Bulletin 8 March 2019. New, accidental cloud native empires are emerging

I had an interesting call on Friday, a review which broached the concept of imposter syndrome. Which, given that I was speaking to some experts in this particular field, was quite something to behold. “We’re worried that we haven’t got anything new to say,” they said, to my astonishment. “That’s OK,” I told them: “You can just employ some the the standard tricks industry analysts use to look clever when they haven’t a sausage.”

I say this without embarrassment — who in a position of technology industry influence hasn’t been asked about a topic they only have a vague idea about, only to give (without a pause) some apparently sage response? Ah, just me then. Now I’m embarrassed. 

To whit, that whole cloud native thing. I’ve struggled with this topic, not least because there appears to be two types of people in the world: those that get it absolutely, and those who don’t get it at all but would like to. If you’re a technology-based software startup, you will probably fall into the former camp, and if you are what we might term a ‘traditional enterprise’ (i.e. everyone else) you may well represent the latter. 

Given just how much ink has been dispensed in the name of, “Hey, you, yeah, you old company! You need to transform! Be like Uber! Or you will fail!”, this communications barrier deserves a bit of scrutiny. As an industry we have our fair share of buzzwords, so one also needs to cut through that. And I am sure there’s plenty of imposter syndrome flying around, and indeed, people making stuff up. 

So, what have I learned so far about this gap? My current thinking is that provenance is everything. Whereas traditional organisations may well have existed before IT was even a thing, a lot of the new breed coalesced around a (hopefully) good, technology-based idea. 

If software or service vendors, many germinate on a petri dish such as GitHub, developing a freemium, then potentially a pro service on top. This explains why there’s so many of the blighters: it’s a bit like a version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where every notion can be turned into software. This has created a cloud-native ecosystem which doesn’t have, and therefore cannot perceive, doing things any other way. 

Such companies, and indeed people have been happily engaging with each other through good times and bad, trying to make their way. When someone more enterprise-y comes along, the latter are made very welcome even if they are a bit slow. And all this traditionalist group has to do is “be cloud-native” and it can reap all the same rewards. Come on in, the water’s warm!

Like everything in life, however, this is just a phase. The bright sparky young startups have come into existence because they could, at this moment in time, but the kinds of challenges they are having to deal with are less and less about the functionality, and more and more about the service. Equally, we are moving towards a place where standardisation and governance are going to become more of a thing. 

The consequence is that startups are inevitably going to become more corporate, even as more corporate organisations start to pick them off. We’re moving out of the brainstorming, fan-out stage and into a fan-in. Already we’re seeing acquisitions and the uncertainty that comes from them, and we are on the brink of seeing leaders emerge. 

Interesting times. It’s highly likely we shall see some of the current legions of software startups rise to the top — possibly no more than a handful. I’m reminded of the early noughties, when companies like CA, IBM and BMC were buying just about everybody… it took another couple of years before they started to retire all but a handful of the technologies they had in their portfolio. 

So, what comes next? A small number of very rich people, and a bunch of others that will go play golf for a while before it all goes round again. Or maybe I’m completely wrong… but I don’t think the current situation is sustainable. In a few years’ time we’ll all look back at when cloud native companies were still independent: “Now look at them, they’ve gone all corporate,” we’ll say. Still, it was fun while it lasted. 

 

Thanks for reading. Jon


Also published on Medium.

Bulletin 8 March 2019. New, accidental cloud native empires are emerging

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