Business · Cloud · Data

Amazon drives cloud innovation toward the enterprise

 

Amazon continues to drive forward with innovation at a blistering pace. At their annual re:Invent confab, Amazon announced dozens of products to an audience of over 30,000 attendees. There are plenty of newsworthy posts outlining the specific announcements including Amazon’s own re:Invent website. However, there are several announcements that specifically address the growing enterprise demand for cloud computing resources.

INNOVATION AT A RAPID SCALE

One thing that stuck out at the conference was the rate in which Amazon is innovating. Amazon is innovating so fast it is often hard to keep up with the changes. On one hand, it helps Amazon check the boxes when compared against other products. On the other hand, new products like Amazon Rekognition, Polly and Lex demonstrate the level of sophistication that Amazon can bring to market beyond simple infrastructure services. By leveraging their internal expertise in AI and Machine Learning, Amazon’s challenge is one of productizing the solutions.

The sheer number of new, innovative solutions is remarkable but makes it hard to keep track of the best solutions to use for different situations. In addition, it creates a bulging portfolio of services like that of its traditional corporate software competitors.

As an enterprise uses more of Amazon’s products, the fear of lock-in grows. Should this be a concern to either Amazon or potential enterprise customers? Read my post: Is the concept of enterprise lock in a red herring? Lock in is a reality across cloud providers today, not just Amazon. Building solutions for one platform does not provide for easy migration to competing solutions. Innovation is a good thing, but does come at a cost.

DRIVING TOWARD THE EDGE

There are two issues that challenge enterprises evaluating the potential of cloud computing. One challenge is the delivery mechanism. Not all applications are well suited for a centralized cloud-based delivery approach. There are use cases in just about every industry where computing is best suited at the edge. The concept of hybrid cloud computing is one way to address it. At re:Invent, Amazon announced Greengrass which moves the computing capability of Amazon’s Lambda function to a device. At the extreme, Greengrass enables the ability to embed cloud computing functions on a chip.

Moving cloud functionality to the edge is one issue. A second perspective is that it signals Amazon’s acknowledgement that not all roads end with public cloud. The reality is that most industries have use cases where centralized cloud computing is simply not an option. One example, of many, is processing at a remote location. Backhauling data to the cloud for processing is not a viable option. In addition, Internet of Things (IoT) is presenting opportunities and challenges for cloud. The combination of Greengrass and, also announced, Snowball Edge extend Amazon’s reach to the edge of the computing landscape.

AS THE SNOWBALL ROLLS DOWNHILL…

As a snowball rolls downhill, it grows in size. Last year, Amazon announced the data storage onboarding appliance, Snowball. Since last year’s re:Invent, Amazon found customers were using Snowball in numbers exceeding expectations. In addition to the sheer number of Snowball devices, customers are moving larger quantities of data onto Amazon’s cloud. Keep in mind it is still faster to move large quantities of data via truck than over the wire. To address this increase in demand, Amazon drove an 18-wheeled semi-truck and trailer on stage to announce Amazon Snowmobile. While everyone thought it was a gimmick, it is quite real. Essentially, Snowmobile is a semi-trailer that houses a massive storage-focused data center. From an enterprise perspective, this addresses one of the core challenges to moving applications to cloud: how to move the data…and lots of it.

IS AMAZON READY FOR ENTERPRISE?

With the announcements made to date, is Amazon truly ready for enterprise demand? Amazon is the clear leader for public cloud services today. They squarely captured the webscale and startup markets. However, a much larger market is still relatively untapped: Enterprises. Unlike the webscale and startup markets, the enterprise market is both exponentially larger and incredibly more complex. Many of these issues are addressed in Eight ways enterprises struggle with public cloud. For any cloud provider, understanding the enterprise is the first of several steps. A second step is in providing products and services that help enterprises with the onboarding process. As an analogy: Building a beautiful highway is one thing. When you ask drivers to build their own onramps, it creates a significant hurdle to adoption. This is precisely the issue for enterprises when it comes to public cloud. Getting from here to there is not a trivial step.

amazon-enterprise-cloud-gap

To counter the enterprise challenges, Amazon is taking steps in the direction of the enterprise. First is the fundamental design of their data centers and network. Amazon understands that enterprises are looking for data center redundancy. One way they address this is by maintaining multiple data centers in each location. After learning about the thoughts and reasons behind some of their strategic decisions, it’s clear there is quite a bit of deep thinking that goes into decisions. That will bode well for enterprises. Second, Amazon announced their partnership with VMware. I addressed my thoughts on the partnership here: VMware and Amazon AWS Partnership: An Enterprise Perspective. A third step is Amazon’s AWS Migration Acceleration Program. This program is led by a former CIO and directly targets enterprises looking to adopt Amazon’s services. In addition to their internal migration organization, Amazon is building out their partner program to increase the number of partners helping enterprises migrate their applications to Amazon.

ALL ROADS DO NOT LEAD TO PUBLIC CLOUD

Even with all the work Amazon is doing to woo enterprise customers, significant challenges exist. Many assume that all roads lead to public cloud. This statement overstates the reality of how companies need to consume computing resources. There are several paths and outcomes supporting the reality of enterprise computing environments.

How Amazon addresses those concerns will directly impact their success in the enterprise market. Amazon is closing the gap, but so are competitors like Microsoft and others.

Business · CIO · Cloud · IoT

The five most popular posts of 2016

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While 2016 is quickly coming to a close, it offers plenty to reflect on. For the CIO, IT organizations and leaders who work with technology, 2016 offered a glimpse into the future and the cadence in which it takes. We learned how different industries, behaviors and technologies are impacting business decisions, societal norms and economic drivers.

Looking back on 2016, here is a list of the top-5 posts on AVOA.com.

#5: Understanding the five tiers of IoT core architecture

In this July post, I suggest an architecture to model IoT design and thinking.

#4: Changing the language of IT: 3 things that start with the CIO

This May post attracted a ton of attention from CIOs (and non-CIOs) as part of their transformation journey.

#3: IT transformation is difficult, if not impossible, without cloud

Another May post on the importance of the intersection between transformation and cloud.

#2: Microsoft Azure Stack fills a major gap for enterprise hybrid cloud

Only one of two top-five vendor-related posts digs into the importance of Microsoft’s hybrid cloud play.

And the #1 post…

#1: Is HPE headed toward extinction

This provocative post looks at business decisions by HPE and how they impact the enterprise buyer.

2017 is already shaping up nicely with plenty of change coming. And with that, I close out 2016 wishing you a very Happy New Year and an even better 2017!

CIO

Understanding the Communications Conundrum: What is the goal?

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For years now, different communications solutions have come and gone. Just about every major enterprise player has had a solution at one time or another. Looking back, we started with relatively primitive solutions to communicate between coworkers. Then came email. Email became, and remains, the de-facto standard to communicate between individuals and teams.

Since the dawn of email some 20 years ago, other solutions have attempted to augment and/or replace email. Collaboration became the goal of many tools beyond just simple communication.

THE VALUE AND DOWNFALL OF TOOLS

First there were simple chat tools that allowed individuals to chat with other individuals and groups. Over time, their sophistication increased. From individual 3rd party solutions to integrated solutions that supported chat within an app, we have seen a myriad of different solutions come and go. In the end, the true value of these solutions was not fully achieved.

Many talk about how more recent tools will replace email. One of the most recent darlings is Slack. Slack is a tool that allows group to create communication channels in which to collaborate. While Slack is a cool product, it doesn’t really address many of the communications issues. In essence, much of how Slack is used can be done in email. Yet, it becomes one more place to check, beep to interrupt you, tool to manage, etc. Extrapolate that to the number of tools in use at each corporate enterprise today and one quickly sees the challenge.

NEXT UP: MICROSOFT TEAMS

On November 2, 2016, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workspace in Office 365. On the surface, Teams appears to be yet another tool and means for corporate users to collaborate. However, Teams brings something new to the collaboration space. Instead of a 3rd party tool that integrates (or doesn’t) with existing productivity tools, Teams is core to the Microsoft productivity toolset using Office 365. Core integration with productivity tools is key. Note: Teams is only in private preview today and we will have to see how this plays out.

UNDERSTANDING THE COMMUNICATION CONUNDRUM

So, will products like Slack, Teams or other solutions ultimately change the collaboration space? The first thing is to understand how communications take place. Different individuals and teams communicate differently. When mapping that against solutions, here are some considerations:

  1. Email Replacement: Are we really looking to replace email? If so, that changes the needs considerably. If not, then a solution must provide demonstrative value beyond just the surface offering.
  2. Value Proposition: It is important to understand the problem being solved for. Is this the next bright-shiny-object or a solid solution that produces clear value?
  3. Integration: Integration and back-of-office functions are a fundamental issue for collaboration tools. They need to seamlessly integrate into the existing productivity solutions in use. Each of these hurdles is yet another reason not to use a given tool.
  4. Ease of Use: Ease of use falls right in line with integration. If a solution is not intuitive nor valuable to users, it will quickly be abandoned. Integration and ease of use are key.
  5. Workflow: How well does the solution fit into existing business workflows? Ideally, it molds nicely without creating significant upheaval.
  6. Business Centric: Is the solution focused on solving a business problem or creating a ‘cool’ new tool? The former has more potential than the latter. Unfortunately, the latter often leads to distractions that take away from the core issue.

Before jumping into another solution, it is important to consider these aspects. We don’t need another tool. We are already jumping from one tool to another which leads to lost productivity while teams learn how to use the next tool.

Focus on problem being solved for and the solutions will start to present themselves. Reducing the friction to use solutions is a huge opportunity for another of the providers.

CIO

Shifting the mindset from projects to products

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A recent post on changing the language of IT is getting quite a bit of attention among CIOs. Continuing the theme around changing the language and culture of IT, we shift gears to the mindset of projects and products. For decades, the IT mantra has been to complete projects on-time and under budget. While this may have worked well in the past, moving forward it inhibits the very core of how we deliver solutions on many different levels. Let us take a look at this a bit deeper to appreciate the challenges in project thinking and opportunities that come from a mindset shift to product thinking.

THINKING LIKE A PROJECT

The very core of project thinking considers a discrete ‘thing’, which is represented as the project and has a specific start, end and deliverable. Project thinking brings significant focus to the deliverable and parameters that support the deliverable. That can be a good thing. However, in practice, it often means too much focus. Yes, there is such a thing as too much focus. Have you heard of the phrase “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” Some of the same principles apply here.

Part of the problem has to do with timeframes. Projects can last from weeks to years. The longer the project, the bigger the issue. Over a period of time, dynamics change. Companies change. Their needs change. Even the very reasons for starting a given project may change…or worse, disappear. Yet, many still get stuck in the mantra of delivering the project on-time and under budget. Even if that means that the deliverables are no longer relevant or the needs have changed.

It is not just the project thinking that needs to change. Projects do not happen in a vacuum. The way budgets are constructed, management is organized, and objectives are set all center around project based thinking. Like many things in the complex world of IT, projects are only one facet of a broader ball of yarn that needs to evolve.

THINKING LIKE A PRODUCT

A good alternative to project based thinking is product based thinking. Many of the same metrics for projects apply to products. The one stark difference is that products evolve over time. Put a different way, products are constantly evolving (or should be) to remain relevant. Projects are very different in this way.

The constant change of a product forces a shift in thinking around remaining relevant through the different phases of the product development and lifecycle. Even the terms shift to an evolutionary focus.

By changing the paradigm to a product based one, the thinking changes in two ways: 1) There is a constant awareness to remain relevant throughout the development and shifting gears as needed and 2) products have an ongoing lifecycle process versus the start/ end focus on a project. The product based thinking forces a whole new set of questions like: How long will the product be in use (lifecycle)? What choices are implemented now in anticipation of future versions of the product? These two questions have a dramatic impact on choices made in the current phase of the product.

MANAGING THE LIFECYCLE

The lifecycle of a product can be applied to any application or service within an IT organization and their portfolio. For example, take something as benign and simple as Microsoft Exchange email. If Microsoft updates Exchange every 18 months and it takes the IT organization six months to plan an evaluation and/or upgrade, then every 12 months an evaluation is started to determine if the service (email) is a) upgraded to the latest version of Exchange, b) migrated to a different solution or c) retired from service.

In project based thinking, one might only be focused on the upgrade of Exchange irrespective of the implications to the lifecycle. There are also implications to the IT application/ service portfolio, but that is a whole discussion on itself.

MISSING THE LOST OPPORTUNITY

Are projects bad? No. But they are missing a vital component that is a critical component of products: Context. Whether it is the time that resources are committed to a project or the cost to engage the project, there is a value component that comes with greater insight to context. A project might miss a significant opportunity while a product could seize the opportunity. One side benefit is that IT portfolio management becomes a whole lot easier using this methodology.

Shifting the mindset from project based to product based creates a significant shift in the IT culture and thinking that aligns more fully with business value. It creates agility and engagement in ways not possible with project based thinking. As business value shifts, so does the product. As customer needs change, so does the product.

Moving IT from a project based methodology to a product based methodology is yet another significant step in changing the language and culture of IT.

CIO · Cloud · Data · IoT

2016 is the year of data and relevance

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Over the past few years, I have outlined my thoughts for the upcoming year. You can read those from past years here:

Cloud Predictions for 2013 (12/14/12)

CIO Predictions for 2014 (12/20/13)

5 things a CIO wishes for this holiday season (12/26/14)

In 2016, data and relevance will play the leading role across the industry. Data and relevance are not necessarily new, but are providing something new to each of the hot technology areas.

THE YEAR OF DATA AND RELEVANCE

Two core trends came to light during the latter half of 2015; data and relevance. While innovation and experimentation are hallmark components to growth, data and relevance lead to one clear message for 2016: Focus. And it is this very focus that will provide opportunity to buyers and providers alike.

In the past couple of years, we saw new solutions and methods to collect data. In 2016, organizations will hone their craft in how data is collected and used. This is easier said than done as there are still technological and cultural boundaries to overcome. However, 2016 brings a renewed focus on the importance of data from all aspects.

Over the same past few years, a myriad of novel and clever solutions overwhelmed us. 2016 brings forth a drive to focus on those most relevant to our needs; both today and in the future. As part of this focus, look for continued consolation.

2016 SIDENOTES

There are two areas that I suspect will influence activity among buyers and providers alike in 2016. One of those is the economic impact of changes in economies, industries and geopolitical areas. The second has more to do with the specific matchups, consolidations, mergers, acquisitions and folds that take place. The early half of 2016 should be interesting as many were already teed up in the latter half of 2015.

The hot areas for 2016 continue to be Cloud, Data, IoT, Software, Infrastructure and Security.

  • Cloud: Look for enterprises to continue their adoption of cloud as they 1) get out of the data center business and 2) provide leverage to do things not otherwise possible.
  • Data: As mentioned above, the drive for greater data consumption will continue. Look for enterprises to start to understand the relevance of data as it pertains to their business (today and in the future).
  • IoT: Enterprises across a wide range of industries are looking to capitalize on the Internet of Things movement. The value and interest in IoT will only continue to grow through 2016 as enterprises find novel ways to leverage IoT to grow their business.
  • Software: The world of enterprise software continues to evolve. Enterprises continue to move away from large, monolithic applications to applications more directly focused on their industry or area of need. This presents a great opportunity for incumbent enterprise players as much as new entrants.
  • Infrastructure: The infrastructure world is being turned on its head and for good reason. Look for changes in the paradigm of how infrastructure is leveraged. The need for infrastructure is not going away…but how it is consumed is completely changing.
  • Security: While a perennial subject, look for security to weave a path through each of the areas above as organizations begin to focus on how to best leverage (and protect) their assets. For many, their core asset is data.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! HERE’S TO A PROSPEROUS 2016!!!

We all have quite a bit to look forward to in 2016! Change is in the wind and it will continue to provide us with opportunity. Here’s to it bringing great tidings in 2016!

CIO

#CIOitk: Is IT still relevant? The conversation is heating up!

The subject of IT relevance is a hotly contested subject. According to Forrester, 41% of business decision-makers believe that IT is an impediment to accelerating business success. In a recent Twitter chat, the participants addressed their thoughts on the relevance and value of IT. Disconnects, disruption and shadow IT were on the minds of participants. Not far behind…the subject of organization and culture took front and stage.

Closing the chasm

It is apparent that IT needs to change…and quick. The chasm between IT and the rest of the business is growing to the breaking point. In many ways, this is where shadow IT starts. If there is such a chasm, where does the process start to decrease the gap? The key is for the CIO to step up, and take the lead in changing the culture across the organization. Ironically, many outside IT do not believe the CIO has the capacity to make the shift. I wrote about this in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race over two years ago.

Awareness is the first step

Aside from ‘who’ starts the conversation, awareness of the problem is the first step toward resolution. The shared concern is that many IT leaders 1) are not recognizing the chasm and 2) if they do, they struggle to identify the first steps to close the gap.

For too long, IT focused on history as a predictor of the future. In other words, IT leveraged best practices as a means to future guidance. Today, the game is completely different. Today, leveraging history is almost the worst thing an IT organization can do. The past is not an indicator of the future.

Today’s organization needs to heed the phrase: Disrupt or be disrupted. IT organizations that are comfortable are those most likely to get disrupted by competitors.

Respecting the legacy

Don’t get me wrong. The legacy thinking (ie: culture, process, etc) and footprint are a reality within IT organizations today. That does not go away or change overnight. Equally an issue is that enterprise vendors face similar situations and are challenged to turn the corner too. This is about an evolution that needs to start picking up momentum…and quick!

Quoting the quotable

During the chat, a number of key quotable moments popped up. Here are just a few:

Bob Egan: If you’re not seeking change, there’s an issue. Drive change and live on the edge.

Mark Thiele: There is no comfort zone in IT.

Stuart Appley: Culture and trust are key points to today’s IT leaders.

After the chat, I asked the participants on Twitter two questions: 1) What was their one takeaway from the conversation and 2) what recommendation would they have?

Brian Katz

Takeaway: Shadow IT is only a problem if you look at it as Shadow IT versus Shadow Innovation. People just want to get their work done.

Recommendation: Move away from the idea that everything is a sacred cow, you have to be willing to move stuff when it makes sense.

Ryan Fay

Takeaway: IT is in a great position today to become Change Agents & partner with other business leader to create value and lead innovation. The tools to use are collaboration, authenticity, empathy & openness to change & becoming a modern CIO business authority.

Recommendation: Help give big picture recommendations to help all modern CIOs. Become business leaders and not just another IT “guy.” In order to have a seat at the ‘table’ you must be able to think and act like a business leader.

Philipe Abdoulaye

Takeaway: Consensus on agile collaboration between the business and IT is the key competitive advantage.

Recommendation: A model of the new style of IT is needed. Example of such a model is the Complete ITaaS Delivery Model.

Kong Yang

Takeaway: If disruptive innovation creates new business opportunities, then IT must realize innovation without disrupting themselves in order to succeed.

Recommendation: IT leaders must bridge the gap from IT Ops to business utility and show tangible ROI. Plus, have a plan to deal with industry changing technologies.

Charles Dunkley

Takeaway: Be willing to take risks to grow.

Recommendation: C-Suite could better leverage IT staff hands on insight to social and cloud tools.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that IT has a significant challenge ahead. With the advent of cloud, DevOps, containers and new service offerings, IT now has the tools to leverage a change in process and culture. To be clear, these are just tools for leverage, not the solution. Look for opportunities to drive change and disruption.

Scroll the credits…

First, thank you to the four colleagues whom developed the idea and questions for the #CIOitk discussion on IT Relevance:

Stuart Appley (@sappley) Post: Yes – IT is still relevant

Bob Egan (@bobegan)

Amy Hermes (@amyhermes)

Mark Thiele (@mthiele10) Post: IT is more relevant than ever – at least it can be

Second, another thank you to all that joined the #CIOitk conversation on Twitter. Without you, there would be no conversation. Speaking of conversations, let’s keep it going! What are your thoughts? Is IT relevant and how is that changing over time? Join the chat at #CIOitk.

Business

Acquisitions are key for enterprise providers, but strategies are killing innovation

Over the course of a career, employees may take part in one or two acquisitions. Over the course of my career, I was part of the core team for more than a dozen acquisitions and mergers. Gaining access to such a high volume of transactions and from both sides (acquirer and acquired) provides a unique view of the process. And those numbers do not count the number of deals where due diligence was performed but the transaction ultimately did not proceed forward. Over the course of each transaction, the good, bad, ugly takes a whole new form.

It is no secret that large enterprise providers need a healthy funnel of acquisition targets that lead to deals in order to remain relevant. Smaller startups are driving toward being the next acquisition target. That part of the story is going pretty well. What happens next is where the train falls off the track.

Acquisition vs. internal development

If acquisitions are so problematic, why bother? There are several schools of thought here. One is that internal development may provide a more specific solution to support the business strategy. The challenge is that the company would need to start several initiatives to determine which one will ultimately pan out. This approach takes time, resources and money along with introducing risk. Of the five different research projects, maybe only one makes it. The other four go nowhere.

The alternative is to let startups develop the solutions and ‘test’ the market. Once a solution is proven to succeed, then the company can swoop in and acquire the solution. That seems like a great approach, but is fraught with risk, a premium on the acquisition and ultimately, potential failure.

The process of acquisition

Acquisitions are a hard. It is a form of courtship at a corporate level. There is a sort of dance that companies go through during the courting, due diligence and acquisition process. Each tries to entice the other while trying to fully understand the other party. And like relationships, it may look good on paper, but without good chemistry, the entire thing falls apart.

Goliath learning from David

In most strategies, the acquiring company is the larger and more established of the two. The larger firm looks at ways to ‘integrate’ the smaller one into their collective and portfolio. There are good reasons to take this approach: Scaling, established processes, larger customer footprint, etc. For the smaller acquisition target, these are all enticing traits to immediately gain access to.

The problem is when the smaller organization is made to operate just like the larger one. When the processes and (often) bureaucracy of the larger organization descend on the smaller organization, the innovation process starts to grind to a halt. Staff and customers that were once used to an agile, innovative company are now working with a larger, process-driven organization.

Goliath is taking over David. However, the process needs to work in the other direction. Goliath needs to learn from David to evolve and stay relevant. Yes, this is possible! In my past, we evaluated learning opportunities from the acquisition target. How could we evolve our company to leverage components as part of the process? Essentially, how do we leverage the best of both worlds?

Changing the acquisition strategy

Is it possible to avoiding killing innovation through acquisition? Absolutely! It does not matter whether the acquisition strategy is portfolio driven, gaining market share or customers, acquiring technology or an acqui-hire. All of them can leverage a Goliath-learning-from-David approach.

If the process is not changed, innovation will continue to develop outside the established enterprise providers, get acquired, then stagnate or die. This sequence is playing out over and over again with little change.

There is so much innovation happening right now in the technology industry outside of established enterprise providers. It would be a shame to see it flourish and stagnate without fully realizing it’s potential. By changing the acquisition strategy, innovation has the opportunity to fully develop and mature in a way customers are clamoring for.

If you are the acquirer, consider how to learn from David. If you are the acquisition target, consider how you could help Goliath evolve. If both sides work together, the impact and success of the acquisition will only increase.