Increasingly with an overlay of user-required additional services that, hopefully, make everything easier to use and more focused on delivering services of direct business value. 2015 is the year technology (or its vendors, really) learned to stop playing the big 'I am' and started to be more useful.
At the risk of sounding hippy-dippy (though of an age to carry it off reasonably convincingly), 2015 became the year when the importance of 'technology’ started what has to be a continual decline to become part of a wider, broader, more holistic view of information management, creation and delivery.
Technology remains vitally important. But in the same way that piston rings are necessary to the running of car and truck engines, the vast majority of car owners can’t tell you any details about the ones they use, and many know nothing about those components.
The journey IT users are on is more expansive, and with many more facets to it than piston rings, but that only serves to demonstrate the hold the IT vendors have had over the user community mindset with their collective insistence on the supreme importance of their technologies.
Much of the change can be put down to the real growth in the apps market for smartphones and tablets. Here, the technology is not only important but also fearsomely clever. And it is also largely hidden. Even the archetypal 'Joe Six Pack’ can create an app for themselves without first learning Java, C++ or any scripting language.
And users that still baulk at trying their hand with a laptop computer happily 'do Facebook’ on a smartphone and never think once that they are using the immense technological capabilities put to use creating and maintaining the cloud.
This is a more holistic, what-do-we-want-to-achieve-and-why-and-with-what-information approach that starts and ends with the business issues and the results required. The choices then made are increasingly based on balancing what can produce reliable results, what can do it fastest (or some other service level criteria) and what is the easiest to exploit (as in access, configure, use, then forget until next time). The mobile approach maps well onto that top down, user-first/vendor very-much-second approach.
What is more, those people are the new cohort of staff in companies. The way they view their job, and the way they achieve the results expected of them, will increasingly drive the vendors – and particularly the established vendors - to shift their traditional view of their marketplace and how it should be addressed.
It is also not unreasonable to assume that not all of them will make that transition successfully though only time will tell on that one.
Two important strands (and a couple of supplementaries) have emerged over the year that show this trend under way and gathering steam.
Really selling `service' - and the ways of making that happen
The effect of this change can be seen not only with applications vendors but also with those focused on providing the components of a complex and services-rich infrastructure. A growing number of mainstream business applications vendors such as Microsoft, and infrastructure-oriented vendors such as TIBCO and BMC, have spotted that simply providing users with an armful of technology meets only part of their need.
Integration, tying elements together so that users can work with logical sub-systems is what helps them best. You may provide the best bricks in the world, but for many users, the ability to work at the 'wall’ and 'pre-glazed window frame’ level provides much more of what they need now. They can always go back and change the window glass later if that is needed.
The same holds for applications vendors, who are starting to realise that offering single applications – accounts management for the sake of argument – no longer meets the needs of users. Where accounts management is not just about running some ledger applications; it now ranges from client device management allowing direct input from sales staff mobiles through to complex analytics on not just the structured accounts records, but unstructured data from social media.
This melange of applications and data is leaving their customers with a range of integration issues if they have to select, optimise and engineer solutions themselves. That inevitably puts them at risk of coming to market with new services behind their competition. So the vendors that meet that need by offering richer, more comprehensive packages around their core technology, at least, stand a sporting chance.
In addition to shortening development times, there is also the trend to shorter lifecycles. Here applications are designed not for ten year life times, but ten months, sometimes only ten weeks. So the easier and faster vendors can make it for users to turn an application into a working service for the business, the more the users are likely to come back for more.
This is where the hyper-converged environment is coming into play. Indeed this is already happening, and some of the big systems players are getting into it in a big way. But as an another example of why it is not `technology' for its own sake that is the important part, the partnership and relationship moves made by Nutanix show how these developments will become important to users.
Two, in particular, demonstrate the point: SAP ratified the Nutanix systems to run legacy implementations - joining most of the other major-league business management applications. At just about the same time the company has partnered with Lenovo (not long after it has taken over IBM's server operations) to put Nutanix on its server range). In other words, mainstream corporate users now have a very mainstream reason for seriously considering the jump.
The IoT is also part of everything
Perhaps an even better example of the de-silo-isation of technology can be seen in the trend starting to appear in the Internet of Things, and, in particular, Industrial Internet services.
Earlier this year we speculated that a new partnership between GE Software and Netsuite was a marker for a development in the industrial internet. GE Software is one of the leaders in the development of the complex management systems and services for the industrial internet, including this year’s addition of the SaaS-delivered version, Predix. Readers will already know about Netsuite and its SaaS-delivered business management and ERP services.
The partnership, however, predicates the development of direct bilateral input between the two, with business management data – from sales trends to component supply glitches – directly managing manufacturing and production processes, and reported manufacturing glitches driving the real-time modification of inventory expectations, and consequent sales activities.
Shortly after that expectation was expressed, GE acknowledged that this represents their thinking and future direction. So IoT is no longer a huge technology silo outside of mainstream business management, it will be, and has to be, a core part of the whole thing.
In a different way, IBM’s recently announced Watson/IoT service, which adds cognitive analysis capabilities as a service to industrial internet users. IBM also introduced `smart city’ operators, using the data their management systems produce to deduce and infer possible changes to operational plans that generate more revenue, or perhaps spot disastrous failure mode trends long before they become apparent by any other means.
Getting the hell out of the stock market
On a different tack, one important trend continued to strengthen during the year, as large vendors sought,and found, solace from the ravages of the stock markets by accepting the offers of equity management businesses looking to acquire them.
The key advantage for them is the far greater freedom it offers to make the sometimes dramatic changes they require to meet the market changes that are outline above. It would appear that stock market investors usually don’t have the wit to see far enough into the future to make objective decisions about company futures.
But, as the example of Dynatrace indicates, sometimes the equity management companies have a far more clear view of what is possible, not only within a single company but across its portfolio of companies. When you own them all and have no outside interference, it becomes possible to dismember individual companies and put that parts back together in a different order more fitting to the changed market needs.
NO review of this kind would be complete without pointing up the one fly in everyone’s ointment: Government has so little idea of what is going on or where any of it is heading. This means, of course, that wrong targets are addressed in inappropriate ways, and vast gobs of investment capital is pitched at largely irrelevant goals. But then again, when was it not ever thus?
Happy New Year!