Rainbow Farting Unicorns…

by Brian Katz on October 25, 2012 · 4 comments

It’s always nice when a good friend asks your opinion on a subject. Although, when you realize that it’s mostly because he can’t sleep due to jetlag and his only other choice is a Paris Hilton movie, well…

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with my good friend Philippe Winthrop tonight about a presentation he is putting together on “Cloud, Big Data and Mobile’ and he asked for my thoughts on the subject.

I’ve written about Cloud before but have only mentioned Big Data in passing. I spend most of my time talking, writing, and working in mobile. It’s become very interesting that everywhere you look these days people are talking about the intersection of these 3 pieces. There were at least two different lists making the rounds this week from the Gartner Symposium that is happening in Orlando which highlighted these 3 as elements of the top 10 technologies of next year or the next few years. There are lots of quotes that are boiled down to the 140 characters required by twitter on how important any one of these topics is. My guess is that if you walk into any technical conference these days you can’t miss hitting someone there to speak about any of the three. I hate to say it, but it is all just bluster…like the high speed winds from tropical storm Sandy that is bearing down on the East coast.

You hear the constant cry of needing to hire experts in cloud, and yet very few people can define what cloud actually is. It like the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity…I’m not sure what it is but I’ll know it when I see it. Then you have the people prattling on about Big Data. They can’t define Big Data other than it is a lot of stuff, and they can’t tell you how valuable your data is, but they’re happy to be paid big bucks to figure it out for you. Let’s certainly not leave Mobile out of this thrashing…every business needs a mobile app and has to be doing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as it will bring loads of money and make the employees infinitely more productive.

The issue with all these technologies, no matter how interconnected they may be, is they don’t matter one wit if they don’t fit into your strategy. The business doesn’t come to IT and insist they be put on the Amazon cloud, or have Splunk into look at their data while Mobile Iron is managing their mobiles. The business is looking to be more productive and efficient, they want to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. They do this by enabling their employees to do the work they need to, where they need to do it, with the data they need to get it done and ever more efficiently and productively than yesterday.

The business certainly wants IT to be more agile and respond faster to their requirements, but if they are telling you how to do it, then you shouldn’t be in the IT group, they should. This is what partnering with the business is all about. They bring requirements and needs to the table and you work on helping them to meet those needs in the best way possible. Do they need to know something about Cloud and Big Data, sure…but not at the technical detail that they are dictating the choices. The solution to the requirements should dictate the choices and lest we forget, some of those requirements need to be fleshed out by talking to the users who will be using it day in and day out. IT is in the business of building business solutions by partnering up with the business, security, developers, legal, HR, all the teams I am I sure left out, and of course, the users.

It’s not that I don’t think cloud is important, it is, but in the way it enables solutions to be found faster and IT to more agile. I don’t care whether it’s a private cloud, a public cloud, or hybrid cloud, it’s what allows the solution to be built the right way to meet the current needs and be able to grow to meet the future needs that a successful solution will have.

I spend a lot of time talking about freeing the data that exists inside of a company so that the appropriate people can use it to make the right decisions. If that means that you need to look at Big Data as it is called so you can mine appropriate hidden meanings from it to present to the users so they can make the best decisions, than make sure you’re using and exploiting it. The fact that you have Big Data and you can do a really cool search on it means nothing if the queries don’t produce any meaningful data to the business.

I certainly think Mobile is important to the business but the second that the business says they need X device without telling you why they need it or worse, you push Y device on them because it is easier to manage, you have already lost the battle. The goal is to pick the right tool for the right task.

In the end, you will be building mobile apps that have a backend that runs in some sort of cloud that sifts through lots of data to provide the right solution that makes the business more productive and competitive. All these pieces are building blocks and you need people who can figure out how to put them together…but if that’s what you’re talking to the business about at anything other than a high level…well, you might as well just tell them about the rainbow farting unicorns too.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

James Furbush October 25, 2012 at 10:57 am

Wait, wait, wait. Paris Hilton was in a movie? What coked up studio executive do we have to blame for that? All kidding aside, apparently nobody told you being practical and smart was good for linkbait?


Walter Paley October 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Crucial take away here, Brian.

“IT is in the business of building business solutions in partnership with various departments.”

It is these partnerships and the needs of those other departments that must drive the technology, not vice versa.


Matthew Yeager November 7, 2012 at 5:23 am

If there is a blog post which is a better preface to the much needed book ‘Stop Shouting! Why Business and IT Must Listen to and Work with One Another’ I haven’t read it. And I rather like the idea of a preface or, indeed a whole chapter, being called ‘Rainbow Farting Unicorns’.

All kidding aside, as an industry and, more broadly as a business technology community, we have been arguing for the convergence of business and technology for as long as we’ve been using it … perhaps the argument truly began during WWII at Bletchley Park as codebreakers, engineers, and military personnel argued with one another over the best use of the information they were so efficiently and effectively decoding. But three things have always struck me about this;

1. There is little doubt that the efforts of the combined personnel of Bletchley Park [and I’m including field personnel, here] significantly reduced the war by several years and saved millions of lives. Yet, through their efforts, they were able to save millions whilst strategic thinking and planning often left them unable to save lives in the immediate [eg the Luftwaffe bambing of Coventry].

2. Just as in today’s modern business and IT structures, there existed different stakeholder groups, or ‘tribes’, if you will; engineers, boffins as managers, military personnel, accountants, etc. Not altogether dissimilar to today’s business heads, accountancy/finance, and IT.

3. Whilst engineers argued with military bods, accountants argued with boffins, codebreakers argued with engineers … there was never any doubt that they were working towards a common goal and, whilst differences might exist in their opinions on how to get there, there was never any doubt in the commitment to the cause and unwavering support from diverse groups.

Now, how do we get today’s groups to speak and work more collaboratively with one another? Must we have the real and present danger, not mention loss of life, that war brings to sharpen effort and establish symbiotic bilateral relationships between diverse and disparate groups not normally known for working collaboratively with one another?

I’m honestly not sure, but well done for moving the ball forward with this post and your blog generally as I believe this to be the most important question and battle of the coming years in our industry.


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