The Year of Hindsight: 2020

With the year 2020 now less than a decade away, my esteemed colleague Juergen Imhoff and I have put together the following "fictional roadmap" representing upcoming technology and business themes or events. Keep in mind this blog posting in no way reflects Microsoft’s official position, any special personal insight, or any overt or implied guarantees one way or the other. It’s simply the ramblings of a couple of IT/Business professionals interested in playing a bit of what-if as Spring unfolds and Summer approaches… written in hindsight from our carefully crafted and lofty “Year 2020 hindsight” perches…


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We've seen Enterprise IT take a remarkably diverse journey over the last decade. Back in 2013, still called "The Year of SaaS," we saw a great amount of consolidation in the increasingly successful SaaS and IT services markets. Through these mergers, the then-Big 4 software providers managed to maintain their competitive positions from years earlier, though they were faced with two "new" enterprise competitors. Initially known for search and later a mixed portfolio of OSs, tools, and a less-than-successful initial application strategy, Google's acquisition spree (particularly of and several open source enterprise applications providers) created a new contender in enterprise SaaS-based business applications. More surprising, Apple's unforeseen entry into the Enterprise Data Center marked the beginning of a new wave of highly consumable and easily customized software, services, and underlying infrastructure. Leap-frogging one another during the year, the six companies battled on several fronts ranging from technology innovations, standards rationalization, and commoditization plays to tier 1 references, industry alignment, and market cap valuations.



In 12 months, IT's landscape was forever changed. To be sure, businesses around the globe benefitted. During this time though, access strategies to the cloud's growing collection of business-critical applications became increasingly prone to disaster recoverability and business continuity concerns. In the same way, security concerns began to crop up and consume a disproportionate share of IT budgets as data privacy issues and secure accessibility by a global community ill-prepared for the cloud threatened businesses and consumers alike. Unfortunately, at the time it all seemed business-as-usual, and band-aids seemed to be an adequate cure. Looking back, it's obvious what a mistake that kind of thinking turned out to be.



By mid-2014, in the midst of diminished margins and generally tremendous upheaval in their cash cow businesses and consumer applications marketplaces, the Big 6 found it necessary to pursue (in some cases, last-minute) aggressive partnering and vertical M&A strategies. Failed buyout attempts and successful acquisitions of one another underscored the scramble. Vertical mega-acquisitions up and down the delivery, technology, and application stacks added billion-dollar facilities at one end of the spectrum and mobile networking/telecom assets at the other. An especially bright spot emerged as Microsoft completed SaaS-enabling and integrating the last of its business and consumer applications and integration solutions. In doing so, they created the first true business/consumer experience meshing a consumer's business and personal worlds and workloads as loosely or as tightly as those consumers found useful.



The real news towards the end of 2014 revolved around the growth and automated accessibility of “virtual payment,” though, as PayphoneX catapulted into the forefront of daily news due to its significant online-energy payment system breakthroughs. PayphoneX made it easy to own and operate the new breed of hybrid and electric cars, particularly in the world's most congested cities. Payphone’s ability to accept virtual payment for car & mobile systems based exclusively on Microsoft’s Windows Phone XA enabled millions of consumers to not only gain real-time insight into road conditions, traffic, and even air travel, but to also allow automated payment processing at recharging stations around Europe, North America, and eventually the rest of the world. More remarkably, Phone XA and several competing products eventually made it possible to dynamically improve travel conditions using smart reroute analytics for Windows Phone and Windows-engineered vehicles. With a 42% annual growth rate across the world's most populous automobile-centric cities, PayphoneX and its infrastructure partners changed travel like Facebook had changed social networking 5 years earlier.



By the middle of 2015, a new cloud phenomena known today as NewCloud owned the headlines. Pure-play Public Cloud Services (PCS) had finally matured enough to enable consumers, businesses, and their partners, vendors, customers, and friends to connect to one another effortlessly and securely; short-lived Hybrid Cloud models fell away for all but the ultra-conservative or federally regulated. This ubiquitous connectivity ushered in another wave of paperless integration, speeding along the demise of more printed and faxed forms as promised two decades earlier. And this newfound interconnectedness set the stage for yet another round of automated and orchestrated business-to-business and business-to-consumer processes. Conversely, Private Cloud deployments peaked that year as their stop-gap “purpose for being” lost traction in the wake of less expensive, low risk, and highly available NewCloud offerings with their standardized and ubiquitously integrated development and hosting environments.



On the business/technology front, IT departments continued to dramatically shrink. In the space of only 2 years, many of these final bastions of techno-geek empires gave way instead to Business-enabled IT Project Management Offices responsible for the coordination rather than the implementation and management of information technology. The real work of IT was being done by the IT15, a who’s who of Mergers and Acquisitions yielding marriages between various telecommunications and network providers, software providers, systems integrators, traditional hardware vendors, and several hosting and other services providers. Nearly all desktop, network, database, and server administration and support professionals went the way of green-screen terminal service providers as both client and back-end devices became more and more disposable and as business/productivity applications were delivered as a service. Private Data Centers still hosted a few core or differentiating applications but everything else had since been tossed into the cloud (consistent with Geoffrey Moore’s core-vs-context work socialized a decade earlier), where literally a handful of subject matter experts addressed the infrastructure and platform needs of a billion end users.



And then everything changed in 2017 and the world was forced to reckon with the magnitude of all these changes. Despite great progress on many other fronts, security threats continued to mount as data was logically centralized by relatively few providers; so much power consolidated so tightly and wielded by so few was destined to be exploited. To make matters worse, another world-wide recession and the continued re-leveling of global assets set the stage for a new round of terrorist activities. This culminated in the events of October 2017 when $2 trillion worth of trading was compromised and eventually held hostage. Though officially resolved after 2 weeks, the hijacking combined with a related string of dirty bomb detonations orchestrated over 3 continents changed the face of not only global business but communications all up. The resulting exodus of liquidity from public markets devastated the global economy; repercussions continue to emanate today across social, economic, political, and business divides. And in the wake of the event’s success in destabilizing the globe, the subsequent growing incidence of copycat events has weighed heavily on global recovery. Back in those days, the prevalence of hijacking both business data and business processes pushed data security squarely into the limelight as the number one risk management challenge today. The uptick in “backsourcing” IT from the cloud back to a company’s own data center only made matters worse; the economics simply couldn’t justify the risk/reward model over any period of longevity. Companies made huge exit investments to the detriment of their already skittish shareholders and stakeholders, only to ultimately go back tail-between-their-legs to the very clouds they had left the year before.



And so we find ourselves here, today, in 2020. With this new decade of hindsight upon us, can we indeed finally see more clearly? Do we have better answers? We still haven’t solved third world hunger (though we have the resources), we are still too dependent on old world fuels (though we have effective alternatives), we still solve problems by deploying troops first and diplomacy second (though we know better), and we continue to face an increasingly dramatic cultural divide between those who have information and those who need it. Our world of enterprise and consumer technology is certainly much less expensive and much more connected and accessible than only five or ten years ago, too. But has it made a positive difference in our lives?



As we move through this Year of Hindsight, large in-house business application-focused Data Centers exist only for those firms where government regulations and compliance requirements (ITAR, FDA, HIPAA, etc) stipulate data-to-physical asset mapping and control. With much of our business, economic, and personal data continuing to grow even more tightly interconnected, Business Intelligence has again topped the business application charts as the killer app of the year—for the 10thyear in a row. Interestingly though, this continued focus on BI has done little to change individual work efficiencies. Productivity from an individual perspective remains at the same level we saw five to ten years ago, likely a direct result of the massive increases in information, subsequent analysis, and limitations of the human brain to effectively multi-task. Of course, the breadth of automation and orchestration implemented over the last decade has circumvented many of these challenges, driving record profits for companies around the world while nearly doubling the GNP of several countries. New low-cost “people-pluggable” productivity systems from MBI (MicroBook Inc), GoogBM, AppleZon, and OraATT hold the promise to significantly overcome individual productivity and efficiency limitations. But with fewer and fewer people holding fewer and fewer knowledge worker jobs, the net effects might take years to bear fruit.



There is some good news on the consumer front though. Excess compute power is not only traded on the open market but donated tax-advantageously to the benefit of government programs, research projects, and society in general. Year 2020 has arrived to see many people using large-scale well-performing and secured pay-as-you-go public clouds in the same way that utilities like electricity and water are consumed. The “utility computing” concept envisioned at the turn of the century has finally been realized: a ubiquitous, seamless, and everyday part of life as a consumer on Earth. More than ¾ of the world’s 13 billion inhabitants across 190 countries seamlessly access the cloud and thus each other; business, ongoing education, and indeed a big part of life are being transacted nearly exclusively via the connectedness enabled by NewCloud, all fed by a host of vNext mobile and other tetherless devices. Indeed, the Green Consortium’s work towards solving the battery life problem has opened new doors to online education and 24x7 collaboration despite differing global infrastructure availability and technology standards (a sticky issue handled in large part by standardized data sharing protocols, cloud-access message bus technology, and IPv7).



Major roads, bridges, and ports, and several billion homes and businesses around the globe have been instrumented, resulting in a new wave of innovative cloud services developed and sold for fractions of pennies per transaction. Ninety percent of IT assets are controlled, and 95% of all transactions are at least passively handled, by the Global 10 (G10). People and goods alike are tracked today from birth to death, from creation to consumption, awakening a new level of insight and frankly a new incarnation of Big Brother like the world has only to this point imagined in fiction.



Massive exabyte and zettabyte-sized globally distributed data stores and the inherent physical vulnerabilities of the networks carrying all this information have finally necessitated  government protection and regulation, which in turn along with the growing crisis around data theft and information hostage has pushed the development of more sophisticated security and identification controls. Despite global redundancy and safeguards, with its ability to broadly affect entire countries and markets as well as individual companies and high-visibility industry and political leaders, hacking components of the G10 has become the dominant and favored method of terrorism. To be sure, the recently approved trillion Euro funding initiative will help quell these attacks. But this unforeseen wrinkle in the power shift has recently given rise to the notion that many countries and geographies will soon become second-tier constructs underneath the umbrella of the G10 and its carte blanche access to funding.



In all this, privacy has become a luxury few can afford. Most every business, vehicle, and commerce-related entity is instrumented and tracked for reasons described as “SoS”—for the “safety of society.” In the name of global security and in the wake of near-cataclysmic terrorist close-calls post-2017, there is even serious talk by a small circle of G10 and others global leaders of eventually instrumenting individuals as a prerequisite to buying and selling goods. In hindsight, perhaps this outcome is fairly predictable, if not an obvious outcome of the cloud phenomenon initiated a decade ago. After all, it too was predicted many, many, years ago….


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Hope you enjoyed our little journey! Your thoughts and feedback are welcomed, as usual.


Best regards,


George Anderson & Juergen Imhoff

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