Tempus fugit

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18 July 2014 | 0

Paul HearnsForget the green shoots reports, there seems to be a fairly widely held perception that the recession did not hit the IT sector here the way that it did other sections of the economy. Many IT companies, and not just the multinationals, have been doing rather well over the last few years and the trickle-down effect, success by association, or whatever you like to call it, appears to be having a rising tide effect for peripheral companies too, or those dealing with the tech sector.

A major factor in this is that as business in general recovers, the laser focus on cost has reduced significantly. No longer is the overall cost of new initiatives, whether it is developing infrastructure or increasing capability, the primary determining factor. A new set of criteria has come into play.

Having attended various seminars, events, briefings and meetings over the last few months, three major themes have emerged that trump cost as businesses gear themselves to take advantage of rising economic activity. These three things are time, intelligence and agility.

Lead time
The first one is most interesting. In speaking to Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently, when it ran its successful roadshow series in Croke Park, the company’s UK and Ireland director, Iain Gavin said that many of its customers were heavily focused on time to market and time to value. He said that from agreement to running infrastructure was as little as a day and that was a key factor for many in doing business with them.

Gavin said that there is no algorithm to compress time, and there certainly was no way to buy it, hence companies realised that anywhere in the chain that time could be saved was worthwhile. This time to value focus has also been seen elsewhere in outsourcing closer to home, or near-shoring for development purposes.

The issue of intelligence too has developed in an interesting manner. While the common approach to big data have been centred data warehousing and deploying tools to analyse and gain insights, already, certain businesses are realising that this can only go so far and that more is needed. Not more data, or more space to store it, but rather, more time.

Fast data means combining data from a variety of business systems and bringing these together to perform event processing and analytics to deliver meaningful information to the enterprise, in actual or near real time

Fast Data is the term now being coined whereby BI tools are being used to analyse fresh data in real time to extract trends and gain insights. Matt Quinn, CIO of software provider Tibco went so far as to say that big data is irrelevant to businesses as it is primarily historical and that fast data is where real competitive advantage is going to come from.

According to Tibco, the fast data concept means combining data from a variety of business systems, such as business applications, cloud services and mobile devices, and bringing these together to perform event processing and analytics to deliver meaningful information to the enterprise, in actual or near real time.

“Given today’s pace of change in business, the ability to act in context right now is more important than seeing that you should have done something different six months later,”  said Quinn.

Start-up like
The other major change for businesses now seems to be agility. And the type of agility that seems to be required is that of a start-up.

At the Google Atmosphere event in Dublin, the focus seemed to be on thinking, even in large organisations, like a start-up. But, for a company like Google, what does that mean?

It means, small teams, highly focused, with pervasive collaboration and communication. For example, until very late in the prototype stage, the Google Glass development team was 15 people. This meant that the team could work easily together, with instant communication and be able to make changes or change direction as required.

This was echoed by AWS. As Iain Massingham, technical evangelist, described the way that AWS went about developing new services, he cited what he calls the “two pizza” rule. If a team is larger than can be fed by two good sized pizzas, it is too big.

To copper fasten this focus on agility and speed, Thomas Davies, director, Northern, Central, Eastern Europe Google, in the context of the company and its rivals gave a very interesting insight.

Davies said that Google has a deep respect for industry stalwarts, companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, but it does not fear them.

“Who do we fear? We fear the next start-up,” said Davies.

The fear
He went on to explain that disruptive technologies and business models are far more damaging and can have greater effects than mere competition, citing the likes of Uber and AirBnB

“Once a business has been disrupted, it is almost impossible for an incumbent to regain market share,” he said.

This idea of agility applies not only to the development of new services or products, but rather there was a consensus that if an organisation was unable to react quickly enough to the insights gained from fast data, or customer feedback or even till receipts at the end of the day, then it is all for naught.

Agility is as much about being able to adapt to market changes as it is to innovate in products and services.

These developments lead to some interesting conclusions. So, as our feature this month reinforces, every business is now a digital, and every business must now think about new initiatives as if it was a start-up. Each business must ask the question, how would we do this is we were not us? How would we do this if we were starting tabula rasa?

Widely applied
With those questions answered, the thinking must be continued and applied more widely. We saw recently from a HP event on application lifecycle management, that Agile methodologies being deployed in IT departments to meet ever accelerating delivery cycles for development need to be adopted in business units to be able to take advantage of benefits of these rapid delivery cycles.

Business structures, processes and hierarchies need to change to be more agile or the fear is that a new entrant, or rival who has achieved this, will simply be disruptive and leave your organisation behind.

And all of this of course, takes place amid the context of the immutable nature of time, as highlighted earlier, and suddenly cost is the least worry.



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