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Welcome to the Age of Continuous Innovation
Source: Gary Grossman




Modern applications now are comprised of pre-fab code snippets representing atomized functions delivered as microservices packaged within containers.

Technology stories regularly focus on macro trends including the Internet of Things, Big Data, Mobile, Cloud Computing, and Artificial Intelligence. On their own, each of these trends leads to massive changes in how fast information flows and brings about new applications and services. Taken together, they constitute radical changes in information technology -- we are witnessing a new information age.

These trends and their underlying technologies are all a part of the Third Wave of Computing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, both of which will fundamentally alter how we experience technology in our work and play, governance, and even our relationships. Information change has never been faster as exemplified by the practice of Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery for new or updated applications that are developed and introduced at high velocity. Basically, this means that applications are constantly updated to meet new requirements. The days of Waterfall Development have long vanished, and even Agile Development techniques are dramatically morphing to meet new age needs. The emphasis is all about speed, agility, and digital transformation to improve a company's performance through harnessing digital technologies.

Modern applications now are comprised of pre-fab code snippets representing atomized functions delivered as microservices packaged within containers. These containers are deployed across "server-less" clusters using orchestration platforms that automate the capacity, scaling, patching, and administration of the infrastructure. Combined with a distributed computing architecture, this represents a massive paradigm shift in IT practice and infrastructure that has occurred in only the last several years in both application development and operations.

More than ever, there is the need to effectively coordinate the deployment, interoperability, and security for these modern applications. To do this requires a further abstraction of the server operating system and virtualization software, leading to a new operating system residing at a layer above individual devices. This data center operating system acts as a meta coordinator of resources across the computing infrastructure, whether onsite or in a cloud, across multiple clouds, or a hybrid deployment of cloud and onsite. It's only at this level that the modern environment can be effectively managed; where all elements in a software-defined datacenter come together into a single unified, holistic, and logical computing model. Applications and resources are then deployed and managed at this uber-OS level.

The necessity for this level of abstraction was first recognized by digital native companies such as Twitter and Google, which had vast requirements for infrastructure scalability and to deliver fast, personalized response to users. The tools they developed in-house gave rise to platforms from a new generation of IT companies including Mesosphere and Kubernetes that will become the highly adaptive integration, orchestration, and deployment infrastructure platforms for an always-connected economy.

Add to this the growing availability of machine learning and artificial intelligence that's born of this digital interconnectedness, and we find ourselves at the dawn of a new information age. What we're witnessing now is digital transformation that's being built on top of the macro technology trends and increasingly ambient intelligence. That this will happen is not even in question. Futurist Kevin Kelly assures us this transformation is inevitable, although he believes that we're still in the early days of this change. A recent worldwide survey of C-level business executives revealed that fully half view digital transformation as their most important strategic priority. However, Research Director Sheryl Kingstone of analyst firm 451 Research said recently that less than 25 percent of companies have a formal strategy for digitizing their businesses, and roughly half do not have a strategy at all.

It's arguable that what's taking place now, as dramatic and game-changing as it may be, is only laying the groundwork for what's to come. While digital transformation is currently a buzz-worthy phrase, much of what's being built today is only a first step towards what will eventually rise. Progress will likely be characterized by false starts, visible mistakes, and the occasional huge breakthrough.

A big challenge for most enterprises today is that, even if they want to leap more fully towards this transformational nirvana, the realities of balance sheets dictate they must continue with legacy applications and infrastructure that profitably runs the established portion of their business. Still, there really is no choice but to embrace digital transformation. Businesses are under increasing pressure to be more agile and more innovative in order to fend off digitally savvy competitors.

Continuous digital transformation offers enterprises the most agility and the greatest likelihood of avoiding competitive disruption. However, the impact on IT organizations should not be underestimated. To succeed in this era requires new ways of thinking and skills appropriate for the emerging technology wave. Chris Palmer, a Solutions Architect at PCL Construction was quoted recently saying that with the move to the cloud, there's no longer a need at the enterprise for in-depth technical knowledge of various compute and storage subsystems. Instead, systems integration has become more important, along with a need for people who are good at adapting an agile mindset, which is more of a people-skill than a technical one.

To achieve this agility requires a highly flexible and scalable mindset with a view of applications, processes, and data across the enterprise and beyond. Ultimately, as futurist Brian Solis points out, digital transformation is as much a story about technology as it is about how technology is changing people and their behaviors, preferences, and values. We've arrived at the doorstep of a new information age characterized by continuous digital innovation -- we can only guess at what we'll discover when we pass through the portal.



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