There is a trend that suddenly jumped out of the noise at me in April 2010 and which is dramatically increasing in awareness by both business and technology people across every industry I’ve been in touch with throughout 2010.
That is the notion of what I’m calling Distributed Convergence -- a long overdue and many-headed approach to both technology deployment/integration and business activities.
What is Distributed Convergence?
On the technology side, it’s about unifying information systems into larger, end-to-end systems rather than stand-alone silos or applications, as well as embracing the distributed nature of cloud apps and mobile access.
On the business management/use side, it’s about the ability to tap into the distributed workforce, extending out into partners, suppliers and customers/consumers.
It’s about taking more, consolidating it into less, to make it capable of much more once again. The whole truly is worth more than the sum of its parts -- but it is *work* and not an off the shelf solution from Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle or anyone else.
It involves thinking of the intersection of Business and Technology (BizTech) through a set of lenses called Agile/Lean, Design Thinking, Organizational Behavior and Systems Thinking -- all distilled into the way that organizations who want to out-run their competition, and keep from falling into bankruptcy or otherwise becoming so far behind the times that they are no longer relevant.
Economic Ripples Take Time
So what’s happened in the last 2 years? In 2009, budgets were frozen or dramatically slashed, and most technology investment was at its lowest in years. Perfectly natural reaction to the economic downturn to cut and run, or duck and cover.
But beginning in September 2009, the first signs of Distributed Convergence taking hold in medium to large enterprises started to appear, and the second wave that began in April 2010 (and as a much bigger ripple) has since propelled easily 90% of the work we’ve done at Information Architected, with no signs of that stopping as we’re now booked into Q2 of 2011.
Be Skeptical, But Don’t Stand Still
Having been intimately involved in the dot-com run-up, both with software/hardware companies living in the bubble, and with solution buyers trying to make sane buying decisions in an insane world, I have a fair amount of skepticism in looking at the proposed solutions to people’s problems.
But to shoot down *all* technology and business management trends is to ignore a massive opportunity to reduce costs, cut down inefficiencies, get to market (or to internal solution) faster, and leap several generations into the future from where your organization has operated in in the past.
Wikis have been around for 15 years. How long does this technology and approach (observable work and participation architectures) have to be in place before your organization adopts it? Commercial wikis have been around for 8 years. Microblogging didn’t exist as a term until 2008, when Twitter exploded out of the gate, and even the most lagging industries have at least heard of the terms, if not understood them.
Microsoft SharePoint is now 10 years old, and has made Microsoft over a billion dollars and climbing -- yet content management of any flavor is only now beginning to catch on outside of the heavily regulated industries of pharma and financial services, into the mainstream of retail or healthcare organizations, or even in the Government sector.
Collaboration is a necessary activity for an organization, yet most people are ill-equipped to work in teams (we’re taught it’s cheating prior to entering the working world), are penalized when they don’t meet the expectations of their individual roles and not recognized for contributions to team projects or other work that’s not explicitly “their job.”
The budgeting process for technology, staffing and skills development frequently takes so long, and has to jump through so many political and financial hoops, that the ability to try “new ways of working” becomes too painful to even try, and organizations stick (for example) with Windows XP on aging machines and an array of siloed applications, while the cutting edge moves forward with cloud storage and elastic computing capabilities that are accessible on anything from thumb tops to desktops and kiosks and exposed via mashups to an infinite array of participants from their partners, suppliers and customers.
In the time it takes procurement to negotiate payment terms for an on-premise solution, and engineering has bought, installed, configured and tested an environment, a modern organization with an IT shop of 5 people can have deployed dozens of applications in service of real customer needs or internal business needs, while the shrink wrap has not yet hit the floor in the legacy environment.
The Rising Tide of Distributed Convergence
For those who have jumped out of being frozen from the fear of the economic shocks of 2008, you are already well into the future versus your competitors. Step on the gas and power up and out!
For those who have not yet been able to embrace Distributed Convergence on any level -- prepare to watch the dust cloud of your competitors as they race to the future, while you race towards obsolescence, even while standing still.
I’m not saying you should chase everything shiny and new, but if you are not taking advantage of the trends of Distributed Convergence, you are spending anything from 100 to 1000 times more money, time and effort on capabilities that others are tapping for almost no effort other than to start the experiment, and quickly learn from those experiments.
As a former CTO, the costs of standing up servers/networks compared to Akamai of 10 years ago, and the costs of Amazon and similar services now are *unbelievably* different notions of scale and possibilities.
The game is always changing, as are the rules, but that’s no excuse to sit on the sidelines. When the dome collapses, the game must go on, even if it means moving the venue.
So get going, and let us know what you’re doing to take advantage of Distributed Convergence. Success stories and failures welcomed -- it’s all a learning process.