On that list: personal computers, the internet, mobile phones, tablets and much more.
Like many people, I got a mild intellectual rush from diving into the new thing, understanding it in all its dimensions, and trying to figure out exactly how and when it would change things. Plenty of other people have done the same.
I'm sorry to say I think those heady days are largely behind us.
Not that there aren't plenty of cool things being invented these days. But I think the real action has moved to how these things interact vs. the things themselves.
Looking For That Next Hi Tech High?
For those of us immersed in tech, we've been treated to a long sequence of amazing technology innovations that have fundamentally changed how we think about things.
You can create your list of personal favorites, but if I were to look back on the last five years or so, my list would include the smartphone and the tablet, cloud in all its forms, and big data.
What made them big? Each of them fundamentally changed how we do things. Smartphones and tablets changed how most of us interact with computers and the internet. The cloud gave us an entirely new model for producing and consuming IT services. And big data taught us that vast amounts of information was fully exploitable vs. a nasty problem to overcome.
I meet so many people in this industry like me -- they're looking for that next tech high. Is it smart watches or perhaps Google glasses? A novel social media service? A new framework for orchestrating vast clouds? An open source thing? 3D printing, perhaps?
And they inevitably come away disappointed when they don't get that rush they've come to expect.
Apple appears to be suffering from this effect right now. We've been spoiled with past paradigm-shifters like the iPhone and iPad,. When Apple fails to re-invent the world as we know it with their latest product announcement, a lot of people get cranky.
Why Is This?
Certainly, the pace of tech innovation hasn't slowed -- if anything, there's more innovation than ever, and it's happening around the globe and not just in Silicon Valley.
The challenge is that -- to really move the needle and meaningfully innovate these days -- all of these tech phenomena now have to integrate and interact in subtle but very powerful ways.
A personal tech example?
I, like many, have immersed myself progressively into the Apple ecosystem: phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, music, television, etc. The vast majority of my digital life has an Apple logo on it.
Why? Mostly because it just works for me and my family: great products, great value -- and they interoperate in natural and useful ways. I like my tech to stay in the background as much as possible.
I really don't care much about 64 bit CPUs in my iPhone or whatever. What I do care about is that all the stuff works together so that I can get on with my life. If Samsung makes a better phone, or Microsoft makes a better Windows, or Google makes a better TV dongle -- well, that's not really on my radar, and won't be anytime soon unless Apple drops the ball.
An enterprise tech example?
Take the latest cluster of buzzy enterprise topics: mobility, cloud, social, big data analytics, next-gen apps, etc. Each and every one of them is fascinating and impactful in its own right, and worthy of extensive discussion.
But what makes each of these even more powerful is when they come together in a design pattern that some call "the third platform". It's not just a new way of thinking about IT, it's a new way of doing business in the digital economy. The connections and integrations -- and how they can be exploited -- become more powerful than the thing itself.
Using a more narrow lens, a recent example in enterprise tech has been the interest of low-power CPUs as an alternative to our current Intel world. Intel states -- quite rightly so -- that the ecosystem effect limits these non-Intel alternatives to nothing more than an interesting niche at best. And, grudgingly, people have been forced to agree with them on this.
I think Amazon's AWS is a great example of the power and peril of ecosystems: a great cloud service,
widely used by many, with a great ecosystem around it. But when you consider the design patterns and ecosystems of
enterprise IT, there are fundamental impedance mismatches between the two
worlds -- ones that are not easy to overcome.
For all of us who've spend their lives in tech, here's my point: we're now motivated to better understand how newer big ideas interact and integrate vs. considering them in isolation as we've tended to do for far so many years.
Changing My Thinking
I've always been asked for my opinions on specific technologies and companies. And, make no mistake, I have no shortage of opinions, ready to go at a moment's notice :)
But, in every case, the pattern is the same: none of these topics will make even a small dent in the universe unless (a) they're plugged in and integrated with other tech, (b) their uniqueness can be easily exploited by other entities, and (c ) the resulting design pattern is also exploitable -- at a business level -- in a meaningful way.
There's conventional wisdom that big tech companies can't innovate at the foundational level. This may or may not be true, but they certainly can selectively acquire much smaller companies that are doing interesting stuff.
I see the real power of a large tech company's innovation strength at the ecosystem level: ensuring that various technologies work together as an integrated whole, and that the resulting design pattern is exploitable for business purposes.
And when these ecosystems of integration emerge, they are powerful things to behold. Apple, for example.
Let me put on my VMware hat for a moment.
You'll still hear people say "well, isn't the hypervisor a commodity?". Regardless of whether or not that's true, they're missing the picture: the VMware hypervisor and its ecosystem have now become embedded within the fabric of enterprise IT, the design pattern has been fundamentally altered, and it's clearly being exploited by customers with great business benefit.
It's like saying "well, aren't smartphones becoming a commodity?" to me in my homogeneous Apple world. I just won't replace my phone with something incompatible as I'd lose all the integration and network benefits I now have. Even if you gave it to me for free.
Or consider VMware's NSX. While that's certainly a reasonably big thing in the familiar networking world, it starts to get appropriately mind-blowingly big when you start drawing pictures that include storage and compute, new orchestration models, a new class of applications that can interact, etc. There's the clear potential to have the ecosystem effects far outweigh the impact of the individual technology.
A View To The Future?
I hate writing posts like these, because there's a reasonable probability I'll be proven wrong before long, and the web never forgets.
But I can couch the thought as a strong observation: the way that technologies interact across seemingly disparate domains is becoming far more interesting than the technologies themselves.
It seems the bigger your field of view, the better.
Like this post? Why not subscribe via email?