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I was recently having a discussion with some of my colleagues where the topic was around software innovation and the speed at which technology is changing.  However, what made the conversation interesting was that the innovation we were talking about wasn’t driven by the business needs like big data or social media, but it was being driven by the recent modernization of the IT industry which has been taking shape.  Going further, we also talked about what happens when a leading technology company doesn’t keep up with these emerging technologies or when a customer doesn’t modernize their IT infrastructure.  I would like to share some of my thoughts around this topic.

Sources of Software Innovation:

Over the 20 years that I have worked in the IT industry, I have seen many types of changes drive software innovation.  Such changes can be driven by anything from business user requirements to an evolution in computing infrastructures.  And although we all know that hardware and software is constantly evolving, it sometimes feels like it’s picking up speed.

Moore’s law points out that the number of transistors on integrated circuits in computing hardware doubles approximately every two years.  This implies that other hardware capabilities are also doubling in the same timeframe.  Some of these changes can either evolve incrementally (e.g. faster CPUs) or they can be a dramatic evolution such as the Mobile Computing.  Over the past few years, we have begun to see a dramatic evolution to hardware that could require a complete overhaul to IT organizations.  Such dramatic changes include, but are not limited to, Mobile Computing, Cloud Computing, In-Memory Processing (because of cheaper memory) and Touchscreens / Alternative Input Devices.

Mobile Computing:

Mobile computing has been around for the past decade but let’s be honest, it really didn’t begin to take off significantly until Apple introduced the iPhone and the iPad.  It’s being predicted that tablet sales will overtake laptops this year.  You also hear people talking about tablet sales taking over desktops within next few years.  And why not?  If you have a tablet and a docking station, you can have your cake and eat it too.  You can function at a desk as you would today but then take your tablet with you to a meeting or to home at the end of the day.  One of the advantages of a tablet is that you can continue to work when you are temporarily disconnected from the network or when communication over the network is very slow.  Of course you can already do this with a laptop, but a tablet is a little more flexible and easier to use at a meeting than a laptop. Those IT organizations that understand this paradigm shift will be planning for and will implement applications that work on this mobile platform while at the same time keeping their data secure.

Cloud Computing:

Nowadays, IT organizations are under significant pressure to contain or cut costs of their IT environments.  As a result, more IT organizations are adopting an emerging concept called cloud computing.  Cloud computing is where hardware and software resources are provided over the network/internet and offered up as a service.  IT organizations are adopting cloud computing because they lower costs through the use of virtualization (the sharing of hardware resources to concurrently support multiple applications).  While cloud computing isn’t for everyone, anything that lowers costs while not sacrificing security, flexibility or too much control is going to be a magnet for most of the companies out there.  So what does this mean for software?  Many software packages will no longer be spoiled in having all of the hardware dedicated to itself.  In order to run in a cloud, they will now need to adapt so that they are capable of being immediately scalable, can deliver services on-demand (as-needed), and implement a cost model which is based on the consumption of resources.  IT organizations will need to adapt and even implement cloud computing in order to recognize the cost savings and remain competitive.

In-Memory Processing:

Flash drives, cheaper resources (e.g. silicon) and more efficient techniques used in producing memory have driven down the costs of memory.  As such, software can take advantage of this shift by adapting to the concept that they will be able to run completely in memory.  It is important to note that software which is completely cached is not the same thing as in-memory software.  Instead, software that runs completely in-memory can take advantage of special algorithms for storing and accessing data completely in memory.  For example, they eliminate the overhead of IO functions.  With regards to In-Memory Processing, SAP is seen as being ahead of the competition, at least for now.  Part of this can be attributed to SAP’s deep collaboration with Intel to ensure HANA runs optimally on some of the more recent Intel processors.

Touchscreens / Alternative Input Devices:

Although touchscreens have been around for a long time, the emergence of mobile computing has been driving the touchscreen display to become a mainstream peripheral device.  As more and more software applications are designed to run on tablets and smartphones, they will need to accept touchscreens as a primary input device.  Touchscreen displays arn’t likely to completely replace a standard keyboard and mouse any time soon, especially when working in the capacity as a desktop.  In fact, people have been using both a keyboard and mouse since the onset of Microsoft windows.  Getting everyone retrained to use the touchscreen instead of a keyboard and mouse will take some time.  With that said, however, the keyboard and mouse may become secondary devices when voice recognition software and gesture recognition input devices become smarter and more efficient.

Keeping up with the Joneses:

It’s safe to say that if a leading technology company doesn’t properly predict and plan for the emerging trends in technology, they could ultimately be left behind.  To help drive innovation, technology companies patent their innovative ideas and algorithms for producing its software which then becomes off limits for the competition.  However, leading technology companies typically tend to leap frog each other by developing and patenting other new technologies.  So getting temporarily surpassed isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s called competition which ultimately benefit customers.  However, a company that can’t keep up with competition will no longer be seen as an innovator.  As a result, they will either need to fight harder in order to catch up, will be forced to change their branding or will eventually perish.  For example, a trailing technology company could change its branding by marketing their products at a cheaper price.  However, such products are usually commoditized and offered by many vendors.  When this happens, it’s those products that can be produced at the cheapest price that continue to sell well.

The same is true for IT organizations.  Customers that don’t modernize their IT environments to keep up with evolving hardware technologies will eventually become obsolete since their competitors will be seen as more flexible and more efficient.  To help SAP customers keep up with the latest technology and trends in hardware and software, SAP has created a paradigm that provides customers with the latest innovations to reduce IT complexity and reduce costs while at the same time protecting and extending their current investments.  The Real Time Data Platform (RTDP), as it’s called, is a comprehensive data management vision and strategy which will help customers remain competitive by providing them with the software they need to efficiently manage information and effectively incorporate emerging technologies.  One of its guiding principles is to reduce complexity and cost by employing best-of-breed technologies that solve business problems through innovation by thinking about the customer first.  When properly utilized, customers are able to quickly respond to changing conditions in real time.

Summary:

While software innovation is frequently driven by business user’s needs, it must also consider innovation that is driven from evolving hardware technologies.  If a leading technology company or IT organization fails to properly predict and plan for the emerging hardware technologies, they will eventually perish or at the very least, be minimized by the competition.  For example, if an IT organization focuses primarily on using on-premise server based technologies, they could be left behind by competitors that uses mobile devices or cloud computing.  Mobile computing offers flexibility to the business users so that they can have the right information at the right time.  Also, a cloud service can offer various services (e.g. hosting platforms) that make it cheaper than the traditional on-premise server technology.   Both of these technologies can equate to saving $$$ for a company after a short ROI time period.

Please share your thoughts.  What will be the next leap in hardware technology that may revolutionize the software industry or the IT Industry in general?

My Next Blog Topic:

That’s it for this blog post.  In my next blog post, we will discuss and compare software/system release lifecycles.

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