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TECH TALK: IT’s Future: Phil Wainewright and Business Week

August 19th, 2003 · No Comments

Loosely Coupled Architectures

Phil Wainewright of LooselyCoupled.com writes:

Carr backs up his assertion that IT’s innovative phase has run its course by referencing the commodotization that set in after the early development of the railroad and electricity industries. But neither of these are accurate antecedents for what we now see happening in the IT industry.

My preferred analogy for the current development of IT is the emergence of personal transportation, led by the invention of the motor vehicle at the turn of the last century. Because the motor vehicle was a form of transportation that operated in a much more loosely coupled way than the highly structured and centrally controlled architectures of the railroad system, it was able to deliver benefits to some early adopters even when the public road infrastructure consisted of little more than country dirt tracks and cobbled city streets.

As time went on, the incremental development of public highways and then a national network of high-speed freeways led to this upstart innovation finally displacing the pre-eminence of the inflexible railroad system. Innovations continued to reinforce and expand the utility of personal transportation, ultimately leading to a complete restructuring of manufacturing industry through the introduction of just-in-time delivery practices, which would never have been feasible without the on-demand flexibility of the distributed personal transportation system.

Loosely coupled architectures enabled by web services are going to bring the same waves of incremental innovation in IT and in business and the only IT that is going to be shown up as not working is the highly structured and centrally controlled architectures of monolithic, enterprise-scale computing systems, whose design philosophy owes more to the values of the industrial era than to the needs of the emerging information era.

Tech Will Bloom Again

Business Week writes:

Tech hasn’t settled down yet. Its days of maturity may be decades away. The IT revolution may share many parallels with previous transformative technologies such as railroads and electricity, but it differs in one key way: The underlying technologies not only aren’t slowing down, they’re accelerating. Computer-chip performance keeps doubling every 18 months, and disk-drive capacity and Internet-connection speeds are improving even faster. That’s spurring new products, from MP3 and DVD players to Web services for corporations, that are disrupting industries from entertainment to health care. Says Intel Corp. Chairman Andrew S. Grove, who has worked in tech for more than 40 years: “The rate of change in technology is as much today as any time in my experience.”

This rapid change also means that the savviest users of technology still have ample means to carve out an edge over laggards. Indeed, the titans of business today, from Dell to Wal-Mart Stores, as well as upstarts such as Amazon.com and JetBlue Airways, owe much of their leadership to using info tech in special ways. Each employs some of the same technologies, whether that’s Linux software or servers based on Intel chips. But it’s their expertise in deploying and customizing those technologies year after year that gives them a continued competitive advantage. “Everybody has always had access to the same technology. There’s nothing new there,” says Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III. “The fact is that some companies have taken technology and used it more effectively than others. And the ones that don’t use technologies effectively fall behind.”

In stark contrast to the boom, nowadays the customer is in the driver’s seat, and tech companies must come to grips with this reality. This suggests a bracing shift in industry economics and company behavior. Partly, it’s that lower prices will give customers more of tech’s benefits — and profits. To accommodate these value-conscious customers, producers must focus even more narrowly on what they do best and outsource the rest to lower-cost providers.

A raft of new technologies hints at the promise. As everything from the transistor radio to the PC to the cell phone has shown, technologies that attract entirely new waves of customers are the key to tech’s renewal. And they do it by making tech not just cheaper but also much easier to use. Wireless networks, for instance, are extending the Web to the wide world by cutting our electronic leashes. Networks of tiny sensors give us a digital view into the physical world, allowing inventory to be tracked precisely and ultimately producing digital products that are much smarter, such as home-security systems that recognize family and friends. And corporate IT wizards are hard at work trying to make software available as Web services. The hope, ultimately, is that they can offer computing like a utility, as easy to tap as power from a socket.

To take advantage of these new opportunities, however, tech companies must reinvent themselves — fast. Instead of applying the advances of silicon, storage, and network economics to hiking performance on existing products for the same old customers, they must turn those forces to making products, existing and new, that are cheaper. That’s a tough transition.

Tomorrow: My View: IT and Developed Markets


TECH TALK IT’s Future+T

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