I’ve looked at clouds …

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

It’s clouds illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds, at all

– Joni Mitchell

I really must stop using song titles and lyrics in these blog entries but ……

Anyway, I recently sat as part of an august panel of CIOs, drawn together to critique yet another a vendor proposition on cloud computing, and listened intently as we all described “Cloud” differently. Chatham House rules apply so I wont name names but it was all kinda worrying as the discussion was actually supposed to be about something called “hybrid cloud” which I subsequentyly learnt is supposed to be  “the intersection of public and private clouds” – or cloud 2.0 as some wags are now calling it.

After much debate one of the attendees lent forward, cupped his head in his hands and proclaimed “What is all this B***s**t ?? Come on guys lets get real !! Am I really going to sit in a room with my CEO and have this conversation ??”

I found myself strangely drawn to his candour. Its bad enough that many CEO’s still think that IT spends too much time with its head in the clouds, now we’re introducing vocabulary that even we don’t even understand.

In an earlier post I issued the plea to stop banging on about what this cloud stuff is or is not and to focus on harnessing the underlying technologies to deliver / enable our business strategies. I still hold firm to this view but the IT industry – particularly the vendor community – do have a responsibility to put some shape and form around this whole debate. Now you can agree or disagree with my previous post about “nothing changes” and that actually this is all just ones and zeros painted a different colour (albeit offered at a lower price point), but one thing that IT supposedly does well is process and standards – so why are we as an industry ignoring our strengths and perpetuating the marketing spin and hype.

So, with that in mind, here are my 3 essential priorities for any supply side cloud advocates – “my 3 x S’s”

1. Shape – put some real and tangible definitions up that give this whole debate some shape and meaning. What do things like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) actually mean in practise ?? How do you engage and more importantly disengage with suppliers?? What should you really focus on ?? What do you need inside the enterprise to succeed ?? etc etc
2. Standards – we desperately need standards that address the well articulated security and data integrity / audit concerns whether they be fact or fiction – remember that perception IS reality !! The supply side MUST address this and, whilst there are emerging initiatives around data location, exchange/interchange protocols etc these are in their infancy and need to be embraced and accelerated
3. Segmentation – there is no one size fits all “cloud solution” so it is incumbent on the vendor community to start helping different industries and sectors chart a path to meeting their disparate needs.

The onward march of cloud computings underlying technologies is inevitable – what is up for grabs here is whether we can accelerate the road to practical adoption by removing the hype.

JMHO

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When two tribes go to war …..

According to Bart Perkins in CIO.com: “IT has to take a stand on consumer technology.” He concludes: “It’s better to agree on a corporate policy, publicise it and start budgeting for the projected impact.” I can’t disagree with the latter point, but I also believe consumers will continue to drive this debate: as the new darlings of the tech vendors, they currently hold all the cards.

It wasn’t always this way. The article rightly points out that 10 years ago, most people used more advanced technology at work than at home, whereas now the opposite is true. Today, many employees have better kit at home, and the article notes many also expect their favourite devices to be supported at work. This is indeed the case, but the implications are far more wide-ranging than whether you can bring your favourite gadget to the office. They point to the need for fundamental changes in attitude and approach.

Consumer IT is driving new behaviours and setting new expectations about how we work, as well as the tools we use. There have been too many words/pages written about the role of Facebook, Twitter et al in the workplace, but it’s an undeniable fact that a new generation is arriving with new expectations of a ‘socially enabled’ way of working. To ban or block this behaviour is akin to limiting someone’s vocabulary – you will inevitably get a stilted outcome.

An equally undeniable fact is that the schism between this new consumer (or social) IT and corporate IT is just getting bigger. The focus of corporate IT is narrowing. It increasingly (but rightly) worries about data protection, information security, governance etc, as its world becomes ever more regulated. Social IT, by contrast, moves at a blistering pace, seemingly oblivious to these issues precisely because it is social IT. By definition it’s about sharing, collaborating and networking and thus it’s no surprise most of the publicised innovation is being driven in this area.

Corporate IT is dull and boring – right?? Who’d want to work for a corporate IT department? The networks are slow, the equipment is old, I can’t use my iPhone, it’s so restrictive, so yesterday… If we’re not careful that’s exactly where we’re headed – especially when it’s more attractive to make your money from ‘apps’ and ‘app stores’ rather than actually building applications.

The implications are clear. This debate is about talent not toys. If we don’t act soon we’ll be left with just two types of technology – the interesting (and growing) socially enabled, individually empowered version – where people want to work – and the stilted, highly regulated, narrowly focused version. Oh, and by the way, that’s the one that currently underpins our economy!

This post originally appeared in the  360 degree IT Blog on 14th April 2010

Wikipedia 1 – 0 Microsoft

Microsoft today ran up the white flag in the battle of the online encyclopedias

“On October 31, 2009, MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009…”

Interestingly they close with ……

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft’s goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today’s consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business.”

Is free and socially networked the only way to survive ?

Enterprise 2.0

I was fortunate to meet up with Andrew McAfee from Harvard Business School (blog.hbs.edu/faculty/amcafee) last week, discussing the growth of social networking software inside organisations – commonly called Enterprise 2.0 – so I thought I would add some content here on my observations, leanings and views. Most of you will know from my posts on “learning from my kids” and “facebook” that I am quite keen on this topic

About the best definition I can find so far for this stuff is “… the use of existing and emerging social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” So that basically covers blogs, wikis, content tagging, social networks, RSS etc

As Andrew says

Despite the hype, these are genuinely new technologies which offer the potential for an organisation to be far more effective around innovation, collaboration, knowledge sharing and collective intelligence. Unfortunately the bariers to adoption now seem to be the lack of foresight or draconian policies of the IT department (or maybe even the irrational fears of some CIOs) rather than the willingness of the customers to embrace the solutions on offer.

There are some simple trends that seem to be driving the adoption of E2.0 solutions

  • Software has become simple, social and inclusive. Technology is now actually being used to connect rather than alienate or frustrate people.
  • Network effect – all of these solutions improve with scale so its in the interests of participants to promote use and “market” their new found information and connections
  • “Platforms” are replacing channels – Web 2.0 promotes the move from channels to platforms (email is a 1.0 channel – a one to one conversation that has no interactivity or contribution). In a web 2.0 world the platforms aspire to be universal, visible and open to the broadest possible interaction.
  • Most Web2.0 tools have a distinct lack of upfront structure but they have mechanisms in place that allows structure to emerge. This is a really new (and potentially frightening concept for IT folks) – get out of the way of the customers and almost give them a blank slate. Conventional IT has lots of rules and structure. It slots people into roles, assigns privileges to roles, define workflows and data formats etc. This is not wrong, but applying this approach universally can be barrier to collaboration and innovation. Web 2.0 tools (praticularly inside an enterprise) requires a bit more sublety – segmentation if you will – making sure that the appropriatre tools and services are available to the right people. Wikipedia is a great example of managed collaboration – with great self selection and editing. Del.icio.us allows you to store bookmarks online and share them but people tag their entries, not based on any predefined lists, but entirely on the words they choose themselves.

Adoption Challenges
The biggest challenge for any new solution is usually down to replacing or superceeding what already exists. Email is the most common collaboration tool – however bad we think it is !! – and for anything new there will always be a level of personal evaluation between an incumbent technology and a prospect technology. Remember that customers rarely make rational lists to come to a decision. An existing or incumbent solution is over-weighted – often by a factor of 3 and the new proposition is under-weighted by a similar amount. So new concepts often have to be at least 9x better than existing systems.

So what do I think…
I think Enterprise 2.0 is going to be the difference between innovative and laggard companies. The ones who can embrace and harness the potential from a connected and collaborative organisation will simply be streets ahead of their competritors