It is now an established fact that competitive advantage in the knowledge economy comes from innovation, agility and adaptability. The future of enterprise software depends on these three things. Processes over the years were automated using multiple products from different proprietary technology vendors. Today integrating them for a seamless process with high reliability and control has become an extremely difficult proposition and some experts concur that it may not be possible at all. Legacy has become a burden which may make some players irrelevant in the coming decade as their technology will end up restricting their competitiveness.
So what happens to becoming agile adapting fast to changing markets?
Technology has seen some major improvements in the last decade, especially due to cloud computing, Web 2.0, Mobile and Open source revolution. Today, it is possible to build a unified platform from scratch that can meet all the needs of an enterprise and at almost quarter of the cost that went into the development of silo apps. The challenge, however, is the high switching cost and resistance to change (strong reluctance to change a system that has apparently been working fine). But it’s not easy to break down these silos. Why? It’s the same problem most companies have had for decades: departments want to control their own systems and tools and have very different needs.
Points to ponder
I am yet to find an organization that can answer most of the following with a yes!
- Can you sense the pulse of your organization in real time like Twitter does?
- Can your track competencies & connections like we do on LinkedIn?
- Can your people share like they do on web using Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora etc. ?
- Are your people helping others like they do on web?
- Are your people able to find information with ease like they do on web?
- Are your apps unified on single platform like on Google apps and Force.com?
- Are you able to get the real time single version of truth about your customers and business?
- So what we need to ponder is why all of this is not possible in an enterprise when we are already doing it on the web and in open source domain?
The irony of the enterprise
The enterprise today is stuck in a paradigm which is divergent from what they desire or need. While our business is process centric we have silo apps that automate sub processes at department levels like ERP, CRM, SCM etc. We crave for innovation but spend 80% of our IT budgets on maintenance. We need agility but have high inertia to move from legacy technologies. Our work force is transforming with millennials but we expect them to use technologies from previous era. Our business happens across an ecosystem of stakeholders inside and outside the enterprise but we implement solutions as B2B, B2C, B2E addressing each entity separately. While our business is increasingly dependent on unstructured, tacit and external information (~80%) we spent budgets on managing explicit and internal knowledge.
This clearly shows how disconnected is the enterprise today from the reality and the imperatives.
The root cause of this troublesome situation and the impending and eventual threat of collapse is the fact that IT systems are an outcome of incremental improvement that was driven by vendors and not the enterprise. The so called innovations of the past are the bottleneck today. Today the information is fractured and split across multiple silos of systems that are designed to automate functions and give differential treatment to unstructured and structured data, and splits computing into transactional systems, analytics systems, content/knowledge management systems etc.
A typical scenario of customer information being split across multiple silos apps is depicted below. Such a system despite integration can never provide a near real time single view and actionable analytics based on all interactions related to a customer. The life cycle of a customer interaction starts with lead that converts to order then post-delivery gets into service mode. Most causes of churn are first felt by the service interface of the organization which is completely disconnected with the history of customer engagement and learnings from similar situations in the past.
The Inevitable Future
Such a complex problem cannot be solved by further incremental or patchy innovation; it requires a rethinking from scratch and creating IT solutions using the latest technology paradigms that are far more efficient, lean, and effective in addressing the information challenge of the 21st century.
Some key capabilities that will enable the inevitable future of unified, lean and real time next generation computing will be the convergence of paradigms like Social Computing, PaaS and BigData in a unique unified framework.
Hybrid BigData Backend Technologies: Database technologies that combine the power of RDBMS, NoSQL and Graphing in a unique way to allow creation of systems that can store, manipulate and analyze big data in near real time. Databases that will allow data fusion and will enable management of unstructured and structured information in a unified way.
Rapid Application Development (RAD) Framework for Ecosystem Computing: This will be an evolution of the contemporary application PaaS paradigm wherein the platform will act as a framework that will provide the enterprise with the capability of an extensible middleware that can work with hybrid bigdata backend. This will enable organizations to incrementally deploy/migrate/renovate old applications and get them to work as unified apps on a single platform. The apps will enable all stakeholders across the enterprise ecosystem to work on same platform in a secure yet collaborative way.
Unified Social User Experience (UX): All new apps that an enterprise needs to reinvent will need to be designed keeping the social computing paradigm in mind. The user experience needs to social, simple, responsive yet secure. The social UX needs to unified and not split across silos again. It will also converge with the email and search behaviour to address the adoption and ease challenge.
Currently there are under currents that are pointing towards an inevitable future of next generation enterprise computing that will address real issues and deliver unprecedented value unlike the previous waves of incremental innovation. There are emerging companies working on to enable such a future and it’s a matter of time before some big organizations become early adopters that will overcome their inertia to change and challenge the conventional enterprise software paradigms. The next 5 years will see more and more startups addressing this future and as soon as we hear about the first success story it will become the game changer in no time.
Post ScriptThe inevitable future is under creation and over the next 5 years we will how the market shapes up to deliver it. We will see new generation in enterprise frameworks that will offer ability to pick best innovations from cross enterprise app stores. Frameworks, which will enable out-of-box as well as custom solutions with the reliability of packaged software and with the ease & TCO of open source software. The question is not if but when, given the rapid pace of technology evolution, increasing dissatisfaction of enterprise, increasing focus of startups on the enterprise market it is just a matter of time before the $500 billion enterprise software market goes through a major shakeup. In our future blog posts we will probe deeper into the three key components of the next generation enterprise frameworks Hybrid BigData Backend, RAD Frameworks for Ecosystem Computing and Unified Social UX.
About the Author: Sumeet Anand is Founder CEO of Kreeo (i-nable Solutions), a startup in the space of Enterprise 2.0 and collective intelligence.