The Virtual Art of Business Velocity

“On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”   — Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

There is some tangibly different about the past few weeks.

The networking industry is alive with the promise of network virtualization, whether it falls in the buzz categories of OpenFlow or Software-Defined Networking.  This energy was amplified and focused during the recent Open Networking Summit where my colleague Martin Casado provided a great overview of the history of modern software-defined networking from its humble roots in OpenFlow (which he fathers, as well).

But if this buzz is the symptom, the root cause is something more profound — the promise of cloud computing.  Cloud computing is not simply being driven by utility computing models, it is being driven by business velocity and globalization.   It is about a series of promises we have been waiting for:

–       The promise to change the playing field for large and small businesses alike.

–       The promise of the fast conquering the slow.

–       The promise of innovation leapfrogging the moat of incumbency and taking down the castle (that was the thesis of my earlier blog, The Five Deadly Sins of Incumbency).

My good friend Tom Friedman explores these issues and what it means for our society and business in his recent column, One Country, Two Revolutions.  What I told Tom was that “anyone can have the computing resources of Google and rent it by the hour.” This is speeding up everything — innovation, product cycles and competition.”

Cloud computing is not just an over-hyped flavor-of-the-day.  Since IT is business technology (no business functions today without it), using it wisely can result in competitive advantage.  Ask Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff (also quoted in Tom’s article). The Cloud is a paradigm shift.  Master or miss it at your peril.

This brings me, someone circuitously, to my main point, the promise of business velocity.   When a business gets the right business model, moving quickly on it can yield great advantages: the fast usually eats the slow.  Growing up, my favorite cartoon was The Roadrunner.  Each week, Wile E. Coyote will array an impressive set of technology against the Roadrunner.  Master plans, contraptions and precise timing and patience were always Wile’s trademark move.  But he always missed catching the Roadrunner.

Why?

Because the Roadrunner always ran past him before Wile or any his clearly deadly machines could spring the trap.

Businesses today want the velocity of the Roadrunner tied to the mechanized (or digitized) wonders of Wile E. Coyote.  The inefficiencies of IT assets a la Nicholas Carr (The Big Switch)  will drive the argument for the cloud.  But the winners, the really big winners, will be the fast, those who build cloud or cloud-enabled businesses to make or capture markets before others.  The success of the original iPod was not only the elegant and simple interface to enjoying your music, it included the cloud service called iTunes that made it safe for the music industry to retail songs one at a time, creating a long-tail industry of vast proportions.  It gave Apple the lead on both the device and the service.

And let me make my final point.  There is a sense of how the cloud business model will change the competitive dynamic in industries.  Decades after reading Robert Pirsig great book, I wonder what he would say about the cloud?

Pirsig likely would say to truly experience the benefits of cloud computing, one most both embrace and apply it as it best fits the requirements of a specific business.  I would editorialize, businesses must gain the benefits of the cloud first hand, tailoring it to their business models, not the business models of an IT outsourcer. Your completely in contact with it all.

And through the years, maybe I even knew, if just a little, that “removing the cycle frame” was a subtle reference to speed of software unlocked from the boundaries of hardware.

Beep beep!

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5 thoughts on “The Virtual Art of Business Velocity

  1. Pirsig, as strange and weird as he might be, wrote a masterpiece, and I spent several hours studying and enjoying that book.
    The quote that you selected is one of my favourite and I’m sure that both “motor” bikers, and “cycle” bikers like you, can fully appreciate it.
    I’m now grokking the rest of your blog.
    Best regards,

  2. Yes Herb, I think you should invite Simone!

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