Are the new technologies of cloud, mobility, and big data in particular, as many in IT would say, an evolution of what we do today? Or is there a game-changing revolution in play as many in the business world seem to think?

As with all such statements it’s a too simplistic generalization, but it does sum up the current mood which is a mixture of confusion as to whether the new technologies of cloud, mobility, and big data in particular are, as many in IT would say, an evolution of what we do today, or there is a game-changing revolution in play as many in the business world seem to think. If you are from the IT side then you may be surprised, shocked even, to see how the business press is engaging with business managers on how technology is a game-changer. No less a true business magazine than The Economist has been running an online debate entitled; ‘Personal Computing; this house believes we are now in a post-PC world’.

The leaders of the ‘for’ and ‘against’ are two technology vendors, Citrix and Microsoft respectively, and there is the first real clue about this topic. Citrix is of course a thin client vendor, and Microsoft is still heavily dependent on thick clients, meaning PCs, though to be fair Microsoft does not try to deny the motion, it merely suggests that the world will contain both. Because enterprise IT as we currently understand it and use it is built on thick client, client-server applications then it’s a fair argument that we continue to need PCs, but conversely the business people, whilst acknowledging the need for enterprise IT, are looking to escape its model to take advantage of new ‘online’ business solutions. Therefore, solutions using Internet, Web, services on demand from clouds in a mobility context of devices with wireless connectivity are all based on thin clients.

It’s the term ‘solutions’ that gives the real clue to answer the question of is this a true game-change or not. Business managers use the term ‘innovation’ to define a generation of new business models that allow them to access and sell to their markets in new ways. To understand this best either read Mark W Johnson’s book Seizing the White Space and see his definition of 19 different online business models, or at least take a look at the ‘Seizing the White Space’ website. The solutions that they want to deploy are only possible because we have new capabilities by using the new technologies together with different development and deployment methods that radically change time and costs. And that brings us back to the paying ‘on demand’ against consumption both firmly allocating cost to business activities to show their true profitability, and shifting from long-term capital investment cycles to short-term operational expenditures.

All of which can be summed up in the post I made about splitting these two separate activities up and defining them as ‘inside-out’ for the role of existing IT, and ‘outside-in’ for the role that business managers want technology to play. A full explanation of this is on the CTO Blog, which includes a link to the Capgemini point of view as to how this changes solutions in the government sector, which can be used as a comparison to other sectors in the key points pretty easily.

So how do the bigger technologies look different to the two sides?

Big data from the inside-out IT side looks like the ability to use cheaper and more flexibly available Mips from virtualization with enhanced storage to be able to do better fine grained analysis on larger amounts of existing internal structured data. Viewed from business managers using an outside-in perspective it’s the possibility to use previously inaccessible data from online activities in ‘real-time’ to support decision making around external opportunities probably driven by the new generation of social CRM. It’s the same with clouds; inside-out IT sees clouds as technology to reduce cost and improve the efficiency of operating the current application-centric data center. The business manager sees clouds creating new environments in which you can interact or liaise and work with your customers or suppliers in ways that were simply not possible with closed and proprietary IT applications.

Mobility is making existing enterprise IT applications available on wireless devices under the IT management inside-out view, whereas to the business manager it’s the capability to be liberated from the PC and internal IT, and use all the new online capabilities whenever and wherever they choose. All of which can be summed up in the terms ‘consumer IT’ and ‘Bring your own’, or ‘BYO’ devices meaning that the business manager gets out of the governance straightjacket on IT and into the rich online business world versus the IT management fears of such devices being a dangerous weakness in the security governance model of internal IT applications.

No wonder the two sides are confused and in disagreement as to whether we are seeing an evolution of IT capabilities or a game-changing revolution in business capabilities to use technology. And this is not only an internal issue either as the technology vendors are split along these lines too. Apple, Google, Amazon and are all clearly driving and supporting the business managers with outside-in capabilities, and some traditional vendors are clearly looking after their traditional positioning with the IT department and the resulting installed base and license income. But this is changing as Oracle at Oracle OpenWorld introduced their Public Cloud and WebCenter suite of capabilities aimed at the outside-in market with its own sales force. SAP seems set to follow the same path with a preliminary announcement a few weeks later, and others such as EMC also straddle both sides with traditional IT storage systems as well as cloud storage for the new markets.

In summary, the answer is that both the IT and business managers’ views are correct, but only from their individual and different perspectives. The real issue is that there is a need to see each other’s perspectives and grasp how to deliver both evolutionary improvements to traditional IT justified by cost and efficiency, as well as supporting and enabling a revolutionary business use of technology in game-changing ways that increase revenues, market share, customer satisfaction, etc – truly the digital revolution of business!