Enterprise Software Priorities for the Next Decade

As I continue my myriad research projects this spring season I come across incredible insights from those I interview.

I have been doing a lot of work in platforms, data usage (including AI), infrastructure, and digital transformation this season (and I don’t see it slowing down, or changing, anytime soon – these are mission-critical, decade-plus initiatives for most organizations and they need to — well, compare notes.

I collect those notes and share them.  I get a ton of information that I process into insights — like, the five priorities below (collected from talking to executives in both technology and business over the last couple of months); these are guiding strategic planning for organizations :

  1. Sustainability is Job One. One of the things we learned through the decades of mainframes, client-server, and even the initial internet forays is that it is expensive to own idle equipment; when it comes to computer economics the cloud computing architecture model (including hosted solutions offered as SaaS) is far more sustainable. And that is one of the reasons we say cloud computing became a commodity across the world in the past five years: it is not only an issue of economies of scale but also of sustainability – less wasting of resources. There are virtually no organizations of any size today that don’t have a cloud strategy or initiative. The cloud adoption is being pushed by sustainability and the next decade will see an explosion of enterprise resources reallocated to it.
  2. Platforms and Leverage Are the New Normal. If you look at a three-tier cloud architecture (infrastructure, platform, and software from bottom to top)  you can easily see that although all layers have important roles to play, the middle layer (the platform-as-a-service layer) is the “busiest”. For a cloud computing architecture to effectively deliver value, the bottom layer (infrastructure) must deliver cheap, pay-as-you-go hardware, and the top layer (software) must deliver ubiquitous adaptable access – but is it the middle layer that does most of the work. This is what smart enterprises are discovering and pushing towards. Aided by vendors discovering the greater savings of delivering their applications as services on platforms we are seeing most of our clients add platforms as an investment strategy for the next three-to-five years (even if most of them are still unsure of the details of that investment).
  3. Budgets Are Different. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 made a mess of technology budgets for the enterprise. While some companies were able to spend money, budgets collapsed for the most part. I have not seen a “full” recovery on them until the last two-to-three years (2015-2016).  We are finally seeing planning that spans beyond 3-6 months in budgeting. While budgeting cycles have returned, organizations shifted the way they use them. Gone are the days of the multi-million dollar, multi-year investment; instead we see continuous, slowly progressing, ever-growing spending in partners. Budgets are coming back as piece-meal support for solutions that can prove themselves in-situ for the specific needs and set up the enterprise has. Solutions delivered today must be optimized, personalized, and catered to the specifics of the organization and adapt to the shorter business cycles we see dominating business these days.
  4. The Rise of the Citizen Programmer. The rise of SaaS and hosted applications in the first generations of cloud was in large part a gambit from business units to bypass the grip of IT on technology resources and the associated lag in getting access to data and applications. By using a hosted solution, IT had minimal involvement and the business stakeholders could quickly deploy functionality that was necessary. This was done, unfortunately, at the expense of complete data flows and integration which over time became a problem requiring the intervention of IT and a return to the centralized control (of sorts). Forward a few years and vendors are finding a way to provide business users with direct access to programming interfaces to build their own apps for mobile devices, visualize data, and improve processes with minimal or no training; we have shifted the term to no-code/low-code, but the sentiment is the same. This trend is just starting to get a foothold in enterprise software but is already driving innovation among its vendors and changing the way mobile solutions are deployed in the enterprise.  Alas, as CIOs settle into their mandates to integrate all cloud into a single platform that can play in open cloud models, this is a far more needed trend.
  5. Software Suites Are Dead. The late 1990s (for client-server) and early 2000s (SaaS and internet-based) saw the explosion of software suites by either organic growth or acquisition. The poster child for this move was CRM and the aggregation of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service (and all associated functionality) into a single suite – quickly followed by others (like SCM, and ERP among others). The shift to the cloud and platforms (point 2 above) is making Suites obsolete. The best feature of deploying a platform is the ability to aggregate several services from (potentially different) providers (including those competing with the same functionality) into a single interface (developed by citizen programmers) as needed. While most organizations are moving in that direction and we will continue to see movement in that arena, the start of the end for all suites is already evident as shown by the early adopters of three-tier cloud computing models for enterprise software. As the largest and most advanced cloud-based vendors move forward they are making platforms the preferred deployment choice – and with them yielding the death of the suite (some of them, don’t even realize it).

The summary of these spending priorities is quite simple: leverage existing investment, focus on agility and deliver quickly what’s necessary for an organization to compete effectively today and tomorrow.

Investment priorities in enterprise software are guided by these principles and by the desire to survive.

What do you think? Do you see the same? Different? What did I miss?