It would be reasonable to assume that, when asking a Chief Technology Officer of a major IT systems software vendor a question such as `what steps does a company need to take if it really wants to participate in the digital economy?’ that the answer would be loaded to the brim with an inventory of required technological purchases.
Not so, however, with Matt Quinn, CTO of Tibco. He sees the key change that the digital economy brings as being how users use the application, not which company has the best technology or the `coolest’ tech products.
His answer highlights the fundamental change that the cloud brings with it – that the technology hardly matters at all. Indeed, he suspects the technology side of the equation is likely to become even more simple than the current trend towards commodity hardware and increasingly standard software environments.
But the real changes he sees being required are in the attitude of businesses to what they can now achieve using the technology:
To participate in the digital economy requires a business making some fundamental changes,” he said, “mainly in terms of attitude and approach rather than significant infrastructure changes.
One of the most important changes he sees, and one lying at a fundamental, conceptual level in the thinking of business managers, is that they have to abandon the notion that project failure is not allowed:
They must adopt a fail fast approach. Most companies don’t embrace failure, but that just stifles innovation. To innovate implicitly involves the risk of failure and there will be more failures than successes, it is inevitable. But the ultimate innovations will be much better for it.
One of the issues here, of course, is the traditional development cycle of any project, which the cloud is rapidly confining to history. What is required now, he suggests is speed and agility and to forget the days of the six year development project:
Businesses need to remember that success doesn’t last, so even if the business gets the right tools for the job now they probably won’t be right in a few months’ time.
Businesses need to be aware that all of them have perishable inventory – even airlines have seats on flights that cannot be sold once the plane has departed.
So the digital economy is all about what you can deliver to your customers, can you deliver what they need from your inventory before in perishes.
The goal is to make your customers your fans so you can build lots of brand loyalty. Analogue marketing tactics are no longer good enough.
For example, you need to understand that your customers have customers and that they have problems too. So you need to get to know them too, so you can help your customers help their own customers properly.
Little bit of tech
To Quinn, the digital economy equals a different reality that businesses must adjust to if they are to succeed in it. The nearest he gets to discussing technology in a digital economy context is to suggest that businesses now need to design everything with the cloud in mind, even if it is not actually used right now. It is likely those new applications will be used in the cloud when the time comes.
The management of company information also becomes an issue of some significance in Quinn’s view:
There is an urgent need to ban all business information silos. All information needs to be held centrally at all times so that all aspects of it can be exploited to create the best customer experience – and that is the ultimate goal.
When I talk to a bank I’m not talking about technology but about their customers’ problems. These days, the technology is just an enabler, so there is now a need to think in three dimensions, not two.
This means that the way applications are developed and the traditional way of viewing them as long term strategic assets, has to change drastically. Now, they have to be seen as short term tactical tools with set tasks and short life cycles.
In Quinn’s view the new reality is that every application is now going to be in `beta’. Once it has reached that final stage of being `ready’, it will probably have reached the time when it needs to be killed off.
And with another, rare excursion into talking technology, he observes that, when it comes to apps development, it is also important now to think about and plan the tear down as well as the creation of the app. It has to come off the system as quickly and cleanly as it loads up.
In practice, of course, these changes will also have a profound effect on the technologies that make the digital economy work, though Quinn does expect too many users being overly concerned about them. He sees new applications increasingly being designed to perform a single function, with a short lifecycle of even months or weeks.
This will also change the type of server needed to run them, for those single functions will be run within small browsers rather than operating systems. So the large, multi-core commodity servers of today are likely to become obsolete, as are the operating systems themselves.
And such browser-based environments already exist. For example, Rackspace acquired a company called ZeroVM last year which produces just such a technology. The company is opening it up to public experimentation in a sandbox service later this year.
Couple this with the demonstration last year by Intel of a PC on an SD-format card, and the possibilities for change could be significant. Instead of boasting of having data centers with `thousands of servers’, service providers could soon enough be offering service capabilities based on millions of single function `micro-servers’.