Open cloud versus fiefdoms - digital transformation ain't easy

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed March 26, 2014
Upsetting the digital transformation apple cart isn't hard  - well, not when you are analyst and full-time disruptor Esteban Kolsky.

Upsetting the digital transformation apple cart isn't hard  - well, not when you are analyst and full-time disruptor Esteban Kolsky. In January, Esteban published an epic 4,500 word manifesto, The Foundations for Digital Transformation. I published my nagging questions (and Esteban's memorable answers) in part one of this piece. But we weren't done. It the second (and final) installment, we pick up on Esteban's open cloud themes, airing out his optimism for the changes afoot, but also his concerns about threats to digital transformation (hint: political fiefdoms aren't going to cut it).

We also delve into Esteban's proposed digital transformation architecture, focusing on the 'experience layer' where use cases aren't obvious - at least to me. To clarify, Esteban provides real world examples that show how open architectures can be directly tied to better customer (and employee) experiences. We wrap with a view on feedback Esteban is looking for from discerning readers such as yourself.

Jon: When we left off, you were taking some multi-tenancy sacred cows out to pasture. Take us back to the connection between digital transformation and the open cloud.

Esteban: There is no way the world can leverage digital assets if they are not interconnected. We might as well continue to overnight reports from one person to another (still done in many places). The advantages of the open cloud are exactly what the opponents say are their downfall: better security, more integration, infinite scalability.

We have been aiming for an open cloud model for over 70 years (1939 was first mention of the distributed processing model that led to a cloud computing architecture) and we are too close to lose it to close-minded people who don’t want to evolve. Thankfully, we are past the point where they can dictate the architecture.

Investments towards an open, three-tier cloud are underway everywhere and mentions of private and hybrid cloud models are beginning to decline in favor of more open models. This is not an imposition, it is a reality. In as little as three years, it will be commoditized architecture for cloud computing. If you want to oppose the progress, it will be the same as trying to stay true to your VANs when the Internet came about.  It's time to grow into the next generation: open, three-tier cloud computing architecture.

Jon: You describe the Cloud Layer, Information Management Layer, Experience Layer, Analytics Layer, and Interface Layer as integral parts of your digital transformation architecture. Experience layer is least self-explanatory, at least to me. Can you give a real world example of companies excelling at the experience layer?

Esteban: This is tough - a lot of what I have found is still in the not-for-sharing-yet stage, since it gives the organizations a competitive advantage that they don’t want to disclose (ah, the life of the analyst).

One of the recent ones I came across, publicly, was for Delta airlines.  They changed the experience for their customers and employees at the same time. They came up with new devices (regardless of what they are, Android or Apple) that tap into all the content, knowledge, data, and even people that have the right information.

Let’s say, for example, you are in an airplane that is delayed (I know, almost unimaginable – but play along for now) and you want to make sure your connection - the last one of the day -will wait for you. In the old days. you’d rush from one end of the airport to the other only to find out that a) they were waiting for you and a few others (who did not rush, so why did you run)? or b) they already took off and you were rebooked in an alternate route.

With this app, you can ask the flight attendant, who can then find out the real status – even communicate with the gate agent and confirm they made the decision to wait for you. This has changed the experience for the employee and the customer at the same time, and all they did was leverage data (from the systems that detail the delayed departure) and knowledge (from the gate agents) while leveraging an open architecture to allow the people in the plane to communicate via open Internet to get the data and knowledge necessary.

Another example, also made public, is Nordstrom. They removed registers and equipped each sales person with a tablet that, once the customer is identified, lets them know previous purchases and all other customer information. This makes the sales person able to get them combinations of new items that match what they previously purchased. It also allows Nordstrom to create better relationships with customers.

Imagine a world where the customer is recognized via beacons as they enter the store, and they are greeted by name and presented with options to match what they need?  Or that they can return items, check out, and even take care of other transactions in one place, with one person? That is the goal here, to create 1:1 personalized interactions that are fed via an open network with all the data, content, and knowledge necessary to create better experiences all across.

Jon: Hmm - I smell a book or two on the horizon. But for now, what are the burning questions from this research that keep you up at night?

Esteban: Ha!  Three books actually are in the horizon (if I can find the time): The Transformed Enterprise, the Knowledge-Centric Enterprise, and The Engaged Enterprise (we are not even started on engagement, I mean – past the hype…) to be published in the next three years or so.  And research continues, lots more to do. I will use this medium to plug my search for a qualified publishing house interested in this trilogy…

In all seriousness, the questions that keep me up at night are related to the three main layers (information, cloud, and experience) of the model. Analytics and interfaces are solvable (did not say easily solvable, but solvable).  The other three are more complex and require lots more moving parts and – as is customary when solving big problems in the enterprise – politics. I can see this quickly dissolving into 'private clouds' that will destroy the concept of cloud computing due to fear and ignorance easily. Well, not as easy anymore – the more investment and evangelization we do on cloud, the farther that destruction of the open cloud is – but the threat remains.

Jon: What kinds of threats?

Esteban: Well, I can see the old static models for knowledge management taking over the intent of making the whole world a dynamic knowledge repository based on communities - due to politics and established fiefdoms. I can see how empowering employees and customers to deliver better experiences runs counter to old world compliance and legal fear-mongering elements of the organization. None of these are easy to overcome, nor impossible to do. It requires more and more people being aware of the end goal. To that extent, the role of evangelization is not even close to finished. I need more people to help, I know I am but one of the small voices in this battles.

Jon: You licensed this blog post under creative commons to spur on collaboration. What kinds of input from readers would really make your day?

Esteban: I want the whole world to smile and drink Coke (not a client, or a sponsor) – can I say that?  Seriously, I want more people to realize that this is not an option, just like the last paradigm shift for business (the public internet, or WWW) was not an option then. I am looking for more people to take on this model and twist it in ways that would make it unrecognizable but also that will help a vertical, an industry, even an specific function to become digitized.

I don’t hold the ultimate truth – I am just another guy doing research and sharing the findings in the hope of making a better enterprise.  If it looks like this, awesome – I become famous. If not, at least I (hopefully) helped get some conversations going that made it change.

Image credits: business fight © ChenPG - -, photo provided by Esteban Kolsky

Dislosure: Esteban and I do not have a business relationship but enjoy pushing enterprise boundaries, or banter that (with any luck, or maybe a lot of luck) leads to better outcomes. For more, see the verbose disclosure in part one.

End note: This collaboration with Esteban Kolsky is part of a semi-regular series I am plotting, where I hope to get to the essence of long-form enterprise content that merits special attention.