Maarten Balliauw {blog}

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Predictions for the future

It’s almost the end of 2011. Typically a time where bloggers start to write about their past year and what they’ll do in the next. A time where the Forrester, Gartner and McKinsey-alikes make predictions about next year. I know, normally I blog about technology in its technological sense, but today I feel like blogging about my vision on the future. Not 2012, but the future. And the present. Here’s my story in which I try to capture todays world and how this will influence technology.

The world in which we work

Let’s start with some context. I live in the wonderful country of Belgium. A small country, known for its fine chocolates and more importantly: its massive amount of fine brews like Trappists (nothing beats Rochefort 10!). Unfortunately, we are now also known and will probably end up in the Guinness Book of World Records as the country having the longest negotiations to form a government. Around 540 days between voting and formation. (and these guys now have Christmas holidays, of course). But I digress. This country is also a small part in the European crisis which involves monetary issues, banking crisis and so on. The reason? People who don’t want to take responsibilities for their actions. People who don’t want to see change, as they are in a good position. Or people who do want changes but enforce changes that are based on short-term vision. Or tunnel vision: some data required to make decisions does never ever bubble up to higher management (or isn’t cared about).

I know, this post starts to feel like a governmental rant but it isn’t. There’s more to this story: it involves all of us. It involves every single corporation with management levels and focused on making money. The problem is: the larger these companies (or countries, too) get, the more overhead is involved. This is a required step though: you don’t want your CEO to micro-manage everything, the poor guy would have no sleep, ever. What is wrong though, is most of these processes (or laws) come in place and are never optimized. Where processes should support the business in its goals, a lot of processes evolve from supporting to “business prevention”. In fact, I believe in every single country and/or enterprise, a lot of business prevention units and processes exist. And I wouldn’t be surprised that this number is a lot higher than the number of rules that support the business. I’m not saying all of this is happening intentionally, but it is happening.

I’ll give you a fine example of something I witnessed earlier and triggered me into finally writing this post. Someone at some company in a role that involves experimenting with “unapproved” tools, required a simple, clean virtual machine. A process was in place: the request for a VM should be motivated (why do you want this?). Not a problem: the why is easy. Future earnings by investing in some research. Unfortunately, the guys executing this process (your typical IT department) had several other questions. Why isn’t this approved tooling and applications? What resources do you need -oh- that’ll be difficult. Demotivation from the people executing this process. Why? Because they, too, don’t want to follow the food chain up through the organization to ask for an internal budget of, say, 250 EUR per month. A budget that already was spent informally by e-mailing and calling back-and-forth instead of just getting the damn VM in place. In fact, those external hosters with a VM for 25 EUR / month seemed attractive. 25 EUR, or even 250 EUR, for a potential future business idea? An idea that costs almost nothing but may (or may not, it depends) offer return in the future. A budget that has already been spent by just preventing this idea from happening.

Meet the next generation of workers. Many people entering these large enterprises (or becoming residents of countries, again, the same ideas apply for any organization involving more than a few people) are disappointed. Disappointed with the fact that their ideals (making the entire group of ants move forward) is tempered by that same group of ants working in the opposite direction. And the thing is: this group of ants will keep doing this as long as other groups of ants throw some meat into the ant pile. Money.

Earlier this year we’ve seen protests around the world. The Middle East protests, Occupy movements, … All sorts of people fighting against their pile of ants. In some cases this will work, in some probably not. The same happens in enterprises: people fight these business prevention processes but are fighting a fight that will never work. That’s why management layers and business prevention processes are in place.

This story may sound depressing but it isn’t. There are new ants growing to the top and more fresh ants are entering the higher regions of these management layers and business prevention units. They too are frustrated with things not happening, just because. They are trying to change all this. But unfortunately, the pace in which this happens is slow? Utterly slow.

The flipside

We are on the flipside. Companies in technology, very much focused on small layers of overhead and business prevention, are introducing new products and technologies. Tablets, “apps”. The Internet. Telecommuting as a solution to those traffic jam that only cost money and create stress and health problems. But not everyone is in that world. Yet.

People will become more vocal, that’s what we’ve seen with all the protesting. People will want to bring their own hardware to work (because it’s faster than that crappy Windows XP machine they are forced to use). People will bring tablets. People will want to work distributed, when they want and where they want. People will start placing their own goal at the same level of the goal the group of ants has: they’ll strive for personal happiness and at the same time meat for the group of ants. But in order to achieve those two goals, they’ll force change. They’ll want to get rid of business prevention processes because they cost time. And losing time means losing moments to enjoy family and friends. And the group of ants loses at the same time, too.

Now how will this change happen? Well, through consumerization and technology. Over the last years, we’ve seen people adopting the Internet. Desktops are being replaced by laptops, smartphones and tablets. People want their favorite tools, in which they can work most efficient. Just like people wearing orange socks instead of black socks. People will want to be more efficient, and their tools at hand make them feel efficient. And this continues at a higher pace than before: I see a lot of people running around with tablets. I see smartphones being used. I see social media being used as a focused and immediate communication channel to get things organized. Much like the consumerization of the governments in the Middle East, consumerization in enterprises will happen. Be prepared and focus on these things:

  • People will bring their own devices. They’ll bring in the right tool for the job. A tablet? Sure. A web browser on any device? Why not. As a company, better start preparing to become an ISP for your employees instead of an IT department doing nothing but blacklisting. People are used to this at home, so why not in the world they work in? Prediction 1: Bring your own device.
     
  • In my example earlier: people want to keep their pace. Why fight when all you need is a credit card to open up a cloud somewhere? Employees will do this. Managers as well: they too feel the fight and see easier, more efficient ways out. Why remove “your inbox is almost full” e-mails daily when there’s 25 GB of inbox space waiting to be unlocked for 5 EUR / month? Prediction 2: Cloud momentum will rise.
     
  • Silverlight is dead? The Web is dead? Apps are dead? If you’ve followed Twitter these days, those predictions were made. I say: nonsense. I see things converge. Smaller, less bloated but more agile ways of working, whether if it’s trough a small app or through a small, focused website. The actual technology will not matter, the way people work with it will. Prediction 3: UX and how we use apps will matter, technology will be supportive.
     
  • People want to work together. Move forward, together. One way of doing that is to open up your silos. Create API’s which focus on exposing information. Don’t focus on the software consuming those. Maybe it’s better to create an API instead of creating an extranet application. Let the consumers decide how they’ll work with that data. Prediction 4: API’s.
     
  • Some business models are dead. Large enterprises still exist because money keeps flowing in. But what if the consumerization stops that? Look at the music industry. People wanted fast and easy access to their music. Nothing happened in the industry. Consumers did their thing and invented things like Napster. Until one company with a fruit logo was smart enough to see a business model in this. Be prepared. Consumers, be it in their personal or work life, may no longer be happy with your business model. They’ll request change or change it themselves. If you don’t, you’ll end up like the music industry, fighting a fight that you can never win. The book industry got it right: they changed the way books are being distributed to e-book readers. Sure, there are alternative and illegal ways to read a book, but they are winning their fight. Small change but supporting the consumer. Prediction 5: Business and revenue models will (have to) change.
     
  • Smaller projects. You probably know those two-year projects were a lot of stuff gets analyzed and implemented. Project fails. 2 years of money and effort wasted. But since we don’t want to see this failure bubble up or down means that we do put this thing in production. Which forces users to start consumerizing faster. The return of the MS Access database! Prediction 6: Projects will become smaller and more focused.

Those are my predictions. And all are the result of consumerization and technology enabling people. I don’t know if 2012 will bring all of these. I do think some of them will start emerging. Be prepared for change.

PS: I promise, my next blog post will be about angle brackets again.

PS 2: I am not targeting any specific government or specific enterprise.

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