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diginomica 2015 - Stuart's choice

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 29, 2015
Uber philosophy, digital transformation and a good old-fashioned government IT cock-up - 2015 according to Stuart.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 13.36.161. An unsafe decision on Safe Harbor

This result was only possible because of the revelations by Edward Snowden.

Why? A cabal of Eurocrats and Federalists in Brussels has been frothing at the mouth for years in their attempts to throw up a draconian data privacy wall around Europe that would - supposedly - provide protectionist comfort against marauding US tech firms.

This year they finally got their way when the European Court of Justice - which had already provided us with the odious Right to be Forgotten, that charter for perverts and politicos to rewrite history - struck down the Safe Harbor agreement between Europe and the US. It was a dark day for the US cloud industry in particular.

The race is now on to see if a Safe Harbor II can be put in place before the end of next month. If not, the effect is less likely to be the beneficially protectionist one that Europhiles hope for, but rather to place additional costs and burdens on both the buy and sell side in Europe and the US. The longer term impact - consigning Europe to the cloud adoption slow lane. Nice work, Brussels.


2. When big business took a stand against bigotry - and won!

As leaders of technology companies, we not only disagree with this legislation on a personal level, but the RFRA will adversely impact our ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent in the technology sector.

Why? This was the year when big business stepped up to the mark against naked bigotry - and won the day. When Indiana's state government signed into law an act that would allow companies to deny services to gay men and women, Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff drew a line in the sand and said 'no'. Threatening to pull the firm's operations in the state and to guarantee that none of his employees would have to spend any time in an geography that robbed them of basic rights, Benioff's actions inspired other tech firms to follow his lead, including Infor and Oracle. Indiana had to back down of course. But this was a high risk gambit for Benioff. As I noted at the time:

For every person who sees the societal tragedy of legitimising bigotry, there’s another one who’s drinking the Fox News-flavored kool-aid, served up in a Sarah Palin-style super-dooper, super-sized, you-betcha paper cup  –  and that person might have an IT budget.

With that in mind, I am genuinely proud that diginomica was able to support this principled stand.


3. That mea culpa moment around women

I wish we could rewind history sixteen- and-a-half  years.

Why? Derek's written a lot about diversity and equality in the tech industry this past year and doubtless will do more in 2016. For my part, one of the most interesting up-front examples of the evolution of tech's thinking on these matters came with the very public 'mea culpa' from Salesforce, where CEO Marc Benioff has spent a fair bit of the past year lamenting his firm's own track record when it comes to women within the organization.

This climaxed in a Women's Leadership stream at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco where Benioff and co-founder Parker Harris were grilled on stage about how to address the issue and made clear their commitment to do so. While one can question why it took 16 years to notice, for example, that pay levels were not aligned across genders, the sincerity of the two to put things right isn't open to question. It's a lead that many other tech firms need to follow.

See also:

4. Stick a fork in Yahoo! - it's done

I have no intention of stepping down!

The year started badly for Yahoo! and CEO Marissa Mayer with a 52% collapse in profits.

It didn't get any better as the months rolled on. By October, the mantra of 'jam tomorrow' from Mayer to shareholders was wearing decidedly thin. By December, the rumors of death around her tenure at the top were circulating wildly, resulting in the canning of plans to spin-off its stake in e-commerce giant Alibaba.

As the year ended, Mayer had something good to celebrate with the birth of her twins. But as the new year opens, her near-term future as Yahoo! CEO looks decidedly rocky.


5. The Oligopoly strikes back

Just focusing on the very small companies isn’t going to be good enough.

Why? A knock-on effect of the UK General Election in May was the departure of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, the man who had remained in post throughout the entire last Parliament, much to the fury of reform-resistant IT and services vendors who thought they'd just have to sit him out.

With Maude's departure, I was concerned that we'd see a shift away from the major transformative reforms of the past 5 years. While the feared reverse-turn hasn't been as dramatic as it might once have seemed it would be, there are undoubtedly a number of the old-guard Oligopoly entering 2016 with more of a spring in their step than they've had for a long time.

The year ended with the less-than-edifying sight of John Manzoni, head of the UK civil service, paying court center-stage at HP Enterprise's Discovery conference in London. The times, they are a-changing...


6. Government IT - the cock-ups haven't gone away after all

Farmers have a lower average level of digital literacy than the general population.

Why? An example of a public sector IT digital transformation programme that looks set to land the UK taxpayer with a 40% increase in its lifetime costs and facing the prospect of paying £180 million a year to the European Commission in fines.

The rural payments IT upgrade at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is a prime example of how not to delivery public sector technology projects. What makes it all the more galling is the insight it provides into the turf war inside Whitehall between the 'old guard' administrators and the evangelical force of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

In this case, the immovable object met the irresistable force with devastating effect. No-one emerges from this fiasco with any credit at all. Lessons will be learned.That's the traditional pitch from inquiries into government IT debacles. In this case, they damn well better be!


7. Uber, Uber über alles

We’re on the road, we’re driving, it’s a bit foggy, we don’t know where we’re going, but we’re psyched to be on the journey.

Why?No tech conference in 2015 was complete without reference to the terrifying prospect of being Uber-ized. You couldn't go anywhere without Uber being touted as the prime example of digital disruption, taking over from Amazon as the Powerpoint slide of choice from all sides. Not that everything is positive.

The year began with homophobia being added to the firm's charge sheet, while demonstrations and legal action in London and Paris reminded us of that disruption will be met with resistance from incumbents. Meanwhile Uber - and the wider sharing economy - has become a US election issue. But the most interesting insight came from Dreamforce where Uber founder Travis Kalanick was asked if Uber has a heart. The long uncomfortable pause that followed told its own story.


8. Digital Transformation - the good

Digital is amazing and you have to do it, but at the same time it doesn’t answer every single question.

Why? We covered off a lot of digital transformation use cases this year. Among the best:

9. Digital Transformation - the not-so good

We have no expectation to try to recreate a pre-2011 JC Penney. That company could not compete well in this marketplace.

Why? Some of the less inspiring attempts at digital re-invention of 2015, included:

10. You can lead a horse to water etc etc

We don’t need to hear the buzzwords, we just need practical help.

Why? In a world of break-neck innovation and aspirational disruption all around, a timely reminder emerged in November that while suppliers forge their roadmaps and set a pace for transformation, it's important not to forget that customers are going to move at their own pace and in their own time.

The results of this year's UK SAP User Group study related specifically to HANA and user reluctance to dance to SAP's tempo, but the lessons therein should have meaning for vendors everywhere. It's a twin dilemma - suppliers need to set an agenda and provide a direction for customers, but they need also to appreciate the customers positions in the here-and-now.


Disclosure - at time of writing, Infor, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP are premier partners of diginomica.

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