If you’ve been in or around the IT field longer than a decade, you no doubt remember Comdex. The annual Las Vegas IT extravaganza drew thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors. Comdex withered away after 9/11. Before Comdex, the big show was the NCC, or National Computer Conference, which started to die off after some exhibitors ended up in sweltering expansion tents in Southern California. NCC goes back so far, it was the venue at which VisiCal was introduced.
I’m not taking you down memory lane, but rather drawing a comparison. I’ve been looking at recent activities of a few large technology vendors that have footprints in the federal government.
One is Saleforce.com (where former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra went to work). Such companies don’t need shows like Comdex. The recent Salesforce.com meeting, Dreamforce, drew an estimated 95,000 people to San Francisco. Streets were closed. It was a little bigger than Oracle OpenWorld, which is no slouch, but the two are on the same scale. One reason is they both have a large ecosystem of developers and value-added resellers that extend their basic products.
These two highly influential companies – both with considerable federal footprints – show how the trends of cloud computing, mobile and social networking are converging with the traditional hardware + software model.
In his Oracle OpenWorld keynote, CEO Larry Ellison spends a long time discussing the architecture and benefits of cloud computing. The same Larry Ellison who built a fortune selling software and more recently hardware to thousands of companies and government agencies for on-premises computing. One of the big announcements was that Oracle is adding infrastructure-as-a-service to its existing application software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). And he described the forthcoming Version 12c of the Oracle database. It will support multiple tenants, even from unrelated organizations, in a single instance, an important development for cloud providers such as the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Significantly for federal agencies, Oracle will offer its IaaS in its own or in the customer’s own data center, with the company still operating and managing it but in a private cloud model.
In his Dreamforce keynote, CEO Mark Benioff – when he finally gets around to it – stressed the importance of social networking in enterprise computing. The same Mark Benioff who founded the premier cloud computing company in 2000. He describes the “social revolution,” and declares “Business is social.” Salesforce is going all-in on a social front end to its array of services. It already blends acquisition Chatter with its native offerings. He cites examples like General Electric which adds performance data generated by its jet engines to its social network layer.
This short case history about NASA, from IBM’s 2012 CEO Study, hints at the degree to which social collaboration is coming into federal agencies.
Beyond this nearly every application vendor is mobile-izing, as we’ve written before here, because the trend towards computing and data access anywhere and on any device is a model that’s too compelling to resist.
If you think this rapid convergence of mobile, social and cloud is real, then you can begin to see the end of e-mail. I remember receiving my first e-mail on an Intel 286 PC attached to a Novell network. It came from the IT guy for the company I worked for, and read, “Are we having fun yet?”
I know I have lots of company in the realization that e-mail is getting untenable in volume. In fact, cloud e-mail – a big blob of unstructured data – coupled with a strong search engine is really the only way to manage it. A simpler social solution that’s tuned for business and absent of all of the garbage found on Facebook and Twitter will eventually replace e-mail. The problem now is that users face too many non-interoperable choices and you can’t have accounts at them all. The power in e-mail was interoperability thanks to internet protocols, thereby networking the whole world.
For the social apps, their strength will be in their ability to incorporate the workflows and other norms of the organization installing them. For the government particularly, capturing data from social interactions will prove challenging. But it will be necessary both for records retention compliance and for the trends it might yield.