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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: October 2008

Business evolution

October 2008

New web technologies, open source and a number of other factors are changing the way we work. Key trends need to be accommodated in the modern workplace, while protecting business interests.

Several key trends are bearing down on the modern business and changing the way the organisation interacts and transacts. Business is evolving in terms of its technology and the way that consumerism is driving new tools and solutions for business. Employees have sophisticated technology stacks at home and are not afraid of trying out new software and services. They expect the same at work.
Gartner recognises ‘five major mutually reinforcing discontinuities’ that are changing the way we work. They are software as a service, open source, Web 2.0, consumerisation and ‘global class applications and systems technologies’. These trends feed each other and offer both opportunities and threats for business.
Ploughing ahead
Largely, one of the dynamics emerging in the modern workplace is employees taking things into their own hands in terms of technology.
“Business units are becoming more independent,” says Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann. “Workers are able to use free or cheap consumer services to get things done. They do not have to wait for the IT department.”
This is driving fundamental changes into business models and budgets.
“The concern this raises is in terms of where data is held,” explains Mann. “Many of the services being used are in other countries. Do you really want your data leaving the organisation, or your country?”
Cloud computing is increasing in use, like it or not, and offers high value to businesses looking to escape the bonds of owning their own infrastructure and having to keep it up to date. Mann therefore suggests that attitudes surrounding location need to change.
“Do you trust your suppliers?” he asks. “And if so then that trust needs to go further than it does right now in terms of these new applications and services.”
That is not to say that shifting your approach will be easy.
“Most IT professionals want the world to proceed in an orderly, incremental fashion, with no massive overnight changes and plenty of time to adapt to external change,” says Mann.
“Significant discontinuities can be a nightmare. For example, when assumptions about the useful life of an asset shift early in a project, plummeting from years to months, investors can be ruined, and people can lose their jobs. Any of the five major intersecting discontinuities on the horizon can upset the balance of power between users and their IT organisations. And they amplify each other.”
Time to get over Web 2.0
As one of these discontinuities, Web 2.0 is much talked about in terms of business. The new web is not complicated, but is made so by the legion of consultants and strategists that make their living from the market’s confusion surrounding new technologies. This is the same as what happened with service orientated architecture (SOA).
“Although the Web 2.0 name is popular and represents the Web of today, the world seems hungry for 3.0, whatever that is,” says Mann. “Although Web 2.0 suffered from being overly broad, the special interests driving the hype surrounding 3.0 have the opposite problem in that they are often too focused. Regardless of what the next big buzzword is, the Web will remain one of the major catalysts in technology and one of the major sources of innovation.
“Looking too closely at the details of Web 2.0 by examining technology, communities and business models misses the way phenomena emerge from the primordial ‘Web soup’,” he continues. “In a small-scale economy with, for example, five people in a remote farming community with no contact with other humans, there might be little need for a market economy where prices rose and fell as a function of supply and demand. The village could agree to let one person specialise in egg production and another in meat production and they could work out a meat-egg exchange policy.
“Similarly, they could figure out who would grow the wheat and provide other commodities. And that would be that. The Web has hundreds of millions of actors. Pre-ordaining form, structure, processes and so forth for all ‘social interaction sites’ would have been catastrophic for the founders of the Web. Billions of social interactions a day shape the social context of the Web. Patterns and social orders emerge, guided by the invisible hand of the social marketplace and will continue to do so as long as new sites are allowed to appear and older sites are allowed to morph with the times,” states Mann.
The emergence imperative
Given the importance placed on frameworks, emergence is therefore the most important phenomenon in this discussion. According to Mann, this refers to the free market economy setting prices, and the social market determining shape and structure.
The Web impacts on interaction, is fed by consumerisation, bolsters the demand for popular applications and services and is underpinned by the changes being brought to the entire stack by the rise of open source.
Software as a service (SaaS) is touched by all of these factors and is a culmination of where enterprise technology is going.
“The report card on SaaS is mixed,” says Mann. “In some cases, there are clear advantages such as lowered cost, improved vendor accountability, lowered barriers for entry and exit, and greater flexibility. But those advantages are situational. They will vary depending on the needs of various elements within the business. And there are risks in terms of the business goals of the provider and the consumer never being identical, the costs are not guaranteed and can escalate, and it will likely be harder to integrate SaaS-based solutions with in-house developed capabilities.”
Allowing employees, as consumers, to take the lead in terms of identifying new usable services and applications for business must seemingly be balanced with oversight from management in terms of compliance, security and future-proofing.
Opinion
Business is being changed by several factors, not least of which is the people within the organisation, as consumers, taking things into their own hands when it comes to plugging holes with new technologies. Most of these will be easily accessible online applications and services offered for free, or cheaply. It is possible for business to benefit from this dynamic, but of course key elements such as security must be maintained.


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