On Electrical Grids, Cloud, And What We Are Doing Wrong

If you read my “stuff” you know I am a very big proponent of cloud computing.

I wrote a small e-book on how to be a cloud purist (which talks about and describes the proper way to — well, cloud).

I have engaged in numerous battles and debates (both online and offline) that were lengthy and passion-filled about this topic and have always tried to approach them as a way to explain why cloud computing should be the way organizations approach their computing.

There is so much potential and value in adopting cloud computing that it is almost impossible to understand how the bastardized concepts of private-cloud and hybrid-cloud even became a reality (don’t worry, Sameer Patel – no rant about that here… fodder for another post).

In keeping with the role of “thought leader” and “visionary” often assigned to me I wanted to find a way to explain why we are not approaching cloud the right way.  Then the other day came to me in the middle of a run.  Electricity.

We take electricity for granted in this country (well, in most places around the world where a comprehensive solution exists).  We expect it to be plentiful, available, and low-cost.  We use it to power our lives, businesses, and just about everything else (including cars lately).  The true test for anything in this world is to compare it to electricity: you flip a switch and it’s there; you flip it again and it’s gone.

If you bear with me for a few minutes I can explain how we can make cloud work as electricity.

The entire US is covered by an electrical grid.  This is what makes electricity always available (or shortly after it goes out in most cases).  The grid’s purpose is to ensure easy sharing of electricity that is generated in any one region with many other regions.  It also ensures that disruptions that occur in one location don’t affect a larger area and they can be easily and fast overcome.

In the old days, before the grid existed, each town and or region needed to have their own power-generation.  A town that generated too much electricity could not “sell it” to a neighboring town (unless they laid out a cable between them – and another for every other city or region they wanted to sell it to) and would often end up being wasted (it is not possible, counter to popular sayings, to store electricity in a bottle for a long-term).

The grid that is laid out around the entire country (and parts of Canada) is used to backup power failures and ameliorate peak load usage.  It also makes it far more efficient and cheaper to operate.  It was established in the 1920s (and evolved many times since) on the same principles that made telephony and telegraphy work: sharing common infrastructure costs reduce costs and improve efficiency among the suppliers and providers.

The concept of cloud computing, based on models of distributed computing established around the same times as the electrical grid – even before computers, should work the same way.  A public network connects myriad resources (storage, computing power, services, etc.) that should be shared.  By providing a centralized set of security, management, and allocation rules enables anyone connected to that public network to use those resources.

Before the internet was the public network we could barely do cloud computing: it was a dream (if you remember, CORBA, COM/DCOM were early versions of distributed computing that failed due to the lack of a public network – think of them as “private network” technologies).  The introduction of the ubiquitous and cheap network made it possible.

And this is where the story differs.

Software vendors decided, as the electricity and telephone providers did before them, that controlling their customers (and retaining them in their own private networks somehow) was more important than building a computing grid similar to electricity.  Today, we are still undergoing that same problem.

The question that always kills me is when I hear someone ask “how many clouds do you have?”.

When we talk about cloud as if it was a storage location for files, or when we discuss how each vendor offers their own cloud (or even clouds – hybrid, private, government-only, etc.), or when we say that anyone that offers a product or service via a browser is “in the cloud” we are missing the big picture.

The public network, is not the cloud – it is the equivalent of the power lines that transverse the world (and having lived in Argentina and Roseville, CA I know power lines – trust me).

Delivering an application via a browser is not the cloud –  it is the equivalent of selling someone an electrical generator.

Hosting your own “cloud” is not the cloud – it is the equivalent of selling someone a transformer.

A cloud requires infrastructure built by each participant and common standards to support the connections between those components.  If you want to operate a power plant you better make sure you connect to the appropriate grid to take advantage of all the benefits of operating within it.  While building your own power plant for your own purposes may work for some situations not every homeowner will benefit from doing so.  Even if you have solar or wind energy in your house – you still need to connect to the grid to both sell excess production or power your house when there is no sufficient production.

The cloud is the grid that distributes all those resources so that anyone who needs them can use them with the assurance that their solution will not be “hacked”, changed, altered, or stolen.  Just like you don’t expect an electrical appliance you plug into the electrical grid to be corrupted or blown away (as long as it complies with basic standards), you expect any application you plug into the cloud to be secure and perform as expected.

That is the model we need to strive for.  Not owning electrical transformers, generators, or power lines.

Let’s build a cloud computing grid.

The Scapegoat Mentality

This is a combination between a bad Jerry Maguire scene and the conclusions of many months of conversations around many topics (yes, I woke up at 3:30 AM from a bad dream about “scapegoat” execution and had to write it and share it; I may get fired but my boss is quite understanding since he is more into results and outcomes than into looking good doing things…)

As a stream of consciousness post I may get some parts wrong (and feel free to correct or change what I say in the comments; that’s why they are there); as an observational post it is going to be a summary of the past 6-12 months of my conversations, observations, research, and work.

Here it goes.

First, we are entering what has been called many names (investment years, executions years, GSD – getting “stuff” done moments, etc.) but all points to the same: we are done talking about things and having big ideas and “thought leadership” moments and we need to make things happens. As an analyst it is a scare stage: I make my chops as a thought leader pointing to the future and what may be and now it is about to become reality.  For the next 2-5 years (and maybe longer) and as long as we don’t screw up the economy somehow we are going to have banner years of investment and implementations (and this is not just in the enterprise software world where I live – everything in the world is coming around to be at the same level).  This is what paradigm shifts and transformation looks like at the beginning.

Second, the moment of big ideas is behind us and we are to the second part of the plan: get them done.  I had the pleasure to participate in an innovation summit last week and one of the speakers was from Amazon; as he was talking he reminded me of the guiding principle that Jeff Bezos always talks about: stubborn vision, flexible execution.  We are past vision – better be formed and in place.  If you don’t know what is going to look like in 36 months right now (and can recite it with your eyes closed and backwards in 10 languages) you are too late.  You will miss the boat and be a laggard instead of a mainstream or advanced adopter. Nothing anyone can do to fix that now – you either have it (because you invested the past 18-24 months preparing) or you don’t and will implement a half-baked vision and “shoot from the hip” as you go along (not always a good idea, unless you are an itinerant execution and have succeeded at that before – but even then, weaker model than knowing where you are going).

Third, you have 18-36 months to invest and you won’t see the results until then.  You may see small incremental results before then – but not the big picture all put together.  We keep repeating obsolete (I wanted to say stupid, but don’t want to insult lots of people) phrases (culture eats execution for breakfast, relentless pursuit, passionate driving, continuous improvement and some others) spun out by pundits looking for notoriety (or should I call them ninjas and rockstars? doesn’t matter – they are still nothing more than catchphrases and sound bites) but the bottom line is that transformation is hard and will take 2-3 years to see results (note: this is better than last time we did this and took 4-5 years; cycles have greatly improved – but still takes time).

Fourth, We love to follow leaders (the real ones, not the ones that speak in platitudes and sound bites and have no idea what they are doing – but look good doing it) but I see few of them.  For all the talk for transformation of marketplaces, workplaces, and schools – they are mostly an inch deep.  There are some serious changes that happened in our societies in the past few years (online communities changed the nature of the world, everyone is more empowered with more and better access to information and knowledge, traditional models have collapsed under their own complex weight, and more like that) but very few people who totally understand and have figured out a way to carve a path forward and have people follow them.

Fifth, this is inevitable.  We are at a crossroads in history and we need to make something happen.  There is time if you want to come from behind but no more if you want to lead the early charges.  You need to have a strategy mapped out, a timeframe built up, and your key players identified already — or continue working in execution and come in as a late mainstream or laggard (and miss the opportunities and rewards of being early to market).

You are reading this and nodding along, I hope, and then you say, “fine – I believe you… but what do you want me to do?

Don’t get an scapegoat mentality.

It is tempting to put someone without understanding of how the world changed (but that talks big words and good sounding catchphrases) in charge.  A large number of organizations have done that over the past 2-3 years.  The people leading the strategies have proven they could do it in the past, or have proven they could do something in the past, and have been placed in charge.  Because they did it in the past does not mean they can do it again.  Hopefully the qualifying discriminatory stages identified people who get and set a vision (the most critical part is knowing the metrics of success and the urge to iterate instead of arriving at an end-stage) and know how to move towards that.

In spite of my hopes I am finding more and more organizations with the wrong models for implementing their transformation.

I look at organizations today and I see three things that make me believe we are more into looking for scapegoats than executing:

  1. Vision is not stubborn or is not there, but sounds like it because “we are going to transform” became the mantra (but there is no effective strategy in place to do so)
  2. The organization is the same hierarchical model as before (and usually top heavy) instead of flat and flexible
  3. The end result is measured by revenue or dollars instead of effective change accomplished

When you get to the point where you think you had to be in 2-3 years one of three things will happen:

First, you will have succeeded to reach the vision you had and learned along the way many things about how to succeed, lead, and more importantly about how to change as you go with flexible execution.  Likely things won’t look like you wanted them 100%, but you will be close and the strategy will be embraced and adopted by everyone.  And you will know it is time to iterate and move to generation 2.0 or even 3.0 of what you are working on.

Second, you will have half succeeded but realized along the way what you missed and why and will improve the vision and strategy as you go along and come up with the second or third generation of the vision – but still be around to implement it and make it work – reaping (eventually) the rewards of achieving the goal – albeit a tad later (which is fine, as long as you iterate effectively instead of “pivoting”)

Third, you will need an scapegoat.  Someone needs to be responsible for the monumental failure stage you reached and whether you remain alive as an entity or collapse and your bones are picked by the organizations in one of the two previous end results, you will need scapegoat; someone has to take the blame for the results (in spite of the many platitudes we speak lately as mantras – fail fast, learn, etc. – we are still a society that needs to points to someone or something as a failure point; its innate).

This is where this post comes in: when you find yourself at that point where you need to point to your failure point and are looking for a scapegoat (which most likely is already identified from the beginning) take the moment to do things right then: don’t just blame, but go through the previous 1,400+ words and see what you missed along the way.

It wasn’t their fault you failed as an organization, there is no a single scapegoat capable of doing that which the organization as a whole couldn’t have done.  The main failure point (and I can tell you this way before you get there) was the stubborn adherence to a business model and organizational structure instead of embracing change and flexile models.  You have a scapegoat to blame for the lack of execution – but the indicators were there way before she or he took that spot: the organization was not ready to execute and no amount of cattle prodding or pushing will change that in a short time and without modifying things and iterating as you go along.

Scapegoats are overrated.  There is no satisfaction in knowing someone is responsible for the failure (in your mind).  You still failed.  Failing fast with a responsible party does not change the outcome – you still failed. Failure is failure.

Instead of looking for an scapegoat preemptively why don’t you focus on empowering each individual in the organization to do things as they see fit, stick to your stubborn vision, and use the empowerment you effected across the organization to succeed at your own pace.

Whereas I hope few people will have implemented an “scapegoat” mentality – I know it is not true.  My hope is to change a few of those with these and subsequent writings.

Welcome to “digital transformation” (but seriously, make the conversation go beyond digital).

Ready?

ICYMM: Gartner Prophecy is Wrong (Says Someone Else)

ICYMM: Pointers to articles and posts elsewhere in the world where my work is featured.

This one is a good article that quotes me, but not based on an interview.  I really like it when someone takes my work and expands on it – it is what I always try to do.

In this case, Chris Ward from MyCustomer.com took a little bit of the work I did with IntelliResponse last year on Knowledge Management and cross-referenced that to some work that Gartner did on self-service.

In his opinion, and I kind-of agree, the present state of Knowledge Management as reflected in my research will prevent the prophecy from Gartner on self-service solutions to become reality.

Quote

“Doing self-service right means making the self-service experience available in a multitude of channels,” he states, in the report. “This appeals to a customers need for consistency of experience. Today’s best digital self-service technologies are channel agnostic, so that the customer can select the interaction channel of their preference and expect a consistent answer.”

He says that even though self-service has high adoption rates, the trends and data points will prevent it from reaching the 85% adoption that Gartner predicts by 2017.

Quote

The good news for self-service technology providers is that 64% of companies plan to invest more in self-service and extend it to other channels in the next 1 to 3 years.

He cross-references other data from different studies as well, but makes a good solid case for not reaching the goal.  Where is Knowledge Management and Self-Service adoption right now?

Read the article and find out…

What do you think? Is Gartner right? Short? Almost there?

Tell me your thoughts down below and will chat…

ICYMM: Operationalization of IT (and others) – an interview

ICYMM: In case you missed me, where I point to other places in the world where my work shows up now and then.

I have been talking about operationalization of Customer Service and other departments for about three years now, I covered a little bit of it in my last post on Business Transformation.

I had a very good discussion about it with Christine Wong  who later wrote a good article for ExpertIP.

Check it out, has a lot of the data and data points that have shown me where IT and Customer Service are going in the near future.

Thoughts? Questions? you know… down below.

Thanks for reading.

The Future of Data – An Ultra Brief Summary

I wrote a lengthy report on the future of data… due to several reasons I never got around to publishing it  (yet — I’d like to eventually, but now needs some updating).

I would like to share some excerpts from this report – such as the one below.  Please let me know your thoughts and it might encourage me to publish it (might, might, might… might).

Data has been touted over the years as many things: the blood the corporation, the main asset, the most valuable part of IT’s responsibilities – and lately as “Big Data”: a vast collection consisting of real-time data that comes from all walks of life and technology.

Regardless of how it is viewed, labeled, or categorized data remains the most important component of organizations finding and defining value for interactions between stakeholders and customers.

There are, however, two aspects that merit notice and make this very different from any other time: analytics and experiences.

The Value of Analytics

Without any processing, analysis and understanding of the hidden value inherent to data it actually is nothing more than a collection of one-and-zeroes in a storage device (or transport, if it must be interpreted life from the network as opposed to picked up from storage).  The purpose of data is to be combined with other elements, mixed-and-mashed in myriad ways, and its secrets unhidden.

This is actually one the most valuable advances of the recent years: the speed of processing, the understanding of the data, the advances in storage and management, and the better knowledge of how to manage data yielded amazing advances in real-time analytics and the use of predictive analytics (or, better yet – anticipatory analytics).

Now all we need are the tools to use it properly.

This is where most of the analytics vendors that get it are working on: data visualization, data-prep, data-scrubbing and more of those tools are losing their IT-centric, consultant-deployed models and embracing the rise of the citizen programmer.  Indeed, letting the stakeholders and the users directly access the data they need to conduct analytics and manipulate the data via graphical driven interfaces is removing the need for the “data scientist” and letting more and more organizations use their data better.

This is translating into better insights, better results, and better processes being deployed in organizations – and all this is the tip-of-the-spear for the digital transformation investments that will explode in the next few years.

All They Want is Experiences

The era of the customer is upon us.  Customers are more empowered and better prepared now that at any other time in history.  Armed with online communities, other customer’s reviews, and access to infinity resources via the internet they are smarter, better educated, and more knowledgeable than organizations.  As a result, they are calling the shots in the interactions between organizations and them: deciding when and where they interact, and (more importantly) what they want to get form the interaction.

This last point is critical: most organizations are not prepared to deliver those outcomes (in the form of experiences) because they don’t have access to the right information.

Information management I shaping up to be the critical investment priority for organization in the next decade and the three elements that make up information (data, knowledge, and content) are shaping up to get generous budgets allocated to them.

Of course, it is not simply about having the right information, or knowing where to find it, but also of making sure the right data is matched with the proper content and complemented with the necessary knowledge to provide a complete, personalized, and optimized answer to the customer’s question or inquiry.

The understanding of how information is created (how data is analyzed, knowledge generated, and content maintained at the very least) is what is going to be driving infrastructure investments for IT in the next 2-3 years (and longer) as they adjust to the new reality of having to manage information using technology.

What do you think? Am I way off?