Most of my career, I've watched with great interest as tech memes come and go.
Like viruses, their eventual success can be measured by their reach. Some stay isolated to small, focused populations. Others break out and dramatically change the way we think about things.
Unlike viruses, certain tech memes do much good if they are spread widely. Consider "the web" or "big data" if you will. These powerful ideas transcended the tech world, and eventually redefined how business leaders and policy makers charted their paths forward.
When it comes to "software defined" anything, I often feel that we as technologists haven't successfully made our case to those outside the technology world. There are very powerful ideas at play here, with the clear potential to change how we think about things going forward.
But to bring about that positive change, we're going to have to get much better at infecting others :)
What Makes For A Successful Organization?
They know their subject matter, and can apply it in a variety of ways across many domains.
So much of corporate activity can be traced directly back to the need to maximize intellectual property in all its forms. That's one of the reasons that brain drains or mass exoduses from companies is such a topic of great concern to investors.
Software -- in its most fundamental form -- can be seen as codified human expertise. Its essence is crystallized know-how that translates know-how into re-usable form. Whether we're talking about applications, business processes, analytical models, etc. -- a company's investment in software is often a direct result of their desire to increase the productivity of humans.
If the de-facto business model becomes competing through expertise, shouldn't companies then become very good at producing software that reflects their unique understanding?
It isn't that software is eating the world, to replay a familiar trope -- it's that software is becoming the world we live in. Paul Maritz (as usual) has an excellent take on this, stating that competitive enterprises should get busy re-learning how to be software developers in this new world.
The (New) Product Cycle?
If you read business literature, you're aware of cyclical processes within a successful organization. The classic one is product lifecycle management: the "womb to tomb" perspective of creating new stuff for consumption. It made perfect sense in the physical world, but needs to be extended in the digital economy.
One could argue that in a software-defined world, there's a new cycle emerging that powers an organization:
- unique understanding is gained around something relevant: customer behavior, business process, etc.
- that unique insight is codified as software
- that new software is operationalized as quickly as possible to maximize its benefit
The new "product" is now software that embodies know-how, regardless of whether it's consumed internally or externally.
If one accepts this as a strong basis for competitive advantage going forward, it inevitably implies that considerable strategic attention should then be given to:
- investing in tools and skills that result in gaining meaningful new insights (e.g. big data, advanced analytics to name a few)
- investing in development environments that emphasize time-to-value vs. traditional optimization (e.g. PaaS and similar)
- investing in deployment environments that are agile and responsive to rapidly pushing new applications (e.g. software-defined data center and cloud operational models)
Maybe the new business mantra should be "learn, code, monetize". And in business, the race usually goes to the swift.
A Strong Break From The IT Past
If one looks at this new world through an IT lens, it's pretty clear that the IT we have in our data centers today wasn't exactly designed to do this.
Our legacy environments are largely built around static individual application requirements vs. the need to fast-cycle a never-ending stream of new "applications".
Historically, IT environments have focused more on optimization, and far less on agility and re-use.
Paul Maritz puts his finger on it once again, stating that progressive organizations are "leaving their IT legacy behind and creat[ing] new platforms". Sure, it would be great to bring everything forward -- if we had the time -- but the competitive stakes are just too high to do otherwise.
And -- strongly implied -- either IT supplies the digital factory demanded for the software-defined business model, or impatient business leaders will go elsewhere.
The Essence Of Being "Software-Defined"
We in the technology world have taken to using "software-defined" to describe a new style of infrastructure: one whose behavior is defined by external code.
Enter software-defined networking, software-defined storage, software-defined security and more.
That's interesting and useful in our world, but hardly compelling to those who are thinking hard about their business strategy as the world morphs from physical to digital.
We should consider coming at the discussion from the other direction.
The fundamental business model is quickly changing to one driven by know-how, expertise and intellectual property. In this world, software becomes the product.
The factory that produces it reflects the new style of IT -- the "third platform": cloud, big data, mobile, PaaS, social -- built on entirely new operational principles and technologies.
For many, it's a new business model, enabled by a new IT model. To be successful will require a very different investment pattern than we've seen in the past. The race to transform has begun; and early successes are becoming more widely apparent.
And now would be a good time for us to get busy ...
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