by Richard Sykes

A bridge too far for vendors keen on cloud

Jul 18, 20124 mins
Cloud ComputingIT StrategyManufacturing Industry

On our way to Cahors in France on holiday, my wife and I spent a night in the town of Millau. We had a specific agenda – to visit the Millau Viaduct.

This 2.5km road bridge carries the Paris-to-Montpelier motorway high over the Tarn River Gorges. It represents a major engineering challenge delivered with startling elegance.

It is the work of the British architect Lord (Norman) Foster and the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux.

The car deck is carried on cables that radiate from seven slim concrete pylons, the tallest of which is taller than the Eiffel Tower.

We admired the viaduct from our hotel balcony: then drove under it, and over it (slowly) both northbound and southbound as the road curved gently between the needle-shaped pylons.

When you see such a creative work close up, you realise the deep experience that the designers must have drawn on. Spanning the Tarn Gorges is no mean feat. To do it in such eye-catching fashion carries the mark of genius.

Building a contemporary technology vendor that delivers with a parallel competitive elegance requires both that mark of genius and those underlying resources of deep experience to draw on.

Steve Jobs was undoubtedly one such genius. But he drew on the experience of three men in particular, each of whom have made real contributions to building the DNA of Apple.

One is Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor as CEO, who has built the operational culture of Apple.

The second is Sir Jonathan Ive, who has formed the strongly creative design ethos that is the hallmark of Apple.

The third is John Sculley, who injected a strong consumer marketing DNA into the Apple culture in its formative years. His appointment as CEO of Apple was a shock move back in 1983.

He came from being CEO of Pepsi, lauded for his skilful launch of the Cola Wars that rewrote the competitive battle between Pepsi and Coca-Cola to the former’s advantage.

His time at Apple saw the departure of Jobs, who returned, reinvigorated, a decade later after Sculley himself had departed.

But Apple’s creative marketing DNA was by then deeply embedded in its culture.

I chaired a presentation Sculley gave at this year’s Global Cloud Computing Forum in London.

I was charged by the organisers to guide the first day of their premier Vision Theatre, and John provided the opening keynote.

He is still going strong, globally peripatetic with teams in major business centres working with him on his portfolio of investments.

His theme was Domain Expertise as a Service. Drawing on his experience with ventures in health services, and reaching back to those creative insights from his Apple and Pepsi days, his emphasis was on the key value of deep experience in creating and shaping services for the domain.

The new capabilities that contemporary technologies bring to healthcare are clearly highly relevant. Doctors can engage with patients remotely by video, and patients can be monitored in real time in an astounding diversity of ways to aid the diagnostic process.

But what really makes a service deliver is deep experience in how the doctor and the patient interact in practice. Successful new ventures, argues Sculley, are grown around deep domain expertise and experience.

Back to Foster, Virlogeux and their viaduct. Technology at work, but it’s their combined deep domain expertise that allowed them to create a massive object of such simplicity and physical beauty.

I listened to the speakers who followed Sculley with an added focus. Three were from major vendors whose business models are under real challenge: Microsoft, Dell and CA Technologies.

Each now espouses the cloud with vigour, but the cloud is about the transformation of our industry to new services delivery models.

Delivery of services requires a services culture, according to Sculley’s analysis, a deep domain expertise in service delivery.

Does one associate Microsoft, a company whose culture has long been dominated by monolithic software creation and delivery, with a strong service delivery ethos?

Can Dell, whose business model is rooted in deep operational excellence in global manufacturing and supply chains for competitive hardware delivery, transform itself into a competitive, profitable leader in virtual services delivery?

Where are their John Sculleys, revolutionary appointments from outside our industry’s top executive recruitment norms, who will radically rework their deepest corporate DNAs?