Enterprises failing to keep up with digital change, EMC study says

As the so-called information generation places new demands on companies, many admit that they lack the ability to respond.

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At a swanky dinner in San Francisco last week, execs from EMC and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) previewed the company's Information Generation report to a small group of journalists. And EMC President Jeremy Burton made it clear how the trends identified in the report played into the kinds of technology decisions made by his company's customers.

Rachel Maguire, research director for the IFTF in Palo Alto, California, explained that the survey of 3,600 business leaders in 18 countries across 10 industries revealed the top business attributes essential for success over the next 5 to 10 years:

  1. Predictively spot new opportunities in markets
  2. Demonstrate transparency and trust
  3. Innovate in agile ways
  4. Deliver unique and personalized experiences
  5. Always on, operate in real time

Most companies aren't ready

Not a terribly surprising list. The more interesting data is how few of the respondents feel that they are addressing these imperatives well across the entire company:

  • Predictively spot new opportunities in markets: 12%
  • Demonstrate transparency and trust: 9%
  • Innovate in agile ways: 14%
  • Deliver unique and personalized experiences: 11%
  • Always on, operate in real time: 12%

EMC's Burton says the company's customers have expressed concerns over these issues. Over the past year, a very different group of people has been coming through EMC's briefing center. "We tend to talk to the infrastructure guys," he said, but lately there's been a steadily increasing number of people visiting from the business side, often without the IT team… "except maybe for someone from the R&D arm."

These large companies are coming to EMC looking for help with innovation, Burton said. They ask "what does innovation look like?" because they have often cut back their own innovation efforts. In many cases, Burton says these companies "haven't written a line of code in 15 years," relying instead on packaged software and offshore contractors.

Software is once again becoming a differentiator for almost every company in every industry, Burton said. Irrespective of the industry they're in, EMC's customers are trying to turn their companies into digital business… software companies if you will.

Burton mentioned a prominent athletic shoe and apparel company that told him that within five years everything it sells will have an embedded telemetric device. It will know not only who its customers are, but when they go to bed and when they wake up. At that point, Burton said, "their business model will look more like a healthcare company than a clothing company."

EMC's customers are clearly feeling pressure from startups catering to the information generation.

"If you don't get on that treadmill today, it will be hard to catch up," Burton says.

A new way to develop software

Adding to the problem of making this complex transformation is that modern software is built differently than the way today's IT leaders learned in school, Burton said. Instead of slow, careful, waterfall development procedures, today's fast-moving software innovation now requires Agile development methodologies, like Scrum and DevOps.

See also: Meet the 18.5 million people who rule your world

One result, Burton noted, is a shift to what Gartner calls Bi-Modal IT: one group—typically led by the CIO—is charged with keeping the lights on and the trains running on time, while another group—often led by at CTO or Chief Digital Officer—drives innovation. As Burton explained it, businesses require this kind of organization because many developers are now the kings of IT, and they got sick of working within typically restrictive IT environments and built their own cloud-based development model where there they're not as beholden to IT.

A bigger role for Flash memory?

So what does all this mean for EMC? For Burton, the issue is where these concerns will create opportunity. If customers need always-on, real-time responses,  that will likely mean more in-memory databases designed to provide the kind of performance needed to deliver those results, he says. Given the need for low latency in that environment, it could mean a need for more Flash memory, he said. On the software side, meanwhile, as technology increasingly attempts to make decisions for users in real-time, Burton expects increased investments in artificial intelligence.

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