The Five Supertrends of Enterprise IT

Now that SOA has become an established architectural style in enterprises around the globe, it’s time for ZapThink to expand our horizons to the broader set of challenges facing enterprise IT. Fortunately, there’s plenty of work for us to do, as we are entering a dramatic period of change that promises turmoil for the remainder of this decade. Getting our arms around such turmoil, however, is a daunting task, because there are so many threads to the story: Cloud Computing, mobile technologies, advancements in Enterprise Architecture, even the exhaustion of IPv4 as available IP addresses run out in the next year or two. ZapThink is working to help executives, architects, and everyone who counts on IT for a paycheck to navigate these turbulent waters over the next decade.

Announcing ZapThink 2020

Over the next few months, ZapThink will be rolling out a conceptual framework we call ZapThink 2020, which organizes the important trends that are facing enterprise IT today and over the next several years. The point to this exercise is to work through the interrelationships among the various threads, so that no one concept receives more than its fair share of attention. For example, the buzzword du jour is Cloud, but Cloud is a mix of different capabilities that are mostly old wine in new bottles. How will these different capabilities interrelate with everything else going on in the enterprise IT shop, as all the other stories play out and Cloud loses its luster?

In order to organize all the various stories, capabilities, and trends that play a part in the ZapThink 2020 vision, we’ll begin with five broad organizing principles we’d like to call Supertrends. Over time, we’ll fill in much of the missing detail in these Supertrends, but for now, we have a wide brush to paint the big picture. Here then are the five Supertrends of the ZapThink 2020 vision for Enterprise IT:

Location Independence

Narrowly speaking, location independence is a SOA principle, where the underlying physical implementation of a Service is abstracted from the Service itself. This abstraction is also fundamental to the virtualization inherent in Clouds, whether they be public, private, or hybrid. But there’s more to this story than virtualization; mobile presence is also a critical aspect of location independence. Think global buddy list, tied together with your mobile device, your instant messaging, and other indicators of your personal availability. If you can tell people you’re available no matter where you are, that’s part of the location independence Supertrend as well.

Global Cubicle

The Internet gave us the Global Village. Take that idea to its logical extreme and you have the Global Cubicle. Any two people anywhere in the world can work together, communicate, and socialize as though they were in the same room, or even the same cubicle. This Supertrend is over one hundred years old, as the telephone itself gave us our first glimpse of this capability. But now add the location independence from the previous Supertrend, along with ubiquitous computing (where every device is on the Internet, wired or not), combined with the power of social media to bring people together in new ways. Outsourcing and its natural successor, insourcing, become “any-sourcing” as organizations can now find expertise anywhere. And remember, as Generation Y (today’s college kids, more or less) hits the workforce, they will expect and demand a work environment aligned with the Global Cubicle.

Democratization of Technology

How do you buy IT in your organization today? Big vendors, big RFPs, big purchases, high-risk deployments, right? Well, look closer. Is anybody in your organization buying IT via a mobile app store? Or how about provisioning an ad hoc Cloud instance using a personal credit card? Or maybe downloading a free piece of software? This bottom-up acquisition of IT is fast becoming the norm as the subscription-based pricing of SaaS meets open source meets the app store model. Who’ll be left out in the cold? The traditional enterprise app vendors.

Deep Interoperability

Yes, this should work with that. That’s why we have open standards, after all. If everybody supports Web Services or REST or what have you, then we should have product-to-product interoperability. Unfortunately, today’s reality falls far short of the promise of open standards.

But even so, we want more, much more. Remember how modems used to negotiate back in the day? One modem would call another and tell it how fast it could go. The receiving modem would respond with the fastest it could communicate. The two modems would negotiate, gradually proposing slower speeds until they could establish a solid connection.

Take the one-dimensional idea from the modem world of the 1980s and apply it to the multidimensional world of enterprise IT, where any two pieces of software automatically negotiate with each other to establish seamless interoperability. We have the technology now to achieve this goal, but the only way vendors will put in the effort to make deep interoperability a reality is if we stop buying software that doesn’t offer this capability.

Complex Systems Engineering

ZapThink has covered the importance of complex systems theory in the context of SOA in many ZapFlashes, but the story goes well beyond SOA. To achieve true agility, organizations must rethink integration entirely. Governance now becomes the new mantra instead of integration. Chief Information Officers become Chief Governance Officers. Static Enterprise Architecture frameworks give way to continuous business transformation best practices. Business Process Management finally leaves the realm of the integration vendors (who never got it right anyway), as organizations begin truly managing their business processes in order to achieve their goals in the context of an ever-changing business environment.

The ZapThink Take

ZapThink 2020 is a multidimensional vision for change, and the five Supertrends are but one dimension. We’ll also be discussing crisis points that promise sudden, transformative change. Also note that SOA and Cloud are not Supertrends in and of themselves, but they weave their way across the five we’re discussing here. And perhaps most importantly, the business of IT is a critical part of the ZapThink 2020 story, as how organizations spend money on IT will continue to undergo radical change over the next ten years.

ZapThink 2020 also heralds an important transition for ZapThink, as we move to our fourth focus area over the history of our company. We’re still the SOA guys, not to worry, and our LZA SOA course will continue as long as there’s a demand for it. But just as we moved from XML to Web Services to SOA, we’re now moving to the broad-based, continuous business transformation that enterprise IT must enable over the next ten years. Stay tuned, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but ZapThink will continue to help you navigate the rapids.