Sunday, July 1, 2012

Post-PC - Companies that don't evolve will be gone over the next 10 years.


The term " Post-PC" is everywhere and nobody is doubting that we've entered the next phase of computing.  But do we really understand the effect that this is having on our industry today, and how it will shape the future?  I think not.

Post-PC is really an incorrect term - the PC (Intel/Microsoft) is not going anywhere and will continue to be a valid and viable choice for many industries and consumers (I'm writing this blog on a Windows 7 PC).  The real change is that the PC will no longer dominate - the future does not belong to any single device - rather it will be a heterogeneous mix of PCs, Macs, Tablets, Smartphones, Chromebooks, Android, iOS, Intel, AMD, and devices that have yet to be invented.

The velocity of device innovation is accelerating, and trends such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) have forever changed the face of enterprise computing. Surprisingly, even regulated industries such as Healthcare, Finance and Government see the rise of BYOD as inevitable.  Even if these organizations try to (mostly) standardize on a single device, they admit that BYOD in just one organizational pocket dramatically increases complexity. The enterprise application and data delivery landscape is going to be multi-device and multi-platform.When CIOs ask what will be "the new PC", they are (falsely) applying thinking that has developed over the last 30 years and deduce that there will be single device that dominates - that just isn't the case. 

The face of Enterprise computing is forever changing and there is no going back to the 'simplicity' of a single device - the Wintel PC.  Just as 30 years ago there was no going back to the minicomputer.  The minicomputer was born in the 60's and ruled until the mid 80's, when PCs started to trickle into the workplace.  The PC emerged from the new low cost microprocessor, and succeeded in business due to factors such as the lower cost, Local Area Networking delivered sharing, and freeing users from relatively inflexible IT departments.

Ironically, many of the issues leading to the demise of the minicomputer are also drivers to the Post-PC Era - IT departments are seen as not being flexible or rapid enough to provide users what they want/need, and the new devices are much cheaper.  The same core drivers around cost and flexibility continue to affect change. None of the minicomputer vendors survive today, and there was not a technology problem, as PCs were much easier to build and sell than minicomputers.  These companies were unable to shift their business models from one era to another, and the only exceptions were those who broke the rules.  IBM created a PC in under a year using off the shelf CPU and parts (even the operating system). From http://www.economist.com/node/7226000:

The IBM Personal Computer running DOS 1.0 In many ways, the PC triumphed due to the very un-IBM way in which it was developed. When IBM's previous attempts at a PC failed to sell, being too expensive, a “skunk works” team of engineers was convened in Boca Raton, Florida. The team did not report through IBM's stifling bureaucracy, but directly to the top of the company. It was given a year to devise a low-cost machine. 


“The people doing that work weren't talking about it, there weren't any business cases done, there wasn't any annual budget review,” explains Lewis Branscomb, IBM's chief scientist from 1972 to 1986. “IBM did a lot of radical things—and that proved to be very successful.”


To meet its ambitious goals, the team bucked two IBM traditions. First, instead of using only IBM parts, the team chose off-the-shelf components. Second, rather than keep the design a secret, the team made the specifications open, so that independent software developers could flourish. When the PC finally launched, IBM expected to sell 250,000 units in five years. In the event, it had sold nearly 1m by 1985.


Anyone working at a company delivering enterprise products today must deeply understand the change to the Post-PC Era. Analyze reasons for the ultimate demise of the minicomputer market - the same lesson has played out in hundreds of industries and there are plenty of great examples. Help your organizations understand that a huge change has started and product/technology is just part of the solution. Once your colleagues understand the ramifications of this shift, they'll be more likely to evolve to meet this new environment.  Companies that don't evolve will be gone over the next 10 years.

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