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Is This the End of Enterprise Software?

The future of enterprise computing is the platform

The future of enterprise software is the platform. No software company has all the smart people in the world on its payroll. Apple recognized this and created the App Store. Google are now doing the same. These new cloud platforms will unleash unprecedented innovation and creativity throughout all areas of business and the web, with thousands of new apps being created that will revolutionize IT.

Enterprise software has always been unpopular - it has always been expensive, slow, complex and clunky. The only people who actually like it are the software vendors who sell it, and the armies of integrators and consultants who struggle to make it work.

The "consumerization of the enterprise" is an idea that's been around for a few years, but it's now at a tipping point, and from here on we will see a rapidly accelerating shift to a new generation of business software systems that have a lot more in common with Facebook, Google and Twitter than with the kinds of ERP, CRM and SCM systems and database/data warehouse technologies that business professionals have had to put up with for decades.

Why now? Two reasons: (1) because we have to, and (2) because for the first time, we can!

We Have To Change
We have to, because today's enterprise software simply doesn't deliver what's required for business today. As Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, said recently

“Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?”

"Today, realtime information is possible, which has changed everything: How people consume information has changed, how people learn things about each other has changed, and how people stay current has changed. Most of all, our expectations around immediacy have changed."

"Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time. Yet the software we use to run our enterprises is in anything but real time."

For any business to be competitive today, it needs to have the ability to continuously analyze vast quantities of data in realtime - all kinds of data about customers, partners, employees, competitors, marketing, advertising, pricing, infrastructure, and operations. Today what's needed is smart IT systems that can automatically analyze, filter and push exactly the right data to business users in realtime, just when they need it.

Does that sound like your existing ERP system? Does it sound like the data warehouse system you were recently offered at the bargain price of two million dollars? Probably not. Many data warehouses today are often jokingly referred to as "write only" systems, data goes in continuously, but nothing of much value ever seems to come out.

Today's enterprise software was architected around databases and data warehouses back in the 1980s and 1990s because at that time the world was pre-web, data volumes were small, no one was grappling with information overload, 100% of the data required by employees was internal business data, and that data was highly structured and organized in simple tables. Users could pull data from the database whenever they realized they needed it.

Today, everything has changed. Everyone is grappling constantly with information overload, both in their work and in their social life. Most data today is unstructured, and most of it is in files, streams or feeds, rather than in structured tables. Many of the data streams are realtime, and constantly changing. At work, most of the data required by employees is now external data, from the web, from analytics tools, and from monitoring systems of all kinds.

So we need to move beyond today's enterprise software, simply because it doesn't deliver what's required in this new era of realtime business and the realtime web.

OK. So...

Can We Do It?
Yes, we can! And cloud computing is accelerating the trend.

Firstly, there are no fundamental technical impediments. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other consumer web services have clearly shown that it is possible to build powerful realtime software architectures that process vast quantities of data continuously, are easy-to-use, engaging and informative for users, and can scale to handle very large numbers of users.

Secondly, it's already happening. Email moved to the cloud more than ten years ago, office software from Microsoft, Google and others is also now in the cloud, collaboration tools and enterprise social networks are available. The consumerization of the enterprise is already underway.

But it's quite a different game from the one that's been playing for the past 25 years. Earlier this week, Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard was asked how the Google Apps Marketplace, their cloud computing app store, fits into Google’s broader strategy for business apps. "For one thing", he said, "it means the company can build fewer apps". Google are not planning to roll out, say, a CRM system, or a human resources management app, or project management tools. Indeed, it seems unlikely that they would ever build "enterprise-only apps". What Google are instead doing is building a platform for others to build apps. That's the future. Just ask Apple. If Apple had attempted to build all of the apps in the app store we would probably have about 13 by now, instead of 130,000.

The Platform
The future is to build mass market consumer platforms that can achieve global adoption, and then to migrate those into the enterprise. That way, the transition between social life and work will be much more seamless. You'll be using essentially the same tools and technologies at home and at work. The key to doing this successfully is to build platforms that are both powerful and flexible, but also really easy to use. Ease of use is critical in the consumer space, and it will be equally critical in future in the enterprise space.

The core of enterprise computing today is handling "Big Data", the continuously flowing rivers of realtime data that drive modern business. Next week Cloudscale will be commercially launching the Cloudcel platform, the first realtime, massively parallel cloud platform for Big Data Apps. Usable in minutes by anyone who can use Excel, Cloudcel enables non-programmers to simply and quickly develop powerful new apps on massive data sets and live data streams. The platform can be used to easily and quickly develop new apps in any of the areas where data is now growing exponentially - business, web, science, government, finance, and in the world of sensors and smart grids. With over 100 million Excel power users around the world, it has the potential to achieve major impact across a very broad area.



The future of enterprise software is clearly "the platform". No software company has all the smart people in the world on its payroll. Apple recognized this and created the App Store. Google are now doing the same. These new cloud platforms will unleash unprecedented innovation and creativity throughout all areas of business and the web, with thousands of new apps being created that will revolutionize IT. Whether it's the Google platform or the Microsoft platform for office apps, the Salesforce platform for customer apps, or the Cloudcel platform for big data apps, the enterprise is going to start to look quite different over the next few years.

Not Quite The End. Yet!
It will undoubtedly take a while for the consumerization of the enterprise to fully play out, take a while for the last of the complex, legacy ERP, CRM, SCM and data warehouse systems to be replaced, but there's no doubt that we're now at the tipping point. The shift to cloud computing that's taking place will accelerate this transition over the next two years, and there are good reasons for optimism that the related platform shift will actually happen more quickly than many currently expect. As Winston Churchill might have said, we're not at the end of enterprise software yet, but we're certainly at the beginning of the end.

More Stories By Bill McColl

Bill McColl left Oxford University to found Cloudscale. At Oxford he was Professor of Computer Science, Head of the Parallel Computing Research Center, and Chairman of the Computer Science Faculty. Along with Les Valiant of Harvard, he developed the BSP approach to parallel programming. He has led research, product, and business teams, in a number of areas: massively parallel algorithms and architectures, parallel programming languages and tools, datacenter virtualization, realtime stream processing, big data analytics, and cloud computing. He lives in Palo Alto, CA.

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Most Recent Comments
wasnotwas 03/15/10 10:17:00 PM EDT

Actually, I think it's more like "the end of the beginning" for enterprise software. Clouds are great, clouds are good, clouds are still inherently (perceived as) more risky for sensitive data than keeping it locked up in your glass house. Internal clouds are just another way of capital justification.

When cloud APIs mature to the point where they become the business equivalent of C++/Java and the players have also matured to the point where those APIs are interoperable and federated services are the rule, then we'll see the beginning of the end for enterprise software.

But guess what? The same players that are the big dogs in enterprise software today will still be the big dogs in the enterprise cloud.

Yes, I'm a heretic, but the more things change..

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