2016: The Future of Technology

2015 was an interesting year in so many ways. We’ve seen one of the largest IT players in history split themselves down the middle into a separate consumer business and enterprise business. We’ve seen the unashamed king of consumer tech try to make inroads into enterprise. We’ve seen some of the biggest spin-outs and biggest mergers of all time across different areas of the tech industry. We also celebrated the date when Marty McFly arrived in the future and imagine – the future is now!

It should really come as no surprise that science fiction would portray “futuristic” technology as being very complex, inaccessible and the domain of the select few considering their audience. The reality is far more humbling, the future of any technology is to become an integral part of life so much so that we are not required to spare even a moment’s thought about its use.

The shift away from complex, inaccessible “computer rooms” to the world of 2015, ubiquitous computing served from the “cloud” as if by magic; available anywhere, anytime, in our palm, on our wrist or at our desk changes everything.

How do you manage something that’s out of control?

When we consider how far we’ve come, one of the burning questions of 2015 is how to keep control of computing when just about anyone in your organisation can “spin up” more computer resources than most governments or research institutions would have had 10 years ago. If we’ve really made things that easy, with unlimited data, unlimited storage, unlimited processing – who pays for it? If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s not entirely different than what happened with electricity.

There was a time not long ago when no-one put any thought into electric efficiency, and anyone used as much as they wanted, lighting the entire building at any hour when anyone may be there. This changed as electricity costs soared, but the simple nature of electricity means that it will never be even a fraction as complex as cloud.

What will come next in cloud is a totally new type of cloud management platform (CMP). I envision something akin to the smart meter you’d have in a state-of-the-art home or office. Just as a good smart meter would allow you to monitor, investigate and control your energy usage room-by-room and system-by-system; this new CMP will do so for cloud. We won’t look at IT so much as a catalogue of services, but instead as a collection of application environments. Each environment will be monitored for usage, broken down by department within the business. Even more, each application environment will be cost-optimised in near-real-time ensuring that it’s running on the most appropriate platform to deliver the required minimum usable service for the lowest possible cost.

The promise of cloud in 2015 and beyond is a world where IT just works and the only question is how well you use it for real business advantage. Instead of our internal IT being the break-fix plumbers of the digital age, they’ll be the coaches and analysts of our business helping, pushing us to sell more, adapt faster, and maybe spend just a little less time working.

The rise of a new standard of literacy

In 1997 Alan Kay gave a stirring presentation titled “The computer revolution hasn’t happened yet”. Keeping in mind that this was in the midst of the .COM boom and everywhere you looked was a newly minted computer billionaire. We’re now in 2015 and I, among a few others, are pretty sure the revolution still hasn’t happened, however it sure is getting close!

There are signs that it’s begun, businesses are starting to realise that you don’t “invest” in your IT, not unless you’re a business who sells it! If your business is making cars, IT may make you a bit more efficient at it, but saying you invest in IT is like saying you invested in electric lighting or gas heating!

What you can invest in however is your people, and those people, if they can write code are like big gigantic levers! It’s code-cutters who provide the mechanical advantage to our businesses that we’ve not really had since the industrial revolution. One piece of code can impact and change the world. 2015 is seeing the dawn of the era of PaaS, where businesses of all sizes are starting to see that they should employ coders to create their competitive advantages and leave the platform, the infrastructure to an external provider. It’s not to say that everyone should right code, however any business who does not have someone employed with the express purpose of developing, customising or integrating software to gain efficiencies and competitive advantage is going to miss out.

The realm of the data scientist

With the cloud there are no more limitations on how much we can gather, and likewise we now have the processing power to crunch, transform, reduce and manipulate that data like never before. We’ve seen in recent years the emergence of the genetic scientist, that specialist who can look at the four nucleotides expressed in any lifeform and understand where that lifeform has evolved from and what it’s adapted for.

In many ways data is simpler, but in many it’s also more complex. With the incredible advances in computing made accessible via the cloud we’ll have totally new applications for data. Whether that be teaching machines to better understand and work with human language or searching billions of event logs for patterns, trends and predictions; the cloud is certainly the realm of the data scientist.

Here too we see the emergence of a new profession. While coding may become akin to basic literacy, the data scientist will remain the rare and unusual specialist.

Letting go of control

Customers today need to accept that any control they think they have over their IT is an illusion. The control the senior management thinks they have over their IT staff, the control the IT staff think they have over the systems, the control the business thinks it has over its suppliers. All a myth.

Most businesses are only just becoming aware of the degree to which everything will change in the next few years of IT. Many organisations lack the right kind of leadership to deal with the change.

IT-as-a-Service will give rise to the need to have impartial, external auditing from trusted advisors. It will also empower smart organisations to negotiate better contracts and to bring together a multi-cloud environment.

What’s our towel as we hitchhike our way into the future of cloud, IT and everything? It’s simple. The only thing that never changes, is change! Focus on change management, accept that nothing in IT will stay the same, and let the professionals worry about making it all work out in the end.

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