In addition to providing free sample chapters from the latest enterprise IT and development books – this blog invites authors of IT books to submit guest posts. I’m pleased to present our first guest post from Peter Fingar, author of Dot Cloud: The 21st Century Business Platform. Enjoy this article on Cloud Computing – and be sure to download the free chapter from Peter’s book. You may leave comments for the author at the end of the article. Thanks!
Bear with me for a minute, for a little history is in order to understand where we stand in the evolution of technology today. Once upon a time, computer programmers wired boards on tabulating machines to process decks of punch cards produced by a transistorized computer that, in turn, had to be instructed in machine-like languages. The good programmers were not necessarily abstract thinkers, but they were very mechanically inclined.
From punched cards, it was on to magnetic tapes and disk drives and newfangled procedural programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Still the programmers were machine-oriented thinkers and geeks who walked around the electronic data processing (EDP) center carrying their status symbols: mag tapes.
Then, when telecommunications became more sophisticated and companies began acquiring computerized PBXs, the EDP department became the information technology (IT) department, and eventually EDP managers became IT directors. Then, oops, along came object-oriented programming (OOP) systems and a step-change in abstraction. Programming was no longer procedural. It became a request-respond world, where one, let’s say a C++ or Java object, requested and got a response from another without knowing how the other object did its thing internally.
Objects were much like actors on a stage, each with its own role and capabilities, and it was the objects’ interactions that made up a given computer program. At about the same time, the emergence of relational databases brought about ERP systems, where during a painful period of business reengineering, departmental silos were torn down by integrating the data and processes once held exclusively inside each silo. This was a great step forward in streamlining businesses, and the role of the chief information officer (CIO) was established. At this point, data centers were staffed by systems analysts, database administrators, database programmers, data administrators and technical systems administrators. Quite an expensive command-and-control army had grown up to support and control central IT, where a company’s systems-of-record were housed.
Meanwhile, enter stage left, the PC and VisiCalc.
Oh my. Now business departments could do their own numerical computing using spreadsheets independent of central IT involvement. It’s amazing that to this day a large part of what companies keep track of is contained in Excel spreadsheets scattered across a given firm. Then Microsoft unleashed another trend with Visual Basic, opening up computer programming to many outside the walls of central IT.
Rather than guard their centralized fortresses, smart CIOs and their IT staffs reached out to all this distributed processing to develop eventerprise architectures that could bring some coherence to it all. But then the Internet and then the Web and then on to the great step-change, Web 2.0. Internet 1.0 was basically a delivery mechanism for read-only brochureware until Amazon showed the world that see-buy-get transactions could be processed on the Net. Initially it was the retail industries that got Amazon’d and had to change their operations to do business transactions on the Internet. Now most industries conduct business on the Internet.
Then, enter stage right, the read-write Internet, Web 2.0, where just about anybody can go beyond consuming information to producing it as well. Programmer? Who needs one? You just access preprogrammed services to create a website, join Facebook, tweet on Twitter, update a Wiki, create a blog or mash up your custom Google apps. Just about anyone can do it, just as they could with a spreadsheet — no central IT department needed.
Web 2.0 represents the consumerization of IT, and you might think that’s the end of this three-minute history of technology. No, all that was yesterday. Now the real action has just begun with the read-write-execute Internet. It’s called the cloud. If you take all of the amazing advances in computing over the past 50 years, as described above, the cloud represents the knee in an exponential growth curve, making cloud computing the new baseline for business and human collaboration models we have yet to conceive of and the new Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos we have yet to hear of. Goodbye General Motors, hello BYD Auto, the auto maker that Warren Buffett just invested $232 million in.
In the past, information technology was about productivity; now it’s about collaboration, a shared information base and collective intelligence — the wisdom of crowds, social networks and cloudsourcing of unimaginable computing power, all in the hands of everyday people.
Remember that mechanically inclined board wirer described just three paragraphs ago? Or that EDP manager, or that IT director or that CIO? Move over, for it’s now time for the chief cloud officer (CCO). The role of the CCO is to provide leadership in a brave new world where the level of abstraction of not just programming but also technology infrastructures are abstracted as services — Everything as a Service (EaaS).
Although tech-savvy, the CCO is all business, probably coming out of the ranks of operations or an extremely business-savvy CIO. It will indeed be informed leadership, not command-and-control management of computing and information resources that will shape the future of companies and countries in the current era of global economic crisis and unexpected change. Agility is no longer an option, a nice to have. It’s the entry price. Lead, follow or get out of the way. There is much to learn and cultural barriers to overcome, but the company of the future will not be the company of today. The future is here now, as we shift from information technology (IT) to business technology (BT), from systems-of-record to systems of boundless collaboration backed by endless computational resources available to all.