The Renaissance of Enterprise Computing


“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
—Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. patent office, 1899

Last month, we gathered 75 of the top CIOs from around the country to discuss the new generation of enterprise software and the redefined role of the CIO. These CIOs are dealing with an unprecedented level of experimentation and innovative new approaches focused on unsolved problems in enterprise software. The end result will be a complete remaking of the entire enterprise software stack at the intersection of cloud, mobile and SaaS.

All of the CIOs are also facing a changed environment, one where every department within an organization makes its own software buying decisions, outside the purview of the CIO. This “departmentalization of applications” — from Box for collaboration to GitHub for software development to Tidemark for Enterprise Performance Management — means the CIO not only needs to figure out how to enable the department and employee to leverage these software products, but also meet the security and compliance requirements of the larger corporate environment — which, by the way, Bromium and Okta allow you to do. These CIOs know that they can adapt or organizations will adapt without them.

Their jobs weren’t always so difficult. For those of you old enough to remember, there was a time when enterprise computing was almost exclusively dominated by Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco. It was a time when on-premise, Windows-based applications were the de facto standard and there was no alternative. The enterprise was so entrenched that challenging the status quo was viewed as suicidal and very stupid. So hardened was the thinking that most innovation in the enterprise was relegated to mere feature extensions of existing solutions.

Fast-forward to today and the world of enterprise computing has done a 180. Traditional IT is being blown to bits as cloud infrastructure, Software-as-a-Service and mobile computing become the new standards. We are experiencing innovation and usage as never seen before. It is truly a renaissance of massive scale. Hundreds of billions of dollars are up for grabs as buyers shift to new architectures and away from old, as new users and new markets embrace the availability and ease by which they can consume technology.

On the Road to a Revolution

VMware and Salesforce catalyzed this movement from unlikely origins. Both were little known and under-funded, but against all conventional wisdom each visualized a new world order — a world in which the data center was virtual and where applications would run off-premise, eliminating op-ex and painful software upgrades. The world watched but there were few believers. “Suicidal,” people said. “Why would I ever permit my precious customer data to reside outside my firewall?”

But momentum grew. VMware figured out how to effectively break apart the functionality of software from the hardware it resides on, driving a new set of economics into data centers. Salesforce began expanding beyond CRM, demonstrating the wider viability of subscription-based payments and the customer benefits of constant iteration. Customers began to believe that this new vision might actually come true. From a single virtual server and a single customer relationship app, both companies paved the way for a new world order.

Every part of the business software stack is now being remade — from infrastructure to applications to mobile to analytics — with every incumbent in danger of having its core business eroded. And, sure, incumbents will try to buy innovative products and will try to develop their own competing technologies, but the reality is that this new paradigm disrupts the entirety of these businesses. Overcoming a foundational shift cannot be met by a simple product buy or even a strategy change — the new breed of enterprise software start-ups has different revenue recognition policies, different sales models and different go-to-market models, and engineering processes than incumbents. We are talking about transformations occurring here simultaneously in technology and business models! It’s an entirely new approach to IT.

The Departmentalization of Applications

Buyers are clamoring for this new approach. None of our portfolio companies use Oracle. Some use Microsoft, but the majority opt for Google or an open source package. In our own Executive Briefing Center, where we connect and facilitate exchange amongst global brands and the rising stars in tech, we’re finding that even enterprise CIOs are looking beyond mature players to new and emerging technology companies, especially in areas like cloud computing, mobile, big data and SaaS. These are the early indicators of a more permanent shift in IT consumption habits. This shift is resulting in software applications that are targeted for specific business functions. Apptio, for example, has built a world-class application that specifically targets the CIO as a customer. Mixpanel has an application that is in the big data space, but specifically targets analytics for mobile applications. This shift is what I am calling the “departmentalization of applications”.

And entrepreneurs know that incumbents are vulnerable. We see a tremendous number of entrepreneurs bringing a new approach to this crusty old enterprise software market. We see entrepreneurs like Ben Werther of Platfora, who is passionate about up-ending the Business Intelligence market, and Ash Ashutosh of Actifio, who is creating the next generation storage software.

These are entrepreneurs who choose to do the hard work of building software for companies to use, and the software they are creating is elegant, fast, does what it’s supposed to and priced fairly. This is an unbeatable value proposition. For everyone except perhaps the incumbents, this is a great time to be involved with enterprise software.

Peter Levine is a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and blogs at http://peter.a16z.com/. He has been a lecturer at both MIT and Stanford business schools and was the former CEO of XenSource, which was acquired by Citrix in 2007. Prior to XenSource, Peter was EVP of Strategic and Platform Operations at Veritas Software, where he helped grow the organization from no revenue to more than $1.5 billion, and from 20 employees to over 6,000.


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