Infrastructure: the new venture area

For technology watchers, looking for upcoming trends, it’s always of interest to see where the venture capital sector is investing. Of course, not every business that attracts VC investment succeeds. But it’s an indicator of where attention is focussed.

MIT’s Technology Review carries an article which reviews this area of IT. With a report from the recent Venture Summit East conference (that’s East as in US East Coast – in Boston), it provides three useful insights.

First – start-ups are beginning to recover from the downturn. It’s been a dry six months for public offerings but a few are starting to come through again.

Second – what the angels are investing in now is new technologies that can assist the oldest of commercial imperatives: saving money. In particular, reducing the cost of infrastructure. The article cites two, perhaps surprising, examples.

Virtualisation is today’s hotspot; but  opportunities exist to update the “outdated” technology behind it. And there’s still a need to reduce the cost of storing and managing data which is an order of magnitude (or more) greater than the cost of acquiring it.

And third – that while VC priorities are still informative, the emergence of so much cheap and scaleable cloud infrastructure means that some startups with really viable ideas don’t need venture funding. In fact, they may be damaged by it with a push to go too far too soon. Technology watchers, take note!

• What VCs Are Investing In, Technology Review, 26 May 2009

Modernisation of IT: Gartner’s Voice

If you click on the Gartner website at the moment, you’ll see the centre panel higlights their report on “The Modernization of IT”. When you click, though, it’s a disappointment. To judge from the headline (I don’t have client access) it is just encouraging enterprise IT to set up a programme office to manage a transformation programme.

Elsewhere, though, there’s a different story. Gartner Voice is Gartner’s regular podcast series, and you can hear these without an account. OK, so it’s explicitly “not published Gartner research”, but it’s worth taking a feed from it all the same. And there’s a different take in there, which I just caught up with, in the shape of an interview with British academic Prof. Peter Keen. Keen is going to be the keynote speaker at Gartner’s upcoming infrastructure forum, and he gets it.

The interview rehearses some familiar stuff. There’s a lot of new technology out there. “IT is in danger of becoming the corporate laggard” because it’s got stuck in corporate technology. do we have an architecture for mobile, for example? “We cater pretty well for the customer of today – people like ourselves.” Our customers of tomorrow (that’s real customers, not enterprise IT’s internal pseudo-customers) are different; unlike us, they’re using this stuff. Our wouldn’t-we-like-them-to-be next generation employees are using it, and some of our existing employees are too. Let’s have corporate IT get real about this stuff and, in Bob Dylan’s words, “don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall”.

But Keen has gone further than many thinkers in showing how this really applies to enterprise IT. Yes, understand your business’s customers and how to interact with them. But ask him how to get the thinking shifted about this, in the boardroom, and he says two things. Stop the “business” thinking that somehow IT isn’t their responsibility. And: stop letting IT be talked about as a cost; the best thing to do with a cost is to cut it. Get the conversation switched to investment, to be creative with or customers. R&D made that switch a long time ago. Get IT onto the same page.

We’ve often said these things separately. Saying them together is newer than it ought to be!

Peter Keen
The Business Blueprint for the IT Platform Gartner Voice, 5 May 2008
Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Management Summit, 2008 (Orlando, 23-25 Jun)