In 2000 I wrote a short analyst note called “Is Salesforce.com a software company? No. Is Salesforce.com the future of software? Absolutely!” At the time I had just relocated to San Francisco to cover the ASP wave and as that crashed and burned around me (great timing Pring, great timing!) Marc B’s Barnum and Bailey shtick was a bit of a God-send. I don’t recall getting many GAMECs (Gartner lingo for a client enquiry!) from people interested in talking about my note but it did sort of become my calling card over subsequent years as SFDC muscled its way onto the center of the tech stage and Marc muscled his way into the Vanity Fair New Establishment photo shot.
Fast forward to 2014 and here I am back in SF for Dreamforce 14. Along with 150,000 or so of Marc’s closest personal show business chums. It’s an incredible success story and fair play to Marc and his gang for pulling it off. To watch the evolution of SaaS as it morphed into Cloud and then again into SMAC and now again into The Internet of Everything as a Service (I won’t bother trademarking this, but it’s nice huh!) has been fun and interesting, and has put bacon on the table Chez Pring.
Reflecting on this evolutionary process prompts many thoughts; many of them somewhat counter current conventional wisdom. One for starters is my sense that despite the meme that we live in “revolutionary” times and that the pace of technology disruption is accelerating, the Cloud dynamic has actually been awfully slow in playing out, and that the client-server incumbents (no names but you know who I mean) who were going to be disrupted into oblivion are still mainly with us. I recall Mr B saying he would know SaaS had succeeded when Microsoft were kaput. Cue pictures of Camp David style photos of Mr B and Satya Nadella ahead of the SFDC Microsoft news this week here in SF. Cue laughter.
But the thought that I want to kick around here is this; my interest in the ASP idea in 1997 which lead me onto this strange journey was borne out of a remembrance of Newton’s 3rd Law (probably the one thing I took in from five years of school boy science) which as you all no doubt can recall says something like “for every reaction there is an opposite and equal reaction”. That struck me as apropos in the mid 1990’s when the “SAP’s the answer, sorry what was the question?” gag was the sly insiders joke. The force of the “ERP plus lashings of professional services” dynamic was so powerful then (and its benefits so weighted towards the supply side) that it struck me as logical that a counter dynamic would occur that would begin to move the market away from expensive, difficult to manage software, towards lower cost and easier to manage software i.e. ASP/SaaS/Cloud etc etc. That is in essence what has played out these last 17 years (17 years …. Jeez L).
But now that the Cloud has become the magnet that draws these 150,000 folks to the Moscone it’s logical to imagine, isn’t it, that Sir Isaac might have something to say again, non? In short, what’s the opposite and equal reaction to the Cloud? Given that technology (ugly analyst word alert) “paradigms” tend to last 15 (or so) years it’s again logical to imagine that the dynamic that will disrupt our new conventional wisdom – in three, five, seven, 15 years? - is brewing somewhere in the world right now. Somewhere there is a nerd or a suit – or a nerd and a suit or a nerd in a suit – who’s looking at our current SMACy zeitgeist and thinking “that sucks”. Perhaps he, or she, or they, or it (!), is thinking the way we’re doing things currently is too expensive, too slow, too inefficient, too insecure, too fragile, too unsustainable, too ugly, too hard, too ridiculous, to make sense, and is thinking “what if we … ?”
Being of Newtonian mind (laced with a strong dose of contrarianism) I’m tempted to think that what’s going to be “next” is already with us somewhere; just very unevenly distributed. In 1997 what was “next” was difficult to find and the hard work was sniffing it out. In 2014 what’s “next’ is being pumped at us 24/7 by TwitFace, Linked-In, Flipboard, and a gazillion other URL’s, and the hard work is figuring out whether This Minute’s Model will still be us with in another 60 seconds.
On my travels amidst atoms and bits I don’t think I’ve seen “next” yet, but here are some possible ingredients of what “next” might contain.
First, don't forget that the major idea of SaaS/Cloud was externally managed subscription based multi-tenant software as a reaction against owned, on-premise, self-managed IT. Is it logical then to assume that the 3rd Law will see us move back to owned, on-premise, self-managed IT? Well, yes and no. Just as SaaS/Cloud has left untouched a huge amount of IT that has trundled on as though it is still 1996 (see the comments above) the next wave of tech will largely emerge around the existing incumbent platform. The pendulum will not swing back to exactly where it was pre-Cloud.
Instead sensors so smart, powerful and autonomic, that to all intents and purposes we might as well call them computers, will diffuse into every imaginable form factor. They will connect through a new network (not the internet; check out the work Google is doing on this) which will have far higher levels of security, funded through direct payment, rather than indirectly through advertising. This will extend the post net-neutrality Balkanization of the current Internet. Enterprises will ramp up their business unit based staffing to leverage this new platform lessening their reliance on internal central IT and external service partners and in essence "re-skilling". The new platform will be highly algorithmic though; job creation will be anemic.
Gated IoT laced communities will emerge in which trusted corporate actors operate protected by very well compensated "white hat" Marshals. Data transport outside of these communities - back into the "free" Internet or into the back end “legacy” and “legacy Cloud” (!)- will be very tightly managed. In the less tony virtual neighborhoods localized peer to peer mediated networks will sprout where loosely coupled APIs will be bartered or Bitcoined. Black hats will still on occasion get the upper hand but those inside the communities will realize that if data is indeed the new gold they need to start protecting it like gold. These new platforms will be run with IFTTT "learning" software that will see objects become really enchanting; bespoke integration will be seen as an un-fashionable relic of the “old country”.
As you might be able to tell (if you’re still with me) these are rather inchoate ramblings currently; I would in my defense ask the jury though to remember that before we can come up with new answers we need to find new questions; you’ll remember that Picasso said computers weren’t any good at this!
It might seem rather precious to be here for Dreamforce wondering what show will be drawing the cognoscenti in 2030 but hey, live by the sword, die by the sword. In 2001 SFDC staged mock demonstrations outside of Oracle Open World as a publicity stunt to draw media buzz. Thirteen years later who knows what little company might be about to pull a similar move.
The Cloud wave took years and years to develop, took many forms before it became successful, and was completely rubbish – in the eyes of the vast majority – until it was suddenly the best thing since sliced bread. What’s “next” is still probably rubbish but is likely wandering around the streets of SF dreaming of booking ex-President Hillary Clinton (but hopefully not ex-pop star Bruno Mars) for its big client shindig in its year 15. So, if I see something I’ll let you know! And if you do please return the favor. As Marc would say “Aloha”.