The Post PC-Era

Yesterday, May 10, I gave a keynote presentation at Momentum at EMC World in Vegas, and shortly after I began to reflect on the past several months which have been a whirlwind.

As most of you know, I joined EMC’s Information Intelligence Group last July after having co-run Doculabs for close to 17 years.  Not knowing how it would feel to move from a “think-tank outfit” to a major enterprise vendor, and my strong obsession for not wanting to make my blog a commercial for a company’s products, I decided to take some time to reflect and hold off on writing blogs. But now I’m back, in a big way. And what a great period for reflection it has been!!

This is a great time to be alive in the high-tech sector.  We are undergoing a major market transition in technology that only occurs once every 10 to 15 years.    So here are my thoughts on how fundamentally transformative this era really is, and how in a very short span of time human lives will change in ways that are hard to even imagine today for most.

I would like to describe what I see as the key transformation in this new era, that many like to call the Post-PC Era.  But in order to effectively describe the Post-PC era, let’s consider what has transpired over the past few decades in technology, as illustrated in the graphic below.

Evolution of IT

The first wave of disruption that we witnessed in this industry in the recent past was the advent of the PC, the GUI, and the client/server architecture – what many call the Desktop Era.  The major disruptive force in this era was the innovation around compute capacity and the continuous improvement of the associated price-to-performance ratio that came to be well known as Moore’s Law that states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.  In this era, we transitioned from mainframe based computing environments to PC and subsequently client/server based computing environments.  There was a maniacal emphasis within enterprise IT around scalability, and trying to bring mainframe class applications to a client/server architecture.  The dominant category of applications in this era were largely transactional, the likes of SAP and Peoplesoft.  Given my roots around unstructured information management, I can’t avoid observing that the major unstructured content categories were largely Office documents, TIFF images and PDF documents.  What was among the most interesting characteristics of this era was the model that IT used to control and protect corporate information – a restriction driven model.

Then came the second major wave during the dot com days.  What many call the Web Era.  During this era, while Moore’s Law continued to apply, the driving disruptive force that brought about this market transition was ubiquitous connectivity.  People found connectivity to the internet, and the computing model once again changed drastically.  Companies like Netscape defined the era, and a historic moment occurred in the industry when Bill Gates issued an internal memo at Microsoft called “The New Tidal Wave”, recognizing the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web.  I am for the sake of identifying major market transitions, lumping several sub-era’s within a major era.  I believe most organizations are in this second wave, where we are transitioning from client/server applications to web applications, where IT has become an operational necessity rather than just a unique differentiator, and where the emerging category of applications has been around ad-hoc collaboration.  Juxtaposing the second wave to the first, what’s interesting is that the information governance model for controlling and protecting corporate information move from the primary emphasis around restriction to the primary emphasis around discoverability with the change in Federal Rules of Civil Procedures Act where by organizations were expected to produce electronic information as part of litigation.

While I am leaving out several details of each of these defining waves of enterprise technology, my central point is that each of these major market shifts created a disruption on incumbents, and we move to a new paradigm of doing work regardless of what the skeptics thought.  As I have quoted Victor Hugo several times in past blogs, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” There are winners and losers in each market transition, and what’s important in the technology sector is that those that fail to adapt get left behind – on both the consumption side as well as the supplier side.  A couple final observations in the past two waves or market transitions:  First, major innovation patterns originated in the business sector which eventually also benefited the consumer sector; second, for a large part of the first two sectors, we operated in a single vendor dominated environment where one technology provider owned over 95% market share.  While this was good for a few, the operating environment had a single control point which most can argue isn’t beneficial for the pace of innovation.

Today, we are about to enter the third-wave that many are calling the Post-PC era.  This is a fascinating wave on several fronts, but the most fascinating is how quickly an existing monopoly can be disrupted due to hyper innovation.  This wave has several dimensions worth mentioning.  While compute capacity and ubiquitous connectivity are even more important as we move to a mobile, small form-factor set of devices, the driving disruption in my mind of this Post-PC era was actually the work-pattern shift.  Users got inherently more social in this Facebook-led era.  Users discovered the power of touch interfaces to compliment work patterns of the keyboard based interface which hadn’t evolved much in several decades.  Cloud computing got to be a key priority of most CIO’s.  Information is getting inherently more rich in that video, voice and composite content types are getting to be the classes of information that are driving the most amount of information growth.  Big Data of petabyte scale, that can be mashed-up to create fundamentally different insight to help us do the most mundane of tasks, is going to be the new normal.  The information governance approach is one of federated policies across disaggregated data.  On average, knowledge workers have 3 to 7 devices.  The intersection of mobile, social and location specific services is driving the next wave of apps.  Open source has reached critical mass with initiatives like Linux, Hadoop, NoSQL databases, etc.  And most important of them all is that the innovation is driven in the consumer world and this has become the era where the user is at the center.  We are moving from an IT-centric computing model to a people-centric computing model.

What’s the significance of this long description of innovation?  It is that as we move from Wave 2/Web Era to Wave 3/Post-PC Era, the mandate fundamentally shifts for 2 specific constituencies – Enterprise IT and the technology vendors.  The mandate shift for enterprise IT is that they no longer can operate in an environment where users are dictated what devices and what applications to use.  Instead, they will have to operate in an environment where users have the ultimate choice, and IT will have to figure out how ways to apply policies to ensure the appropriate information governance.  The mandate also shifts for the technology vendor.  No longer will the technology vendor be able to ignore user experience and be successful because they assert that their core competency is the core plumbing, scalability and reliability of high-end enterprise systems.  Simplicity will trump functionality and user experience will be move towards being frictionless regardless of what technology you as a vendor provide.  And the ultimate benefactor of this entire wave will be the user.

As we move into this new Post-PC Era, there will be winner and losers.  I look forward to engaging in further dialogue with the industry on how we can all take advantage of this transition that is changing lives in material ways as we speak!!

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4 Comments on “The Post PC-Era”

  1. […] form-factor, mobile devices and enhanced collaboration.  EMC’s own Jeetu Patel talked about and wrote an insightful blog post on this issue as part of the Momentum Conference at EMC […]

  2. […] form-factor, mobile devices and enhanced collaboration. EMC’s own Jeetu Patel talked about and wrote an insightful blog post on this issue as part of the Momentum Conference at EMC […]

  3. C. Plumber Says:

    I am going out of my wits! Technology is going too fast. I am impressed how you can see how social media and mobility changes everything.

    If you can make sense of this shift, you are loving all the opportunities coming right before your eyes. One opportunity is helping businesses shift strategies to catch the mobile customer.

    This is a very eye opening post. Welcome back to blogging:)

  4. […] we move into the Post PC Era business users and the IT group both want their cake and they both want to eat it too!  Business […]

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