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Enterprise IT crosses the chasm

Bernard Golden | Nov. 21, 2014
Author Geoffrey Moore's book 'Crossing the Chasm' has been influential in the IT industry for more than two decades now. The theory was a good model for how most enterprise IT shops used to work. However, now enterprise IT is crossing the chasm and heading in the direction towards innovation.

The technical term for this attitude is "cognitive dissonance" -- refusing to allow any facts to interfere with a perceived worldview. Coca-Cola, according to MarketWatch, did $47 billion in revenue last year. Not as large as, say, General Motors, but it certainly qualifies as a large enterprise in my book. This adamant, persistently negative viewpoint regarding public cloud computing makes it clear why bimodal IT is on the rise, and why approach two is driven not by traditional IT, but by corporate executive leadership and a new breed of IT executives attuned to the need to transform enterprise IT.

t's easy to understand the urgency of making this change. The disruption exploding throughout our economy is IT-driven and changing the very nature of customers and competitors. To take just one example, look at hotels. Five years ago, if you ran Hilton, you viewed Marriott, Hyatt, and Sheraton as your primary competition. Today, thanks to Airbnb, your competition is every spare bedroom on the planet. Your competitive landscape is completely different, and an IT organization that promised to support you with a lower-cost room reservation system is hopelessly unable to respond to this new (yes, external facing) landscape.

However, many corporate and IT executives recognize the need to change IT, but are unsure of what's needed. Here are a few of the items that should be on your list:

  • Understand the requirements of the new application types. Microservices, PaaS, NoSQL and open source are the foundation of the new application paradigm. Your application architectures and componentry need a new approach. You're undoubtedly going to have to increase your vendor portfolio, disagreeable as that is to the decade-long initiative to pare vendor portfolios.
  • Adopt new infrastructures prepared to meet the operational needs of these new applications. Insisting that public cloud computing isn't needed because most applications don't experience erratic load ignores the irresistible force of change. It's like insisting your growing teenage boy continue squeezing himself into a size 12 shirt because it used to fit. Public cloud for enterprise applications is in your future, notwithstanding my counterpart in the Twitter exchange. This isn't just hosting 2.0, so understand and adopt it aggressively.
  • Accept your polyglot future. Java is the new COBOL, and is unsuited for the new application types, especially when combined with legacy frameworks. Even LAMP is showing its age, joined (or potentially supplanted) by MEAN -- MongoDB, Express.js, Angular.js, and Node.js. This isn't to say that you'll only use MEAN; it's to say that your future is going to be a lot richer and complex.
  • Incorporate new cloud-based services. In a conversation with me a year or so ago, Leong made the point that the problem for most "enterprise" cloud providers is that they're competing with the AWS of 2010, not today's. At last year's Reinvent, AWS announced Kinesis, a real-time event processing service, which I regard as likely to have as large an effect in the Internet of Things (IoT) world as EC2 did for the computing world. This year it announced Aurora, a high-performance, highly-available, MySQL-compatible database service. It promises to provide incredible scale at a low price, enabling a new range of applications. As an enterprise, you need to track these developments and evaluate how you can take advantage of them.
  • Implement new organizational types. Obviously, much of traditional IT is unsuited for this new world, so create new organizations prepared to meet it. I've been struck by the growth of innovation labs started by mainstream enterprises. I used to regard them as affectations, Potemkin Villages used by companies desperate to demonstrate their hipness credentials. I was completely wrong in this; these are places that companies are founding to foster experimentation and innovation. I've had the privilege of visiting a number of them and been impressed by the caliber of people and non-traditional thinking in them -- and the creative solutions being worked on there. Of course, not every lab or initiative is going to pay off, but it's clear that traditional IT is so mired in its historic responsibilities and solutions that it can't respond to the imperatives of the Third Platform -- and your company doesn't have the luxury of waiting for things to change. It goes without saying that you'll need to staff the lab with employees skilled with the new tools and architectures, so prepare to hire a new breed of worker. It also should go without saying that you need to integrate your lab with your mainstream IT organization; otherwise, it does run the risk of being a Potemkin Village.
  • Willingness to live with a more rapid pace and with more risk. One could say that traditional IT has been charged, more than anything other of its responsibilities, with risk reduction. That has inevitably, and understandably, led to caution and sluggishness. That was then, this is now. The traditional responses of IT aren't capable of meeting the challenge of the Third Platform, and it's not enough to want things to change. You have to change and be willing to live with less certainty and more risk. If your message says "change a lot" but your metrics and rewards reinforce traditional requirements, you'll get lip service but no change, because it will be clear what you really value.


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