At the end of October, a few of our stalwart band (going strong since 1989) of Patty’s Pioneers met face-to-face to compare notes on where technology is going and what challenges they’re confronting and overcoming in their varied businesses. As usual, the conversations were rich and deep and built upon the foundation we’ve established over the years. We delight in seeing the recurring patterns in how we think about applying IT, how we view the world, and how we address organizational issues.
We are all tickled by the fact that today’s technologies lend themselves really well to the kinds of system designs the pioneers are really good at. The systems and software these leading-edge architects design have lots in common:
- They keep a lot of data in memory/cache and deliver rich, but simple user experiences.
- They don’t assume an always up/high bandwidth connection, so they are parsimonious when it comes to transmitting data.
- They use consumer technology platforms as much as possible.
- They design elegant and simple APIs.
- They use services/distributed objects that request information and deliver information.
- They don’t care where in the world those services reside (in the cloud somewhere is generally fine).
- They assume that everything is loosely coupled (e.g., not always connected, but able to quickly find, connect and disconnect).
- They view the world as being made up of events that trigger actions based on business rules.
- Favor very small teams. When a project falls behind, they take people off; not put people on.
- Hire very smart people. They hate having to staff up with “human middleware.”
- Let people pick the best tools they want to do the job at hand (they are really flexible and disposable when it comes to programming languages, operating systems, and tools).
- Often know a lot more than their bosses about how the world works, so they design a path of least resistance to deliver the right stuff in spite of what their bosses say they want.
Take Advantage of Flexible Computing Resources: Virtual Machines, Cloud Computing, Big Data. When I step back and think about the rich conversations we had last week, a couple of things are still reverberating. We talked quite a bit about “big data” — the use of big flat file databases, like Hadoop and Green Plum, the kinds of structures that Google’s search engine is based on — to address otherwise compute-intensive problems. One insight I came away with was that the Pioneers are interested in using big data in the cloud to address problems that require a lot of data manipulation very quickly. They tend to be interested in big data applications that can respond fast (predict the weather, sequence a genome to diagnose a disease, detect an anomaly before it becomes a problem, value a portfolio that includes a lot of complex financial instruments in a rapidly changing economy).
The pioneers are also more sophisticated than the mainstream market in their use of, and understanding of, cloud computing. Some already have hybrid (within my data center and hosted securely in the cloud) implementations that straddle multiple clouds.
They use virtual machines so that they can quickly spin up and instantiate more computing resources as different end-users and applications consume more horsepower.
Deploy on Mobile Devices. Pioneers’ End-Users, like all end-users, want simple, easy-to-use apps on the hand-held devices of their choosing. HTML5 is one of their current preferred solutions to being able to deliver consistent apps across Windows, Blackberries, and iPhones/iPads. In fact, the mobile app world is ideally suited for a Pioneers-style implementation. Deliver quick and dirty disposable apps that talk to, and interact with, one another via simple, elegant APIs. I have yet to see anyone else do this as well as one of our Pioneers.
Eat Your Young. Pioneers aren’t shy about cannibalizing their own stuff. They know that applications are disposable. It’s ideas and structure that lasts. So, there’s a rapid evolution of implementations and implementation platforms.
Model the Business. Most pioneers came of age during the object-oriented era, when modeling your business as a set of business objects was all the rage. For some people, OO was a passing fad. For Patty’s Pioneers, it’s how they view the world. And, over two decades, their business models and ecosystem models have become more and more elegant in their simplicity. This is the kind of learning and investment that appreciates in value over time.