The world is becoming more and more connected, whether we look at consumer products like thermostats, commercial assets like a fleet of trucks, or infrastructure systems as extensive as electricity grids or cities. By understanding the broad landscape of the connected world, business and technology leaders can ready their firm for the implications — positive and negative — of asset control, business model change, and deeper data-driven customer engagement.
In Forrester’s upcoming report, “Mapping The Connected World,” we map the broad landscape of the emerging connected world, assessing the attractiveness and readiness of different industries and use cases. This report draws from and synthesizes related research around smart products, the connected car, and smart cities, while setting the stage for upcoming reports like the connected home and embedded systems. Our focus is on analyzing the business impacts of increasing connectivity between physical devices and infrastructures, and digital computing and analytic systems.
In the last couple of weeks, I finally put a couple of pieces together . . . the tech industry is pushing hard, down two parallel tracks, toward much more resource-efficient computing architectures.
Track 1: Integrated systems. Computer suppliers are putting hardware components (including compute, network, and storage) together with middleware and application software in pre-integrated packages. The manufacturers will do assembly and testing of these systems in their factories, rather than on the customer's site. And they will tailor the system — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the system — to the characteristics of the workload(s) it will be running.
The idea is to use general-purpose components (microprocessors, memory, network buses, and the like) to create special-purpose systems on a mass-customization basis. This trend has been evident for a while in the Oracle Exadata and Cisco UCS systems; IBM's Pure systems introductions push it even further into pre-configured applications and systems management.
Track 2. Modular data centers. Now, zoom out from individual computing systems to aggregations of those systems into data centers. And again, assemble as much of the componentry as possible in the factory rather than on-site. Vendors like Schneider, Emerson, and the systems shops like IBM and HP are creating a design approach and infrastructure systems that will allow data centers to be designed in modular fashion, with much of the equipment like air handling and power trucked to the customer's site, set up in the parking lot, and quickly turned on.
Part of my role managing the Business Technology Futures team at Forrester is to keep an eye on "what's next" for CIOs and their business partners.
My team is chartered to create an early-warning radar screen of new technologies, new business models and new demands from customers that will change technology's role and impact on business.
That's where the VERGE conference comes in. I spent two very engaging days at this GreenBiz event earlier in March, soaking in the conVERGEnce of energy, transport, buildings and information.
And what a great event! I am an experienced consumer of industry conferences and this was one of the best I've attended. The mix of topics, speakers, and formats really clicked for me, because the event featured:
Multidisciplinary thinking. Not just across the four big domains, but across three dimensions of convergence taking place within them: technology (analytics meets network meets social), organizational (HR meets marketing meets facilities) and ecosystem (suppliers meet distributors meet customers). Holding this 4 X 3 Rubik's cube in one's head is daunting but also mind-expanding.
In 2009, my research team here at Forrester published a report on what we called "smart computing," a new generation of hardware, software, and networks that connects physical infrastructure with analytic computing systems.
Next month we will publish an update to that research, outlining why we continue to think that smart is the next wave of IT industry growth, likely to outstrip cloud and mobile computing in its eventual impact.
We believe that smart computing -- sensors, M2M networks, and analytics, along with collaboration tools -- will be as transformative of business in the coming decade as the Internet and Web browsers were during the 1990s.
Why is smart still the next big thing? Consider:
Improving transactional processes is yesterday's story. The back-office challenges of preparing financial statements, fulfilling customer orders, or tracking inventory are well addressed by enterprise and personal productivity software. These traditional workloads are migrating to cloud computing resources in some cases, but are not creating incremental technology investments nor opportunities to transform how a business operates.
It's a challenge for every company with a software "solution" for sale: it's a solution, but for what? Are customers looking for an all-encompassing solution to a big problem, or a targeted solution for a small problem? Do they want an interconnected suite of software modules, with a common data model, common look-and-feel, and discounted price tag, or a small-bore program that will automate a currently manual process?
For the suppliers of enterprise carbon and energy management (ECEM) software, this age-old problem is especially challenging since the range of potential functionality is so broad, and the array of potential stakeholders, influencers, and buyers is so wide.
Consider the "word cloud" depicted in Figure 1 below, which shows a subset of the labels for such software.
And in parallel, the motivations of potential buyers of ECEM shown in Figure 2 below:
Since most companies do not face cut-and-dry regulatory requirements for emissions reporting, matching up the motivations of the buyers with the functional scope of the product sellers is a time-consuming exercise of workshops, pre-sales consulting, assessments, and, inevitably, drilling a lot of dry holes.
There is still another quiet day or two on the fresh page of my calendar, before the new year really gets going. Schools are still playing Bowl games, and the tree is still up (if brown-ish), so it must still be the holiday season.
And I have three topics I want to discuss before the 2012 agenda kicks into gear. These aren't really on the mainline IT-for-sustainability topic, but rather observations on changes underway in the IT industry, which may have some implications for companies' or individuals' sustainability efforts downstream.
Have you heard of Kickstarter? This is social media meets venture capital meets (very) early-stage entrepreneurs, tech and otherwise. Pretty much accidentally, I was pinged by and ended up contributing to two different projects which I will mention below. But check out the overall story at Kickstarter; it looks to me like a revolution-in-the making in terms of how new ideas will get funding and build community (increasingly those are one in the same).
The first project that found its way to my inbox is called Twine. It's . . . how to describe it? It's a little box that connects things to the Internet. Along with some software rules, the Twine box links internal or external sensors (temperature, moisture, motion, open/close, and the like) to the Internet via an email, text, or tweet.
I spent some of this week at IBM's annual Connect analyst event, a cornerstone for understanding Big Blue's direction from the perspective of its fastest-growing and most profitable division.
And the direction is pretty clear: behind-the-scenes product integration is enabling tighter marketing and sales integration across what have been separate brands (Lotus, Tivoli, Cognos, etc.) in the software portfolio. Now the emphasis is on capabilities, and on tuning or packaging those capabilities into industry-oriented bundles such as "social business" or "smarter commerce."
IBM's Smarter Planet initiative is starting to have a positive impact in its software business. For the first couple of years since launch, Smarter Planet was principally a door-opener for IBM's business consulting teams, creating interest among clients in how IBM could help assess and improve business performance.
As those engagements have progressed and multiplied, the consulting organization has created "patterns" across them, problems that they run into repeatedly in a particular industry or geography. Those patterns are now being put into code for industry-specific solutions, for APIs that other software vendors can hook into, and other software artifacts. So Smarter Planet is starting to drive opportunity and revenue for the software group as well as consulting services.
That was my thought as I sat down to a lovely banquet dinner to kick off the Low-Carbon Earth Summit (LCES) in Dalian China a couple of weeks ago. I was lucky enough to be on the keynote agenda at this conference and was sharing dinner with local dignitaries from Dalian and some sustainability luminaries from around the world.
My fellow keynoters hailed from Germany, Brazil, China, Switzerland, and the US. And one of the topics over dinner was the coming round of sustainability conferences, COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, next month; the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January; and Rio+20 in Brazil next June, all part of what the UN has dubbed its "Sustainable energy for all" initiative.
Which got me to thinking: Is it sustainable for all these experts to be flying around the world attending sustainability conferences? The "industry" of creating more sustainable business, home, and public environments should be a role model.
All of us involved in improving sustainability should take a look at our travel schedules and see if cutting one or more of those long-haul flights can be part of our "carbon diet" for the coming year.
And we should pay attention to technology-enabled alternatives, like the VERGE virtual conference run a few months ago by my friends at GreenBiz. Videoconferencing, webcasting, and other technologies can help habitual conference-goers like myself to separate participation in an event from travel to the event.
Call me crazy, but there's a revival of interest in sustainability underway. Despite the Collapse in Copenhagen, the Demise of (US) Cap & Trade, and the ongoing Great Recession, companies around the world continue to invest in IT solutions to improve their operational efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.
My travels these past few weeks had me visiting with two sustainability practice leaders at large consulting/integration firms, the product heads for two of the leading energy and carbon management software providers, and the internal sustainability champions at a very large IT systems company.
In all five instances, folks were surprisingly chipper given the economic environment and its drag effect on sustainability spending. One of the sustainability practice leaders, for example, told me of their plans to grow from 150 people at the end of 2011 to 1,000 people three years hence.
What's going on? Here's my theory: Sustainability is becoming embedded in corporate behavior, metrics, and strategy. It's not a separate investment line item, a separate set of metrics, a separate organization . . . it's embedded into mainstream operations. As one of the software leaders put it, "Sustainability is sitting at the adults' table now."
What does that mean for these suppliers and their brethren? A big change in the way they go to market.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote a market overview report, "The Advent of Enterprise Carbon and Energy Management Systems." Returning from vacation last week, I was sifting through the recent news from suppliers in this nascent market, and thought it would be an opportune time to revisit the principal predictions I made in that report. It's actually something that we in the industry analyst world do not do often enough -- take a look back at our predictions and see how events have or have not conformed with our forecast.
So here goes:
Prediction No. 1: IT is the buyer of ECEM systems. "During the next few years [I wrote in December 2009] we believe that enterprise IT organization will emerge with the clear ownership role [for] ECEM systems. IT will bring its expertise in data analysis, data integrity, network connectivity, and overall systems architecture to bear on the corporate sustainability challenge. The faster that data sources for ECEM become more instrumented, more granular, [and] more real-time … the faster IT will move to the center of ECEM system evaluation, implementation, and operation."