Most of us (if you are reading this, you are a self-selected subset) are fascinated with trends in technology and IT, which is great. The problem is that, with all the activity and progress going, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. I think it is really instructive to take a step back sometimes and ask the big questions. Like this one — Are some of the major technology trends of our day — Cloud, DevOps, App Performance Mgmt (APM), Smart Phone and Tablets, etc. — completely separate trends, or all part of a larger narrative? I don’t ask that to reduce the power of those trends — I just think that it is worth asking if something more seismic is going on.
So, to answer my own annoyingly rhetorical question — I think there is a bigger trend. The user, in whatever context in which he, or she, operates, wields more power today than ever before. Entire industries are being built for the sole purposes of making users happy — or least making them think they are happy. And for those verticals that aren’t so obviously pandering, any competitor that ignores the experience of their end-users is bound to crash and burn. And I am not just talking about reverse voyeurism of over-sharing Facebook users and the beauty of Apple products. Staid and complacent industries everywhere are being shaken to their core as users demand the same level of experience in the business world that they experience when interacting with applications in their personal lives. So, here are a few of the trends I follow, and how I think this “mega-trend” ties them all in.
DevOps and Agile Development
One of the main purposes of Agile Development is delivering customer value. The first of the twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto is “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”. Agile development puts the customer on a pedestal, and works to make the customer satisfied. Why? Because the customer pays the bills, that’s why. And not only do they pay the bills, in the world of the Internet users can quickly take their business elsewhere when they are not satisfied. At the end of the day, on the major objectives DevOpsis to push this maniacal focus on delivering customer value all the way into IT operations — where it is has been sorely lacking.
Application Operations and Application Performance Management (APM)
As the less hip and more staid cousin of DevOps, APM has an even easier case to make about the primacy of the end-user. In the past, APM has been primarily about bubbling up complex application performance data from a complex application architecture, and trying to make sense of it. While that kind of deep-dive analysis is important, it can be misleading and distracting. Recent trends in APM, particularly around those same Internet applications driving the DevOps movement, are focusing more and more on the end user. With the “switching costs” so low today, users will leave for the competitor’s site if there is on average a 250 ms or more difference in response time. That is 1/4 of one second. In only 2009, a study Forrester put the acceptable wait time at 2 seconds. Today, in the case of high-performance sites like Google, even 400 ms is too long. Bottom line, if your customers are receiving sub-par response times, you are probably losing them to competitors. It really is that simple. And if an IT department isn’t measuring end-user performance, they are essentially allow their company to stumble blind into a pool of sharks/end-users. Good job IT.
The Business User’s long sojourn in the wilderness of crappy IT support is over
This trend is probably the most disturbing to an IT department and most exhilarating for any IT user. Business IT users are no longer satisfied with flimsy laptops made by do-it-cheaply hardware manufacturers and web applications with appalling user interfaces, seemingly built for Windows 3.1. Apple, Google, Facebook, and others have taught them that technology can beautiful, easy to use, secure, AND effective. The IT departments’ insistence that the need for advanced functionality and security necessitates technology that induces suicidal thoughts and dulls the mind into oblivion, no longer stands. IT users want to be free. They want to bring their iPad, Android phone, and Mac Book to work. Most IT departments don’t really like the stuff they peddle anyway. Now they just need vendors that actually deliver them products that don’t make their users scream in frustration.
Social Media is the tool of User Domination
And how does King or Queen User rule? Through social collaboration tools. Social media is not just about showing pictures of your cute toddler (guilty…) or trying to remove tags from embarrassing photos anymore. Social media is about capturing the best ideas from the people who stand to benefit the most from their realization. It is about encouraging healthy competition and ego-boosting for the sake of information sharing and content creation. And, most of all, it is the platform of user rule — Social IT. And it can’t be ignored. Countries creating “fake internets” and companies with draconian IT policies won’t stop the change. Users always find a way to flaunt the rules, like they have since the dawn of time.
So, is this a good thing? I believe that it is. I think the the essential lesson here is that business has always been about delivering value for the customer. The difference now is that customers actually know how much value companies, organizations, and countries are delivering. Keeping “the man”, the president, and the boss accountable. That is definitely a good thing.