Friday, July 31, 2009

Examining CIOs Vision of the Ambient Enterprise Against Gartner’s Top Ten Technology Trends

Not much happens in the IT World without “Gartner’s blessing.” Vendor’s don’t build products and IT organizations don’t buy them. If some phenomenon does bubble up without their blessing, you can be sure it will make a future Magic Quadrant or the next version of the ‘Top 10 Strategic Technologies List.’

As the leading IT analyst organization, Gartner’s list of top ten strategic technologies receives close scrutiny. The Gartner top ten list for 2009 includes: “Virtualization, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Green IT, Unified Communications, Social Software and Social Networking, Web Oriented Architecture, Enterprise Mashups, Specialized Systems, and Servers – Beyond Blades.”

In order for Gartner to play their role as well as they do, they obviously spend even more time listening than they do writing and speaking. When Gartner speaks, more often than not, they are representing the voice of collective wisdom for vendors, enterprises and their own internal oracles. CIOs attempting to captain their IT strategies through tumultuous times are risk averse, cost sensitive to human resources needs and legacy maintenance, all the while concerned about inability to compete with possible brain drain to more agile competitors sporting more innovative strategies. The pressure is great to figure out the trends, stay on top of them, and find a vision that will steer the IT ship through the storm. Finding the right balance point in this balancing act between visionary architect and risk-averse gatekeeper is how the CIO proves their value to the enterprise.

I find it interesting to look at the top ten list and ask ‘what would a business that adopted all of these trends look like?’I call it the ambient enterprise. As Oscar Berg notes in his article Ambient awareness and findability, “The concept of ambient awareness and creating an online environment which fosters ambient awareness among employees should be interesting for any organization that has a large and distributed workforce. In a way, it can be seen as a way to mimic the dynamics, efficiency and agility you can achieve quite easily in a small organization due to reach, transparency, trust and immediacy.” Let’s look at each of Gartner’s trends and see how they help to provide a clearer picture of the ambient enterprise.

Virtualization. As Giuseepe Riva, F. Valtaro and F. Davide state: “Virtualization of the elements of the world (physical resources, including wireless sensors and actuators, network infrastructure, IT resources, software and human capabilities) will allow the interaction between individuals independently of their location…” (Ambient Intelligence, p. 248). As one can see from this broad view of virtualization, the virtualizing of network infrastructure is but part of an overall virtualization that encompasses the interaction between people and systems.

Business Intelligence. The thought behind ambient business intelligence is not new. For a good example of the discussion that’s been going on for awhile, you can google Neil Raden of Hired Brains Research’s article from October 2006 on Ambient Business Intelligence where he states that “…rather than just measuring business results after-the-fact, which is the primary role of BI today, next generation BI will advise and drive businesses with embedded analytics, real-time decision tools and vastly improved capabilities for people in every corner of the organization, and beyond it. The idea of ‘Ambient Business Intelligence’ simply means that it will surround and inform, even in ways that may not be perceived directly.”

Cloud Computing. While Cloud Computing may seem like an infrastructure discussion, Gartner and others have commented clearly on the service-based nature of cloud computing. If it isn’t offered “as-a-service” then Gartner might demote it taxonomically to something less than “cloud computing.” Similarly to the connection between virtualization and ambient intelligence, one can clearly see a connection between cloud computing and the need for the ambient enterprise to access its ambience “as-a-service.” Holger Mügge et. al., who wrote “Object Technology for Ambient Intelligence and Pervasive Computing: Language Constructs and Infrastructures (Berlin: Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2007),” make this prescient point: “The idea of Ambient Intelligence is that everybody will be surrounded by a dynamically-defined processor cloud, of which the applications are expected to cooperate smoothly.”

Green IT. The ambient enterprise will be a greener enterprise than its predecessor business organizations. To a large extent, this will occur because of the broader culture shift that is driving green initiatives in business. However, there is an intrinsic attraction between ambient awareness and shared hardware resources via virtualization, cloud computing and clustered data centers. Trends like mobile, thin notebook and netbook computing should limit power demands and allow the ambient enterprise to reduce client-side power consumption while at the same time utilizing cloud computing to reduce overall server side resources and energy consumption in particular.

Unified Communications. Unified communications is a set of solutions that integrate synchronous and asynchronous communication technologies. What’s the difference? The telephone is synchronous, the voicemail box is asynchronous. A fax is asynchronous. Instant messaging is synchronous. Managing multi-channel communications is not new to most enterprises, but the notion of ambient communications is that the receiver is “always on” even if it is not being observed. Providing a rational way for business users to consume all of these divergent communication technologies can be quite difficult. And of course unintentional results can sometimes follow. For example, I didn’t even remember that this blog was being consumed and reposted on the Magic Software page at FaceBook until recently, when I googled a topic and my own blog article showed up on FaceBook in the search results. Naturally, companies like Ericsson are quite interested in the topic of ambient communications. “Ambient communication is what happens when online social networks get news feeds and automatic e-mail updates, allowing users to communicate with more people more efficiently,” says a recent Ericsson blog. But they see the online world business model as more suitable to ambient communication than that of the mobile world with its per SMS fees. They know they have created a barrier, but they’re not quite sure how to overcome it.

Social Software and Social Networking. Integrating to social software, social networking and social media is becoming a top priority for CIOs seeking to carry their businesses forward in the era of Enterprise 2.0 or Web 3.0. When I first met Clara Shih, founder of FaceForce, I was impressed with her determined pursuit of integration between FaceBook and Clara is the type of person who understands the cost and complexity of aligning business strategies with the latest technology opportunities and business models. In her book, The FaceBook Era, Clara suggests that “social capital is the currency of business interactions and relationships.”

Web-Oriented Architecture. I believe it is Gartner Vice President Nick Gall who is credited with first pulling “Web-Oriented Architecture” out of the Gartner acronym machine, what does it mean? More than anything, I think it means Gartner recognized that the REST revolution was displacing SOA thinking amongst a lot of practical developers. Or perhaps, that SOA thinking just wasn’t taking hold. Regardless of the SOA vs. WOA debate, it simply underscores the nature of ambient computing in the enterprise. I believe that the need to pull resources in unstructured event-driven (i.e. ambient contexts) helps drive some of the demand for WOA.

Enterprise Mashups. With all of these ambient business processes and data flittering about, methodologies for compositing information, applications and GUIs are needed. Enterprise Mashups help to meet the need for composite services and data. Gartner has created a reference architecture and it will be interesting to see solutions emerge in this space. As my friend Avigdor Luttinger says, “I would like though to draw attention to a cool Enterprise Mashup vendor from France that virtually complies to the reference architecture and even adds legacy mashables - that’s Convertigo by” As a CIO, major concern has to be given to the need to handle legacy applications within budget constraint and despite resistance to change in some quarters.

Specialized Systems and Servers - Beyond Blades. For people like me who have emerged from the software industry, it is easy to dismiss discussions of heterogeneous systems and blades as just hardware geek talk. But in the ambient enterprise, unified communications and the open door of social networking will help to drive the need for specialized appliances or systems that can manage diverse forms of communication, and begin to provide the tagging, cataloging, filtering, archiving and security functions needed to counter or at least complement all that uncontrolled ambient enterprise.

While CIOs will view the ambient enterprise as a strategy, vendors will view the ambient enterprise as an opportunity.

As I have stated previously, the difference between the ambient enterprise and a business that simply tolerates Web 2.0 is in the degree to which the company embraces online interactivity through both a culture shift and a corresponding technical shift that incorporates the evolving semantic web and integration technologies.

The culture shift is all about embracing the ad hoc interaction of social networking, business networking, and all the myriad activities that are a part of the changing business culture: from web meetings and conferences to socially-driven searchable content and messaging to the myriad of social networking and media options.

Supporting this culture shift from an IT perspective means incorporating and mastering new technologies and developing a culture of adaptability that allows the enterprise to embrace and abandon Web 2.0 and 3.0 as needed. CIOs who embrace the ambient enterprise philosophy and find ways for unstructured ambient business processes to peacefully coexist and integrate with existing structured business processes managed by legacy systems will thrive.

Key characteristics of application platforms that serve the needs of the ambient enterprise are:

· Metadata-Centric Approach.

· Rich Internet Application Capabilities.

· Technology Agnostic.

· Mobile Ready.

Clearly, those IT organizations who wish to pursue the leading trends are going to power companies that look and feel quite different from the typical business. The ambient enterprise will be agile, better at listening, and ultimately dominate in this fast changing world.

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