Technology management: Ovum’s perspective at BCS

Being much less active these days, and more remote from the capital, it’s rarely that I get to London for professional events. But I was in town this week for a BCS Elite/North London Branch event. It was wet and dismal when I arrived, just to remind me what London can be like …

The event was a presentation (Climbing Technology Mountains – A Practical Guide) by a couple of senior Ovum analysts giving their perspective on technology management in today’s business environment. Tim Jennings, who presented first, used to be Research Director at Butler Group before its acquisition by Data Monitor in 2005 and eventual transition to become Ovum’s analyst research group. Ovum now advertises itself as part of the Business Intelligence Division of Informa PLC, following a merger last year; there have been several evolutions since the Data Monitor acquisition!

As former Butler client, I was pleased to re-encounter Tim; he is now Chief Research Officer at Ovum. His presentation focussed on the strategic approach to today’s technology challenges (“Making headway with digital innovation & transformation”) with a mountaineering preamble and theme. The main headilines included: transforming IT capability; modernizing legacy systems; building the modern workplace; managing security, identity and privacy; adopting cloud services (at least in a hybrid model); connecting the physical world (the “Internet of Things”); exploiting business information; and enhancing the customer experience.

Most of the ideas were (dare I say) long familiar. But there are newer concepts coming through: the recognition of DevOps as well as agile to promote fast-moving adaptation; and a view on how far the Internet of Things is now reaching – not just into transport, logistics and retail but, for example, in healthcare and beyond. Big Data too is reaching a stage of maturity where it’s no longer about development and implementation but about exploitation in the hands of the end user through advanced desktop tools. But well-discussed challenges are still around: the role of what’s become known as “Shadow IT”, for example; the right architecture for hybrid cloud; the challenges of SaaS, as it empowers users but, by that very fact, works against attempts to simplify the application portfolio; giving workers the appropriate level of control of their own technology (whether through BYOD or other means); and recognising that IT transformation at scale is problematic. Though when an audience member reflected on the corporate challenge inherent in upgrading hundreds (or thousands) of desktop Windows machines, the response was “Yes, but Microsoft has just upgraded 40 million over the Internet”. The problem is corporate IT’s tendency to customise and lock down; maybe this finally has to go, so that auto-update can be allowed to just work. Vanilla is cheaper!

Perhaps the most interesting and newest concept in the discussion was that of the role of identity and identity management. Identifying the individual (and perhaps not just the individual user/customer/vendor/regulator person in all their roles, but also the individual device on the edge of the network) is both a key challenge and a significant enabler if it can be handled right. This topic was subsumed into security and attack/response strategies but it shouldn’t be: it’s perhaps one of the most crucial. This apart, by and large the impression was that the issues which were live when I was myself working directly in enterprise IT (which is now several years ago) are still the principal themes of analyst thinking. Despite the urgency we used to attach to issues such as BYOD, the “open enterprise”, SaaS or cloud services it seems life has not moved on that fast if Ovum are accurately reflecting their clients’ issues.

Richard Edwards, a Principal Research Analyst, followed up with a focus on knowledge workers and how to “re-platform” them. Some interesting discussion on what makes a knowledge worker; one of the key characteristics is a desire for autonomy (“knowledge workers often gear their workspace towards better individual business outcomes, albeit not necessarily with the blessing of management or line-of-business”). If the provided tools don’t get the job done, we knowledge workers have always found work-arounds, using our own technology if need be. There’s a trade-off therefore, between providing us with the flexibility to work the way we choose and managing the real issues of security, regulatory environments and backup. In the end, though, for any enterprise it is global disruption rather than corporate strategy which shapes the way we work (“If change is happening faster on the outside than on the inside, then the end nigh”).

Richard commented that the tools (and methods, I guess) used by knowledge workers shape the products and processes of their enterprise. This may be a surprise. For me, these elements of the discussion were the most rewarding part of the evening.

Also it was good to see Ovum Research in action. Ovum’s research output remains hidden entirely behind its paywall, which not even Gartner does these days, so opportunities are few; but you can download their research agenda from their home page.

• Climbing Technology Mountains, BCS event, 16 Sep 2015 (content may be added later)
• Ovum research for buyers (enterprise CIOs)

Michael Dell at the BCS

The British Computer Society’s Elite group gathered in London yesterday for a Q&A session with Michael Dell.

For the techies among us, Mr Dell described how a couple of years ago he saw the rise of Web Service as challenging their existing enterprise server business. The response: to change technical and commercial direction.

There was an enterprise trend to virtualisation and an emerging market for massively scaleable “cloud” services: and these pull the market in opposite directions. Virtualisation is about mapping multiple servers onto single hardware. Cloud providers, and customers such as China’s Tencent QQ instant messaging service (which has 650 million subscribers), develop infrastructure using large numbers of straightforward devices. The key principles in this environment are strict adherence to a common environment, and a collapse of the complex layered architectures which have grown up in conventional data centres. At the same time, virtualisation of both compute resources and storage creates an enabling opportunity for enterprise users, through development of “private clouds”.

Moreover: SaaS and other trends encourage the enterprise customer to procure solutions, rather than systems; and, in response, Dell is no longer simply a hardware supplier.

What emerges is a picture of an entrepreneur, and a company, unlikely to get stuck in any one business model when the world is moving on. Perhaps that was the biggest take-away from his introductory remarks.

The larger part of the meeting was given over to Q&A. Some of the topics were:

  • Green IT: Dell is now itself a carbon-neutral company, but intends to make a far larger contribution through energy efficiency of its products. The latest Dell noteboook, for example, uses $7 of electricity per year; not long ago that would have been $100.
  • Solid state devices: in response to my own question, Michael Dell outlined how SSD is encroaching fast where its two advantages of lightness and fast response are valuable: high performance PCs and servers. More interesting though was his account of how Dell has influenced the storage vendors to think of themselves as knowing about fast and efficient read/write operations on any device, and to see firmware (e.g. for massively reliable servers) as their primary expertise rather than hardware
  • Dell and Microsoft: Dell see their products as being customer driven, with both Red Hat Linux and VMWare being important platform partners

Asked where he would invest a thousand dollars if (heaven forbid!) Dell collapsed and that was all he had left, the answer was Shanghai. Dell has seen growth pick up again in their business in China and in Asia more generally. This should be a good sign.

• BCS Elite
• Dell Computers (UK) and Michael Dell
• TenCent (US English page)