“The times they are a changing” would make a good theme for the enterprise these days. In virtually every aspect, organizations across the board are transforming into digital entities and are rapidly discovering the challenges and opportunities that this change represents.
Some may argue that the enterprise has always been changing, from the introduction of the first mainframe to the cloud, but by and large this was a change to enterprise technology. The hardware and software changed, but these were almost always aimed at improving traditional processes and workflows that had existed in their basic forms for decades.
The difference today is that technological change is producing fundamental, functional change in the enterprise and driving an entirely new economic model in the process.
According to a recent survey by CompTIA, technologies like cloud and mobile computing are transforming the inter-departmental dynamics of both large and small companies, so much so that basic functions like budgeting, decision-making and implementation of new processes are now driven by business objectives rather than restricted by the limitations of available platforms and resources. With IT no longer the supplier of data resources at most organizations, business units have gained the freedom to experiment and grow according to their own needs and to foster more efficient ways of sharing information with other departments, partners and even customers. The most successful of these transitions involves IT acting as a partner in this new paradigm, not an obstacle.
This is naturally having an impact on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), says Unit4 CTO Erik Tiden. When you start talking about service-led business models, even back-office apps like ERP can start to deliver valuable user experiences, which is part of the reason why SaaS-based ERP provisioning is on the rise and traditional enterprise deployments are falling. Tools like predictive analytics, machine learning and in-memory technology are poised to deliver the self-driving enterprise. Much like the self-driving car, human operators would still decide where to go and even how to get there, but the basic mechanics of stopping, starting and following the rules of the road are taken care of.
Indeed, the future will be not only predictive, says Information Age’s Chloe Green, but prescriptive. That is, applications won’t just allow business managers to spot trends for themselves, but will also offer up suggestions as to what the data is revealing and how it should be acted upon. Leading ecommerce providers like eBay and Amazon are already using rudimentary forms of prescriptive analytics on their consumer platforms to guide buyers to additional goods and services based on past purchases and other data, but enterprise functions will require an entirely new level of sophistication. Driven largely by in-memory data stores and hybrid transactional/analytical processing (HTAP), business processes going forward will have a wealth of real-time and historic data that allow applications to evolve from mere tools to active participants in the business process.
As you may expect, traditional enterprise platform developers do not intend to miss this wave of change. Companies like Dell are talking about a new generation of systems designed to leverage the “digital-first” environment by mixing cloud and on-site systems with new services and a broad commitment to open source solutions. The goal, according to Dell’s Armughan Ahmad, is to shift IT’s traditional hardware and infrastructure priorities to its new roles in optimizing workloads, enhancing data mobility and architecting the software-defined data environment. As part of this process, the company is working with a wide range of manufacturer and channel partners to foster the kind of broad-based ecosystem that will drive productivity in the future.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that change is not always positive, nor does it always proceed smoothly. There will be starts and stops along the way, as well as wrong turns, detours, workarounds and patches galore. And there will undoubtedly be false promises, misinterpretations and plain old misunderstandings as to the nature of certain changes and the reasons behind them.
Change may be eternal, for both the enterprise and for humanity at large, but only rarely does it penetrate to the core of who we are and what we do.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.