Do you remember the book, ‘Crossing the Chasm’ by Geoffrey Moore? If you don’t remember it, or have never read it, this was the defining book on the uptake of technology and its life cycle from earliest adopters through to maturity and retirement. It explained the nature of technology adoption through various stages and at the time was the perfect handbook for those struggling with the adoption of the PC, together with what seemed like an avalanche of new products for its use. This was the book that produced what many think of today as the ‘Gartner Hype Cycle’, and my reason for asking the question at meetings, or of audiences, is if you haven’t read it, I really recommend you to do so, and if you have then take another look.

Geoffrey Moore defined a moment when a technology, and possibly a market leader who has early mover advantage, crosses the chasm that separates them from being a challenger to the status quo of the market to being the accepted method with the resulting mass uptake. Virtualization and VMware is a pretty good example over the last couple of years. Right now I suspect we have two technologies at just this stage, and as is usually the case the mass entrants into the market define their offerings by comparison with the market leader as this is the most recognizable way to present their competitive product.

The first is social CRM, and the most used reference point is, with its combination of a focus on CRM itself, social networking and collaboration with Chatter, now extended with the acquisition of Radian6, and of course the platform to build and extend further differentiation. Frankly, to me thinking about it as the combination of the parts, it misses the point entirely as it makes evaluations around the way we do things today. Seen as an entity, social CRM is the transformation force for front office, i.e. everything to do with winning business externally, in much the same way as ERP became the transformation force for back office automation and efficiency.

The driving force for adoption is coming from those in the front office, who have been quietly, and unofficially adopting and applying for some time, but in the last month or two there has been the beginnings of a shift towards enterprise-wide acceptance and adoption. The real issue this brings is not the technology itself – though it is strikingly different being services deployed by the browser-cloud model that’s getting simpler – it’s cultural and organizational. A de-centralized, continuous series of small activities, continually shifting and changing using unstructured information and data, paid for on consumption, is just about as different as it’s possible to be from the centralized, big project, structured data, world of back office IT working to strictly managed budgetary constraints.

The only answer that makes sense is to recognize social CRM in its entirety, plan and organize to support a new front office role in a recognizable, cohesive framework, and don’t get caught as many did with the back office transformation with individual projects that didn’t add up, or scale up, etc. Oh and don’t miss the key point that this is likely to be built around the tablet and smartphone, not the PC!

With this in mind it can’t be a coincidence that hosted virtual machines also seem to have crossed the chasm with Amazon Web Services (AWS) being used as the competitive comparison. IBM has just shifted its position around clouds as an extension of the current computing model to launch SmartCloud, and though IBM didn’t mention its similarity in positioning to AWS in its own announcement, pretty well every press article or blog made the comparison. Gigaom published a nice easy chart to show what IBM is offering under the title; ‘Watch out World: IBM finally offers a real cloud’ with the warning that IBM would prove to be a formidable competitor now it was in the game.

Dell reinforced its position, which it has been building over the last year by announcing in the same week as IBM SmartCloud, a $1 billion investment program to build ten new data centers globally to support its Dell Services business. And this was described in a broader context in a good piece by Information Week. Gartner waded in to state that it believes that the market for providing infrastructure as a cloud service will rise from $3.7 billion this year to $10.5 billion in 2014.

All good stuff, but down in the small print of the Dell announcement was something very important about all of this, it even got missed in most of the coverage. Steve Schuckenbrock, the Dell Service VP making the press announcement, casually mentioned that Dell saw a future of virtual PCs. Go back to a front office on tablets or smartphones and ask the question of how to connect and support with the traditional IT or even personal computing, and a virtual PC looks like the next iteration for virtual machines.