The new Cold War: Silicon Valley versus traditional enterprise software

Credit: t.r. robinson via Flickr

In a compelling keynote address last week at the AIIM conference in New Orleans, AIIM CIO Laurence Hart spoke of a war going in enterprise software between the cloud disruptors of Silicon Valley and the traditional on-premise software vendors.

He was speaking in the context of content management, but what he said applied to the entire enterprise, whether content management or any other enterprise software.

"There is a war going on every day in the enterprise. Silicon Valley is attacking the enterprise. They are attacking our way of life," he said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. 

But more seriously, he added, "Silicon Valley startups are out to disrupt everything and they are not subtle. They admit this," he told the audience.

Hart went on to liken the battle to the old Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, where two distinct philosophies battled for our attention. He pointed out there weren't guns or bombs involved. In fact, Box had a booth next to IBM at the conference, and there were no shots fired or blows struck among the folks staffing the booth -- but there was a battle going on.

Box is designed to provide a way to share content in motion via the cloud, and IBM had a graphic on their booth precisely about protecting content in motion. Coincidence? We think not.

And it wasn't just IBM. At its booth, HP was showing off HP Flow -- a cloud-based mobile capture and content management solution that aims at a very similar market to Box.

But in spite of these attempts by established vendors like HP and IBM, the big companies are only beginning to understand is what the companies born in the cloud have always understood -- that success starts with the user, and then moves to IT.

As an IT professional, Hart doesn't want to return to a world where big vendors sold monolithic packages directly to the IT department. But he does think IT needs to work more closely with the cloud vendors to tell them what they need and why they need it.  "We don't have the option of letting things blow up. We have to find ways to work together," he explained.

Hart said the main reason the Silicon Valley upstarts have made as much progress as they have, is that enterprise software in general has failed. It's too complex and projects fail far too often. "Why are [cloud vendors] being successful?," Hart asked. "Because we are failing. The majority of IT projects fail. That means success is an exception," he said.

And the new guys are attacking a need. They see frustrated end users and they are providing simpler interfaces that strip away all the complexity and let people do their work. "Silicon Valley is solving problems for users. We are solving issues for the enterprise. This discrepancy is where have gone wrong," he said.

So how can we resolve this conflict without the software world version of global thermonuclear war? Hart says IT pros need to stop fighting the trend and start telling Silicon Valley what they need. At a minimum, there are certain key features that most of the startups are missing -- features that the folks responsible for security and systems management are paid to worry about. "Our needs still matter. We still have to run the business," Hart said.

But he added, "We are making our jobs harder by not working with them."

Communication is key here. Tell the cloud vendors what you need because he said, "Success shouldn't be the exception."

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