“He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!”
– Navin Johnson, The Jerk
Like Navin Johnson, I once made the mistake of misunderstanding what was going on—only in my case, it was more about what my company was selling instead of what the customers were actually buying.
Back in the 1990s I worked for Novell, which produced the dominant network operating system. For many years we had 90 percent market share, with a high renewal rate of licenses. And naively, I believed that what customers were buying was NetWare, the operating system.
As time went on, it became clear that customers weren’t buying NetWare for NetWare’s sake. They were buying file and print services (primarily) which ran well on NetWare. And I wasn’t alone in believing that was the case. Along came Microsoft with a newer operating system that not only ran files and printed well (enough) but also provided many more services in addition. And thus began the downhill slide of Novell.
What does this have to do with the cloud and innovation today? Well, consider the numerous applications present on the market, and the content we generate from them—enormous amounts of content. Whether proprietary programs such as Office or open-source apps that live on the Web, we’re creating a huge and interlinked ecosystem of data.
The Big Data movement is all about recognizing the enormous amount of data we create every day. While we may consider some of that data as garbage (such as a tweet), it can retain value when coupled with analytics. For example, your tweet may be a blip, but if millions of other tweet about the same thing, it’s a movement.
Which brings me to a bold declaration: all data has value. And if all data has value, then how we create it becomes less important than the data itself. And if we continue to see the emergence of cloud-based ways to create data, we’ll less likely be concerned about the apps as we know them and become more interested in where our data resides, how we can make it more valuable and where will it ultimately live.
I’m predicting that we’re in for another transformation. While perhaps it may seem subtle now—after all, we appear to be doing business as usual, only with more ‘cloud’ based storage and services—the ground floor is being nonetheless laid for a large shift from application sales to data and information sales. In that world, the app is expected to be “free,” kind of like a lot of iPhone and Android apps today. What we’ll pay for is access to content and data/information creating services on the back end. While we are already there to some extent with our smartphones, PC applications aren’t quite there yet—but make no mistake, that’s where we are going.
What does that mean for us as technologists? It means this next wave of innovation will be even more exciting as we shed reliance on wedded apps and hardware as well as concerns over where my data resides. And the focus on value extraction around software development will bring about a welcome change, and help accelerate our progress to an ever-connected on-demand world.
JD Marymee is the CEO and co-founder of Technology Innovations Group, an organization that drives disruptive innovation as a daily mission. As part of that mission, he advises clients such as Microsoft and Hitachi as well as numerous startups, facilitating connections with the investment community.