Being a history buff, I always wanted to be at the Revolution. If I’d missed the Tea Party, at least I could have been there for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or missing that—the ratification of the new constitution. I felt that way at the PowerPlex conference: since I would have had to have been at the first PowerPlex to lay claim to having witnessed the Tea Party, at least I am at the ratification. PowerPlex2013 was definitely a shot heard ‘round the world’. Cloud has really arrived—there is no turning back.
As Jason Blessing, Plex’s CEO, stated, “Enterprise software is going through the most disruptive and innovation phase in decades. Time is compressing, the way we use technology is going through a revolution….Enterprise software is cool again.” Quite a statement, since in the last decade the cool factor was clearly with Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Mason (founders of Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon, respectively).
“We use more technology at home than we do at work,” Jason stated. “Mobile smart phones and touch pads are surpassing other personal or office computing hardware sales,” plus “the consumerization of the technology” is changing our attitudes about how we use technology and our expectations of how it should work; and high speed internet allows for ubiquitous computing—anyplace, anytime—and fosters the attitude that technology should be a utility or service. “We turn on a switch and the light is there.”
This is the real catalyst for the global enterprise: the high performance, anytime anywhere model that can support high-performance big-data analytics and also high-performance shop floor control—now from the cloud.
So What’s the Revolution?
Innovation Speed — End users are liberated from petitioning Parliament for changes in the law, waiting years for the House of Lords (legacy ERP companies) to agree to changes in future releases. Not so at Plex. There are multiple streams into the innovation cycle, such as the Plex community that shares existing ideas, the customer service expert who monitors all requests and can often point to existing features that customers were unaware existed, or an enhancement that can show up in a matter of weeks and be available on the cloud.
Compressed time-to-benefit — ERP implementation that would otherwise take months to years to go live, often can occur in weeks. Many Plex customers were proudly boasting of their implementation times, often to the disbelief of their own company execs.
No software enhancement charges — The King is not issuing new taxes to fund the royal coffers. A shocking but delightful bit of Plex culture is their user-funded development process. One customer may ‘contribute’ the funds for an enhancement. Once developed, this enhancement often becomes part of the Plex solution for everyone else to use; other companies do not have to pay for it. And interestingly, if the enhancement is developed by a partner,1 the partner will contribute it to the community. They don’t claim it as their unique IP and charge for its use over and over again. That is so unlike the software industry!
So in essence, we are moving from the royal petitioning process to one of community — a democratization of the enterprise software market. In social networks everything is open — all the good we do can be shared.
In a democracy, the representatives need to serve the people. In cloud, the providers have to be on their toes and responsive to the needs of the customer. One example of that is the new performance monitoring they have back at Plex headquarters: monitoring the performance of the queries, networks, servers, etc., to ensure that the continuous use and deployment (more frequent than at Google or Facebook) can support the requirements of all Plex’s customers. Those requirements are millions of transactions at fractional performance speeds. So the programmer’s mandate is no longer just the development time for new reports, screens and features, but also ensured performance — now — in production.
Once Plex decided to abandon client-server and go with the cloud, they had to innovate as they went. Facebook and all the webbies came later. Microsoft with Azure and other cloud tools that many ERPs and customers are waiting for came much later. Plex cloud capabilities rival those of Google, et al. when it comes to performance and architecture. We so often think of them as ‘just an enterprise software’ provider rather than the cloud pioneers they are.
And this is no freemium flash, but mission-critical applications.
Changing Role of IT — Changing Role of the Business
When the ‘profession’ of IT really got rolling in the 80s, a structured approach to development was created by several thought leaders, includingDeMarco, Martin, Yourdon, and Constantine — the Structured System Development processes. They advocated the decomposition of roles, business requirements, functional specifications, technical specifications and so on. Although writing code was relatively easy, building the overall system, its interfaces, and data was harder to construct, install, and then maintain. Users had to know what they wanted upfront. These design approaches have been modified with Agile Development, but the principles are somewhat the same. Plan, plan, plan. Then wait, wait, wait.
We know cloud is changing IT in the enterprise. IT’s future will be less associated with coding and more associated with procurement, relationship management, UI for data access modes (reports, screens), and aggregating and analyzing data. But not much has been contemplated about the changing roles of business analysts.
By comparison, the old model IT department looks a lot like the Victorian Era: England at the height of the ‘Empire’ with royal leaders — the Viceroys. Using the Empire analogy, business analysts had to plan for your needs, petition the Viceroy of your colony (the CIO) and create a priority list and budget. The Viceroy would then petition Parliament, if he was so inclined. And time passed. Then, if you were lucky and got a green light, you could develop a business requirement, submit a request, and wait and wait.
Compare the same era in the ‘new world’ — the US in the late 1800s: the great awaking — democratizing politics, religion; the emancipation proclamation. The new software model is: Democracy and the use of clouds for discovery, data access, inter-enterprise processes, search, social, and community.
Today, the analyst is an advisor on how to use the resources available now, not a month or year from now. “Let’s understand your need. Oh, ok, this is how you can do that with the software,” or “I can make modifications using the visual modeling tools2 and implement that new report, screen, rule, and/or query now, or more powerfully. I have been monitoring your workflows and want to show you a more effective way to do that.” The business analyst works daily with users to enhance the process, and also seeks, through the community social networks and wikis, to find new ideas to strengthen her team and share ideas with the broader community, as well.3 Representation and no taxation!
I was delighted by the unique culture in the community of users, partners, and Plex — the innovation speed; community engagement in learning and development; not nickel and diming the customers endlessly, but sharing IP; and the continuous updating of solutions. It is a Revolution. And if my observations and analogies did it justice and communicated why this is revolutionary for the software industry, I have written a really good article.
You can read about Plex’s strategy and technology in the article in this issue: Plex Flexes Manufacturing Muscle. We will also follow up in the next issue on architecture in the cloud.
1. With initial funding coming from that one customer. — Return to article text above
2. Like the Vision Plex tool. — Return to article text above
3. As well, many are talking about the new role of the data scientist — a big data analytics type who is mining and sifting data to make connections and seek new outcomes. — Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.