in joy on his new prosthetic leg, or Blake Leeper breaking the 400m record for a double amputee - and running a lot faster than I could - this work really does change lives, no exaggeration needed.

Why? More often than not, I find the "tech for good" theme a bit forced - and phony-sounding. But with all the dark (and necessary) stories on compromised data privacy, disastrous breaches, and the looming specter of surveillance capitalism, we need some feel-good vibes now and again. As Facebook, Amazon, and Google go from dotcom darlings to much more troubling narratives, we need to better heroes. Here's some encounters that brought inspiration.

Enterprise events - survival guide still needed

Stale slide decks, boring panels and cheesy motivational speakers have obscured the essence of enterprise events: peers learning from peers. Here's six proven formats you can use to make your event more interactive - and indispensable.

Why? Software vendors seem to think enterprise events must be wildly entertaining, with DJs spinning records all over the place and dancers jumping out of cakes. But successful events don't require bloated, three hour keynotes and elaborate parties - thus my ongoing my enterprise events survival guide. This year, I shared more classic moments for vendors that want to up their event game - and avoid the botch jobs.

Curators for the win - the marketing noise machine needs context

You can't create lasting B2B content without knowing your industry inside and out. Given we are all struggling to find the signal amidst flatulent tech marketing noise, curators perform an invaluable service (thus the rise of the curated email newsletter, free and paid). As I laid out in Why curation matters, a curation strategy is simply taking the process of consuming and sharing content to a more structured level.

Why? With the undeniably far-reaching impact of AI and automation, enterprise marketers are in high gear. But project success with next-gen tech requires finding the nuggets amidst the PR flotsam. Each industry has a set of unique concerns that adds a twist. We couldn't sort substance from hype without dedicated curators. I rely on many of them, from my diginomica colleagues to terrific newsletters like Exponential View, to SAP and HCM pro Jarret Pazahanick, who treats curation as a daily discipline.

I get in on the act myself; via my daily enterprise newsfeed which forms the basis of my weekly Enterprise Hits and Misses column, a best-of-enterprise weekly review, complete with a sinus-cleaning dose of snarky strikethroughs.

The satirical enterprise rolls on

Last time, I gave blockchain the satirical treatment. I thought about doing quantum computing, but let's face it, quantum computing is so 2020. Right now, it's about how 5G is going to turn us into even bigger coach potatoes utterly change the quality of our lives - and tech marketers are pumped.

Why? I'd like to think that puncturing tech hype balloons with satire helps us to sharpen the BS filters we all need - if we want to make tech work for us, and ask the right (hard) questions before money flies out of wallets.

Each year, Brian Sommer and I cap it off with a heaping holiday dose of snark in our annual enterprise unpredictions, but there's more - usually on Fridays when I tend to blow gaskets.

The ludicrous press release awards - "5G is pure awesomeness" edition

The 2020 enterprise software unpredictions

The ludicrous press release awards - AI game changers edition

What will next year bring? I try not to define my coverage areas too narrowly. But as I wrote here, you can expect me to push further into the problem of CX, the pursuit of AI/analytics ROI, and the realities of transformation efforts. And yeah, that informed buyer dbook is coming, and hits and misses will continue to jolt up your coffee break each Monday.

As for my promise to readers Clive Boulton, Greg_Not_So, and Martin English, yeah - I'm gonna break my blockchain diet and write about blockchain again soon. For now, my podcast with blockchain critic and possibility-seeker Steve Wilson of Constellation Research will have to suffice.

With that, I'll see you on the other side of 2019. Hope it's a great one for you - and thanks to all the reader views that shape our coverage.

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