by Richard Sykes

Users take the driving seat

Jun 05, 20124 mins
IT StrategyTelecommunications Industry

As I write, a headline in the Manchester Evening News shouts Live: Eyes of the football world on Manchester as City take on United in league title shoot-out derby clash.

Some 650 million people across 211 countries are expected to watch the game.

Football is not my passion, but the same ICT capabilities that enable this small miracle of globalisation have now developed sufficiently to enable audiences from London to Sydney to enjoy opera broadcast in high definition from the Met in New York. That’s more to my taste.

Here are the capabilities of ICT being commercially exploited by football clubs and opera houses. Not, please note, by ICT vendors who in this case simply operate as underlying service providers.

To anyone familiar with Moore’s Law, this is a totally forecastable development. Reach back two decades and the cost of processing a byte was such that code creators had to be tight-fisted.

A decade later we had sorted the consequence, the Millennium Bug. And were already in the era of increasingly economic layers of metadata feeding the virtualisation revolution.

Today we have massive room for manoeuvre that will continue to increase exponentially for the next two decades at the very least.

Against this background, the time is now ripe, I propose, for a determined drive to disenfranchise the IT industry from its conviction that its role is to drive change, and in its place, enfranchise the wider user community to creatively take the wheel and influence the IT industry to address real user priorities.

The issue I raise here is in line with the latest thinking from the Leading Edge Forum, which sets about analysing what it means for a business to be really driven by marketplace signals, needs and dynamics.

The report’s author, Dave Moschella, has developed his thinking in the context of the client enterprise, but his insights are equally applicable to the contemporary ICT vendor.

We certainly look to the ICT industry to innovate new capabilities.

The danger is that the marketing imperative then takes hold and we have the Next Big Thing. What is the question?

In 2011 the answer was The Cloud; in 2012 it is now Big Data. I exaggerate, but only to a point.

I propose a new patron saint of the ICT industry’s marketing fraternity, the late artist Lucien Freud, who is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery.

Asked what the purpose of his art was, Freud replied: “First to astonish, then to disturb, then to seduce and then to convince”.

A better charter for today’s marketers of the cloud and of big data I cannot find.

There are more constructive alternatives now in play. I recently attended the launch of the Big Data Insight Group’s first report.

This was no marketing drive, but an initiative of Emma Taylor and her business vehicle Nimbus Ninety, whose initial creation, Obis Omni, is devoted to the concept of enabling ‘a free, independent and dedicated business intelligence and corporate performance management community.

Two more such Communities have followed, The Cloud Circle and now the Big Data Insight Group.

All three are growing fast, and I can vouch that they are delivering quality work. The emergence of such communities is a key development.

They work to enfranchise the business user by creating an environment in which the informed user can explore the potential of new capabilities in IT, and guide their development through feedback that alert vendors would be wise to take notice of.

But vendor attitude is vital. I advised a client whose compute operations had hit a serious performance snag.

One key issue was to elucidate the contribution to the performance failures of the vendor whose kit was at the heart of the client’s operations.

This vendor offers its clients a costly premium service, in essence a club, that promises access to the vendor’s current thinking and innovation.

The alternative is to buy the kit as kit on an arm’s-length basis. Here is vendor technology push at work in the raw.

An alternative model?

A discounted pricing structure where the vendor is given full access to clients’ compute operations so it can learn in real time how its kit performs at the sharp end and what innovation will positively impact clients’ operations, as well as a significant pricing premium for clients who deny the vendor access to such vital front-line experiential learning.

Because technology does not drive, it enables. It is the users exploiting the technology that really do the driving.