It’s a bit weird editing this more or less complete post 18 months later but this is a follow on to my previous posts here and here. In those posts I discussed the need for much greater agility to cope with an increasingly unpredictable world and ran through the ways in which we can industrialise IT provision to focus on tangible business value and rapid realisation of business capability. This story relied upon the core notion that technology is no longer a differentiator in and of itself and thus we just need workable patterns that meet our needs for particular classes of problem – which in turn reduces the design space we need to consider and allows increasing use of specialised platforms, templates and development tools.
In this final post I will discuss the notion that such standardisation calls into question the need to own such technology at all; essentially as platforms and tools become more standardised and available over the network so the importance of technology moves to access rather than ownership.
One of the interesting things from my perspective is that once you start to build out an asset-based business – like a service delivery platform – it quickly becomes subject to economies of scale.
It is rapidly becoming plain, therefore, that game changing trends such as:
- Increasing middleware consolidation around traditional ‘mega platform’ providers;
- Flexible infrastructure enabled by virtualisation technology;
- Increasingly powerful abstractions such as service-orientation;
- The growing influence of open source software and collaborating communities; and
- The massively increased interconnectivity enabled by the web.
are all going to combine to change not just the shape of the IT industry itself but increasingly all industries; essentially as IT moves to service models so organisations will need to reshape themselves to align with these new realities, both in terms of their use of IT but also in terms of finding their distinctive place within their own disaggregating business ecosystems.
From a technology perspective it is therefore clear that these forces are combinatory and lead to accelerating commoditisation. The implication of this acceleration is that decreasing differentiation should lead to increased consolidation as organisations no longer need to own and operate their own IT when such IT incurs cost and complexity penalties without delivering differentiation.
In a related way such a shift by organisations to shared IT platforms is also likely to be an amplifying trend; as we see greater platform consolidation – and hence decreasing differentiation to organisations owning their own IT – so will laggard organisations become less competitive as a result of their expensive and high drag IT relative to their low cost, fleet of foot competitors. Such organisations will then also seek to transition, eventually creating a tipping point at which ownership of IT becomes an anachronism.
From the supply perspective we can also see that as platforms become less differentiating and more commoditised they also become subject to increasing economies of scale – from an overall market perspective, therefore, offering platforms as a service becomes a far more effective use of capital than the creation and ownership of an island of IT, since scale technologies drift naturally towards consolidation. There are some implications to this for the IT industry given the share of overall IT spend that goes on repeated individual installation and consulting for software and hardware but we shall leave that for another post.
As a result of these trends it is highly likely that we will see platform as a service propositions growing in influence fairly rapidly. Initially these platforms are likely to be infrastructure-oriented and targeted at new SaaS providers or transitioning ISVs to lower the cost of entry but I believe that they will eventually expand to deliver the full business enablement support required by all organisations that need to exist in extended value webs (i.e. eventually everyone). These latter platforms will need to have all of the capabilities I discussed in the previous post and will be far beyond the technology-centric platforms envisaged by the majority of emerging platform providers today. Essentially as everybody becomes a service provider (or BPU in other terms) in their particular business ecosystem so they will need to rapidly realise, commercialise, manage and adapt the services they offer to their value webs. In this latter scenario I believe that organisations will be caught in the jaws of a vise – the unbundling of capability to SaaS or other BPU providers to allow them to specialise and optimise the overall value stream will see their residual IT costs rocket as there are less capabilities to share it around; at the same time economies of scale produced by IT service companies will see the costs of platform as a service offerings plummet and make the transition a no brainer.
So what would a global SDP look like?
Well remarkably like the one I showed in my previous posts given that I was leading up to this point, lol. The first difference is that the main bulk of the platform is now explicitly deployed in the cloud – and it’ll obviously need to scale up and down smoothly and at low cost. In addition all of the patterns that we discussed in my previous post will need to support multi-tenancy and such patterns will need to be built into the tools and factories that we will use to create systems optimised to run on our Service Delivery Platform.
At the same time the service factory becomes a way of enabling the broadest range of stakeholders to rapidly and reliably create services and applications that can be deployed to our platform – in fact it moves from being “just” an interesting set of tools to support industrialised capability realisation to being one of the main battlegrounds for PaaS providers trying to broaden their subscriber base by increasing the fidelity of realisation and reducing the barrier of entry to the lowest level possible.
Together the cloud platform and associated service factory will be the clear option of choice for most organisations, since it will yield the greatest economies of scale to the people using it.
One last element on this diagram that differentiates it from the earlier one is the on-premise ‘customer service platform’. In this context there is still a belief in many quarters that organisations will not want to physically share space and hardware with other people – they may be less mature, they may not trust sufficiently or they may genuinely have reasons why their data and services are so important that they are willing to pay to host them separately. In the long term I do not subscribe to this view and to me the notion of ‘private clouds’ – outside of perhaps government and military use cases – is oxymoronic and at best a transitional situation as people learn to trust public infrastructures. On the other hand whilst this may be playing with semantics I can see the case for ‘virtual private clouds’ (i.e. logically ring fenced areas of public clouds) that give the appearance and majority of benefits of being private through ‘soft’ partitioning (i.e. through logical security mechanisms) whilst allowing the retention of economies of scale through avoidance ‘hard’ partitioning (i.e. through separate physical infrastructure). Indeed I would state that such mechanisms for making platforms appear private (including whitelabelling capabilities) will be necessary to support the branding requirements of resellers, systems integrators and end organisations. For the sake of completeness, however, I would position transitional ‘private clouds’ as reduced functionality versions of a Service Delivery Platform that simply package up some hardware but leave the majority of the operational and business support – along with things like backup and failover – back at the main data centres of the provider in order to create an acceptable trade-off in cost.
So in this final post I have touched on some of the wider changes that are an implication of technology commoditisation and the industrialisation of service realisation. For completeness I’ll recap the main messages from the three posts:
- In post one I discussed how businesses are going to be forced to become much more aware of their business capabilities – and their value – by the increasingly networked and global nature of business ecosystems. As a result they will be driven to concentrate very hard on realising their differentiating capabilities as quickly, flexibly and cost effectively as possible; in addition they will need to deliver these capabilities with stringent metrics. This has some serious implications for the IT industry as we will need to shift away from a technology focus (where the client has to discover the value as a hit and miss emergent process) to one where we can demonstrate a much more mature, reliable and outcome based proposition. To do this we’ll need to build the platforms to realise capabilities effectively and in the broadest sense.
- In post two I discussed how industrialisation is the creation and consistent application of known patterns, processes and infrastructures to increase repeatability and reliability. We might sacrifice some flexibility but increasing commoditisation of technology makes this far less important than cost effectiveness and reliability. When industrialising you need to understand your end to end process and then do the nasty bit – bottom up in excruciating detail.
- Finally in post three I have discussed my belief that increasing standardisation of technology will lead to accelerating platform consolidation. Essentially as technology becomes less differentiating and subject to economies of scale it’s likely that IT ownership and management will be less attractive. I believe, therefore, that we will see increasing and accelerating activity in the global Service Delivery Platform arena and that IT organisations and their customers need to have serious, robust and viable strategies to transition their business models.