With 2020 just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about how the past decade has been a fascinating whirlwind of change for enterprise tech. The general shift towards cloud, virtualization and mobility has transformed the way even traditional enterprises do business, while the quest for digital transformation has been enabling (or at least promising) complete paradigm shifts inside and outside the enterprise.
The changes may not be that apparent for those of us who have experienced them in real time, but it becomes jarringly obvious when you think about the various IT technologies that we now take for granted at work that were either in their infancy in 2010 or didn’t exist at all.
Cloud is the obvious starting point, although perhaps not when you remember that back in 2010, not many enterprises were onboard with cloud as an alternative or complement to an on-prem data center. Ironically, many enterprises were already using cloud-based business apps like webmail and Salesforce. But putting business-critical apps in the cloud seemed like risky business – and indeed, in 2010, enterprises who did so were the exception to the rule.
That equation has flipped, thanks in part to the rise of hybrid cloud that allows enterprises to have the best of both worlds and embrace the cloud at their own pace. Meanwhile the compute and storage capabilities of data centers have increased exponentially.
The cloud is so mainstream now that even the banking/finance sector has embraced it. Ten years ago, banks were cumbersome institutions that did what they did well, as long as it didn’t involve innovation. Moving any part of the business to the “cloud” was a radical idea, and even then only private cloud would do. The rise of fintech, OTT finance services and cryptocurrencies have transformed the sector and forced banks to evolve. Now the banking sector is embracing even the public cloud.
In fact, cloud is at the root of many of the changes that enterprise technology has undergone, from virtualization to XaaS.
Collaboration & Communication
Think of this: in 2010 the big thing was unified communications solutions that replaced expensive, inflexible PBXs with IP-based solutions that made interoffice communications and collaboration easier. In 2019, we have OTT group chat apps for enterprises like Slack, HipChat and Microsoft Teams. Quality varies, but it’s a major step forward from the days when we used to do the same thing with email and Skype.
Here’s another one: videoconferencing. Even before 2010, most experts agreed that videoconferencing was the future of business collaboration as a cheaper alternative to flying executives around the globe. The most elaborate solution was TelePresence rooms – specially designed rooms with large HD screens and stereo sound that made it seem like you were sitting in the same room, with specially designed software to enable PowerPoints and document sharing in real time. They generally worked well and looked cool, but cost a fortune. In that sense they were the future of business collaboration if you were an MNC with decent profit margins.
For everyone else, not so much, although they did have the option of scaled-down telepresence solutions or webconferencing. In 2019, many of the aforementioned collaboration apps also support videoconferencing, as do apps like Zoom and Zoho. If all else fails, you can even set up a videoconference on WhatsApp, although of course you can only fit a limited number of people on it.
But even straight audio conferences on WhatsApp are easy to set up. Which I mention because I vividly remember sitting in a conference room waiting for everyone to dial into our teleconference platform. No matter how many times we used it, someone always had trouble dialing in and it took 15 minutes just to set up the bridge. Doing the same thing on WhatsApp takes maybe 90 seconds.
There are many other ways digital tech has changed the enterprise in the last ten years, from the role of personal devices in the workplace to HR managers checking out your social media pages as part of the hiring process. To an extent, digital has even changed who the competition is. Amazon is in the grocery business. AirAsia just opened a restaurant. Thanks to Airbnb, hotels are now competing with anyone with a spare guestroom. In India, banks are competing with mobile operators for finance services.
You get the idea.
The point is that the workplace has changed so much in the last ten years that if you were to go back in time and get a job in 2010, you might find it a struggle to deal with such stone-age technology.
And the enterprise isn’t through evolving yet. Digital transformation projects, DevOps and Agile methodologies are slowly but surely restructuring older businesses, reinventing business models and reshaping culture. And enterprises have a wealth of new technologies they can harness to drive their businesses forward – big data analytics, AI, RPA, IoT, fintech (including cryptocurrencies and tokenization), just to name a few.
Mind you, I’m not saying these technologies will bring about some sort of enterprise utopia – there is no such thing, and there are potential dark sides to all of this that will manifest in likely unexpected ways.
What I’m saying is that the enterprise of 2030 will be a radically different animal to the 2020 model – probably more so than the 2010 model looks to us now in the rearview mirror.
So buckle up, kids. The next decade is going to be a wild ride.