August provides the opportunity to catch up with reading, in reflective peace. I spent the month in deepest Devon, at the Dartington International Summer School. I am a Trustee of a small Foundation that supports this long-established music school and festival.
Each day I walked briskly down to Totnes to get my copy of the Financial Times. And I read it, cover to cover, in between fulfilling my role as an active observer of the Summer School, meeting with the participants (a rich blend of professionals and gifted amateurs), and enjoying their performances and concerts. This year, in one week, they created, assembled, rehearsed and delivered two complete performances of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes – with full orchestra, choir and soloists. Impressive! The intense organisational effort involved is mediated by active use of WhatsApp – cloud computing at work in deepest Devon!
This August the FT was definitely not on holiday. Every issue carried detailed news and analysis of developments right across the economy of information technology-driven business transformations. Not technology texts on cloud computing – business stories of where new capabilities that are the consequences of the exploitation of cloud computing are now having very real business impact.
I took a break early in August to return to London (fast GWR train) to join Mark Chillingworth on a (slow) canal boat ride along Regent’s Canal to record a podcast (the first episode of season 2). We revisited a column of mine that Mark published in CIO UK Magazine in August 2014. In it I drew analogies between the history of the development of the canals in the UK after 1750, and the development of contemporary information technology two centuries later, after 1950, leading to the emergence and rapid evolution of cloud computing as our new millennium gained momentum. In my column I observed that:
“Back to our young business director in the early 1800s, grappling with the ‘Impact of the Canals’. He saw the opportunity to expand the carrying of passengers. He invested in carrying a broader range of dry goods to the burgeoning grocery trade in the local towns and villages along the canal routes. But was he alert to a new phenomenon in his business space – Tuesday February 21, 1804, when Richard Trevithick’s first locomotive “propelled itself along a railway track pulling a string of small trucks, some filled with iron, some with men”?
The analogy with Trevithick’s first locomotive in 1804 is with the arrival of Amazon Web Services (AWS), first launched for public use as Simple Queue Service (SQS) in 2004.
Who then would have believed it? A mere decade later (2014) AWS dominated the totally new and massively expanding market place for cloud computing services. The railways took two decades from 1804 before the pioneering Stockton/Darlington railway opened in 1825. But over the subsequent fifty years the railways reshaped the UK economy in a radical fashion.
One major consequence today of that speedy arrival of cloud computing has been the very rapid evolution, within the decade, of the great diversity of new business capabilities. Thus consider the Internet, Social Media, Machine Learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), Robots, Big Data, Big Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Consider this small selection of FT headlines in late August:
“AstraZeneca uses AI to tackle neurological disorders.” (FT 29 August)
“’Lawtech’ start-ups seek to end paper trail – Advanced analytics programs prove invaluable to firms handling reams of documents.” (FT 29 August)
“March of the robots shakes up logistics sector – Intelligent machines and automation are spreading through the industry…” (FT 26/27 August)
“WPP hit by ad spending squeeze as digital disruption gathers pace – Sorrell warns of ‘fundamental’ change.” (FT 24 August)
“Fintech upstarts threaten digital banking landscape – online credit card lender Nubank among 200 groups leapfrogging traditional rivals.” (FT 23 August)
Cloud computing is the common underlying enabler here. But these are not technical headlines – they are business headlines. The contemporary business leadership board now needs to focus on this diversity of new capabilities that are transforming how business can be exploited more competitively. These capabilities are now so powerful that I suggest every board director should be literate in them – every CXO, not just the CIO/CTO.
However, there is a key new focus for the CIO/CTO. Data storage, data processing, data networking are now all software definable. There is consequently an emergent reality called Big Software. A focused coterie of innovative tech players are providing the means to quite radically transform the practice of infrastructural operations. Above I have positioned AWS in 2004 by analogy to Trevithick in 1804. In 2017 there is a new digital force that is set to totally transform cloud computing – a totally novel Trevithick! I will explain more in my next column in October.
About the author:
Richard Sykes is a businessman with over 40 years experience that spans the chemical & IT industries, and the world of visual & performing arts. Sykes works as a board-level strategic analyst, assurer and advisor in the management, exploitation and sourcing of information & communications technology (ICT).