As 2019’s first conference season of the year begins to wind down, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the emerging themes that both vendors and customers are seeing as the challenges and opportunities for the digital enterprise.
The diginomica team as a whole has attended dozens of events this quarter, which provides us with an invaluable opportunity to speak with buyers and experts about what is likely to be front of mind over the next 12 to 24 months.
Whilst we usually get to speak to the more ‘forward thinking’ section of the market (we are very aware that we are unlikely to be put in front of organisations or spokespeople that are failing to grasp what ‘digital’ means) - it is still useful to get insight into the general direction of things and collate the learnings from the previous months.
Whilst I can’t speak for the rest of the team, these are the key trends that I’ve seen as emerging so far this year.
It’s funny that the idea of reducing friction in the enterprise, as being enabled by digital tech, is an emerging theme in 2019. It’s fundamental principles are actually the driving force behind much of what we have seen happen in the cloud, data, collaboration and mobile tech markets over the past decade. Let us not forget all of those keynotes we sat through where the examples of Uber and Deliveroo were brought up time and time again.
However, it seems that this year vendors and customers finally clicked and are beginning to understand what this really means in practice. My colleague Phil Wainewright writes about this topic more authoritatively than I ever could (see his latest overview for an update), but essentially a ‘frictionless enterprise’ is one that recognises that it can operate much more effectively by taking advantage of ubiquitous internet-based apps, by adopting collaborative tools and workflows, and by recognising that the traditional boundaries and siloes between colleagues and customers need not exist in the same way anymore.
This is why we are seeing the likes of HSBC going paperless with Adobe. Instead of sending out forms to customers, and also printing paper with manual data uploads at the back end, the bank is adopting online processes, e-signatures and automatic processing.
It’s also why Box CEO Aaron Levie talks about content being ‘a centre of truth’ in a SaaS organisation, as there is a recognition that sending documents back and forth, attached to emails, without optimised workflows, not only introduces time-wasting, but also reduces opportunities to collaborate.
ServiceNow too is doubling down on its approach to not compete with other SaaS vendors in the market, but to instead ‘fill in the enterprise white spaces’. Why? Because if it can automate workflows across multiple systems, this speeds up the efficiency of an organisation and reduces friction.
If you’re not thinking about using digital to reduce friction in 2019, you’re doing something wrong.
Multi-cloud becomes mainstream
Just a few years ago, you’d attend a ‘digital’ vendor event (both at the software layer and the infrastructure layer) and for the most part they would just talk about themselves and the impact they as a company are having on the enterprise. If the vendor in question was aggressive, you’d also get them telling you why other vendors are less relevant.
However, what’s become noticeable this year is that a lot of these companies are now ‘playing nice’. Not only this, but many of them are introducing multi-cloud as a central component to their strategy.
I’d argue that gone are the days where a customer that wants to be cloud first, digitally minded, and looking to reduce friction in their organisation, would go all in with one vendor for their entire technology stack. It just doesn’t happen anymore. Instead, cloud platforms that integrate and make use of APIs to ensure a seamless experience and flow of data is the name of the game. Buyers want best-of-breed, which they recognise they can’t buy from a single place.
Whilst this may introduce a new level of complexity from a governance and management perspective, the benefits for the buyer are huge. And the most forward thinking vendors in the market are looking to embrace it, rather than fight it.
Infrastructure vendors move up the stack
There’s not a huge amount of value add for a buyer if the technology they’re procuring is a commodity. Equally, becoming a technology commodity piece doesn’t deliver huge amounts of growth or value add for a vendor over the long-term (unless you’ve got a monopoly).
This is why we are beginning to see the likes of MongoDB, DataStax and Google Cloud Platform all think about what additional services that they can bring to the table - moving up the stack - to ensure that they remain strategic for an enterprise buyer, not just a small piece of the puzzle.
As noted above, some of this focuses on multi-cloud, with DataStax and GoogleCloud thinking about the role that they can play in enabling that for buyers. Whilst MongoDB is investing further in how it can simplify data for enterprise decision makers, making data visualisation tools available, as well as announcing compelling alternatives to Hadoop.
Whilst this will likely mostly be of interest to market watchers such as myself, it should also spell good news for those with budgets looking to make technology purchase decisions. Why? Because the market is being forced to think about how it can differentiate in terms of value for their customers. Companies that compete on value is a good thing and is certainly a different approach to the enterprise vendor market 20 years ago.
Productivity and the future of work
Productivity is the key to economic growth and reducing income inequality, we are told. And yet, major economies such as the UK and the US are seeing their productivity flatline.
I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past few months about how technology is the key to unlocking future productivity. You think this would be obvious, but it doesn’t necessarily seem to be translating. Why? Well, it probably plays into the ‘frictionless’ topic that was outlined earlier. It’s not enough to implement the tools, you’ve got to change the way you operate and work too. The systems should work for the people using them, not the other way around.
Oracle, for example, is beginning to think about how autonomous features could further blur enterprise lines. Instead of users needing to understand the complexity happening beneath the surface, they should be able to simply ask a question of their systems - such as, “What can you tell me about customer X?” - and get all the data they need.
Equally, Infor CEO Charles Phillips is pivoting the company’s strategy towards this idea of changing the nature of work and boosting productivity. For example, he said: “If you optimise around them [workers], all the other systems should be serving them to make them better at their job”.
Simplifying data and processes is key to this. For instance, ServiceNow CEO John Donahoe recently told me: “You need to re-engineer your processes...you need to integrate with other systems, you need to drive culture change and change management”.
I’m pleased to see these arguments come to the fore, as they are more sophisticated in their understanding of what it takes for buyers to generate value from their new digital tools.