My Web Doesn't Like Your Enterprise, at Least While it's More Fun

The other day Jesse posted a call for participation for the next Velocity Web Operations Conference. My background is in the enterprise space, so, despite Velocity’s web focus, I wondered if there might not be interest in a bit of enterprise participation. After all, enterprise data centers deal with the same “Fast, Scaleable, Efficient, and Available” imperatives. I figured there might be some room for the two communities to learn from each other. So, I posted to the internal Radar author’s list to see what everyone else thought.

Mostly silence. Until Artur replied with this quote from one of his friends employed at a large enterprise: “What took us a weekend to do, has taken 18 months here.” That concise statement seems to sum up the view of the enterprise, and I’m not surprised. For nearly six years I’ve been swimming in the spirit-sapping molasses that is the Department of Defense IT Enterprise so I’m quite familiar with the sentiment. I often express it myself.

We’ve had some of this conversation before at Radar. In his post on Enterprise Rules, Nat used contrasting frames of reference to describe the web as your loving dear old API-provisioning Dad, while the enterprise is the belt-wielding standing-in-the-front-door-when-you-come-home-after-curfew step father.

While I agree that the enterprise is about control and the web is about emergence (I’ve made the same argument here at Radar), I don’t think this negative characterization of the enterprise is all that useful. It seems to imply that the enterprise’s orientation toward control springs fully formed from the minds of an army of petty controlling middle managers. I don’t think that’s the case.

I suspect it’s more likely the result of large scale system dynamics, where the culture of control follows from other constraints. If multiverse advocates are right and there are infinite parallel universes, I bet most of them have IT enterprises just like ours; at least in those shards that have similar corporate IT boundary conditions. Once you have GAAP, Sarbox, domain-specific regulation like HIPAA, quarterly expectations from “The Street,” decades of MIS legacy, and the talent acquisition realities that mature companies in mature industries face, the strange attractors in the system will pull most of those shards to roughly the same place. In other words, the IT enterprise is about control because large businesses in mature industries are about control. On the other hand, the web is about emergence because in this time, place, and with this technology discontinuity, emergence is the low energy state.

Also, as Artur acknowledged in a follow up email to the list, no matter what business you’re in, it’s always more fun to be delivering the product than to be tucked away in a cost center. On the web, bits are the product. In the enterprise bits are squirreled away in a supporting cost center that always needs to be ten percent smaller next year.

Anyway, with all of this in mind, I went online and watched some of last year’s Velocity talks on video. I wanted to get my own sense of whether an enterprise point of view might add something to the proceedings or whether it simply missed the mark.

The message in the talks seemed to distill down to “this stuff is serious; it’s important to be disciplined at it; and it’s not just a sideline, it’s critical to the business.” Hello! That’s the enterprise talking. Watching the video I could almost hear that Enterprise Step Dad slapping his belt into the palm of his hand while muttering “governance” and “zero baseline budgeting” under his breath. Wait a few more years until all your expensive pre-depreciation legacy infrastructure meets the declining margins of a maturing industry, and presto, you’ll have an enterprise too.

“The web is great and the enterprise sucks” sentiment that Nat captured in his post (and that I sometimes spout myself in various guises) made me think of this quote about George Orwell. He had a penchant for complaining about the conformity of little English towns:

“He spoke defensively, as if he feared I might blame him for this urban pastoral.  It was a Victorian guilt, and in many ways Orwell was a Victorian figure, for, like most people ‘in rebellion’, he was more than half in love with what he was rebelling against.”

Put another way, we complain about the enterprise, but maybe it’s because we work in places that are in a state of perpetually emergent chaos. Naturally, we as individuals aren’t contributing to the chaos; but when other people are involved, enterprise-like control has a certain appeal.

Or, could it be that the web is moving into its post emergence period and all of this rebellion against enterprise control is heightened by our collective intuition that an era is winding down?

I think Silicon Valley gets this at a subconscious level… all the thrashing around with green tech, bio this and that, automotive, politics, etc. Sometimes it seems like the geeks are talking about everything except what made them geeks in the first place. At one level this really stems from a genuine “do stuff that matters” impulse, but at another level I think it’s a realization that the fun part of the web is probably more behind us than ahead of us.

The web is about 12’ish years old and maybe we’re worried that our precocious and brilliant technological discontinuity is set to enter a rather dull adolescence. Nothing left in it for us but weekends full of travel soccer and irritating teacher-parent conferences about that latest Myspace incident. It all sort of sounds like a collective “Honey, this one’s a teenager, let’s have a cute new one.”

Radio in the 20’s, jet aircraft design in the 60’s, Bell Labs, the “golden era” of television, a thirty year boom in chemistry starting in the 30’s… They all eventually became dull too when their declining novelty curves crossed the rising ones of legacy cost. We’re probably fewer than ten years away from a web full of cubicle-dwelling Dilbert-esque cynicism just like the kind found throughout yesteryear’s “it” industries. But by then all the cool kids will have moved on to building sea floor geo-thermal something-or-others, solar flare catchers, or Gods help us, hand cranked desalination plants.

I’m not saying that the web’s moment is over, it’s too early and there is still too much opportunity for that, but I don’t think we’ll keep seeing tens of thousands of our best and brightest migrating westward every year to work for a granularized, digitized, and de-glamorized advertising firm that buses its employees to work. Ten years from now the Mad Men sequel will be skipping the three martini lunches to satirize cafeteria donut burgers.

There is a wonderful side to all of this. It’s the side I try to focus on in my real job. All of this emergent stuff like open source, remote services, cloud computing, and etc. that happened on the web, hasn’t happened just for the web. It was mostly catalyzed there, but it’s impacting the enterprise too by changing those enterprise IT boundary conditions and the eco-system that the enterprise lives in.

Things like open source software may have never emerged from the shadows in an enterprise-only world, but with the web as host it has gestated to a maturity that the enterprise will accept. Plus it’s a culture virus (video) that carries emergent thinking into the enterprise right along with the software. For those of us doing enterprise work our goal should be to make control less necessary as we strive to develop “emergence welcome” zones inside, between, or along the edges of the traditional enterprise.

There are a lot more people doing “enterprise IT” worldwide then there are doing web stuff. So, technologies that shift the generativity of the web into the enterprise will unleash all that pent up talent and create a wave of innovation. For example, just imagine a world where Vivek Kundra is no longer considered all that interesting because enterprise IT shops everywhere are doing the kinds of things he’s doing in DC now, and more. What do you think?

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  • This is brilliant, Jim. Thanks.

    FWIW, this piece is entirely consistent with my “alpha geeks” thesis – the idea that innovation often happens in areas where geeks are just having fun. Then the entrepreneurs come in, and it gets more serious. Then, as you so eloquently describe, it gets progressively more valuable to lots of people and progressively more “boring.”

    Then the alpha geeks move on.

    The personal computer was the playground of the homebrew computer club. Then between IBM and Bill Gates, it became a business. Microsoft took over the world and became the evil empire.

    The cool kids went to the internet and eventually their rebel army saw business opportunity and started all kinds of companies that got bigger and bigger…

    Now the cool kids, as you hint, are increasingly reading Make:, building cool “web meets world” gadgets, thinking about energy, biohacking, brain hacking, and all kinds of other things that business (as yet) has no use for.

    For the latest iteration of my “watching the alpha geeks talk” see (slideshare) and (scroll down to Nov 19 for link to video and description of the talk.)

    At any rate, you nailed it!

  • So, you’re from a physics background, huh? I can tell it from the way you mention strange attractors and non-linear dynamical systems. I can tell it by the way you pull out emergence (the sugar-dad) as an implicit synonym for chaos, and as you pull out control (the belt-yielding step-father) as an implicit synonym for predictable, simpler systems.

    And yes, physicists do strive to find the deterministic link in any chaotic systems thus making them predictable and controllable. Einstein famously claimed that “god doesn’t throws dice” when first faced with quantum mechanics.

    I could detect some implicit bitterness derived of the fact that you won’t be able to join on the next wave bandwagon where “all the cool (physics) kids” will do the desalinization hand-cranked plants and the geo-thermal seacrafted cooling stations. Heck, you can’t be everywhere.

    Great post, very pleasant reading.

  • Bah anything that gets boring we can automate! :-)

    necessity is the mother of invention

    but laziness is the father

    and plus I think that is why we all get involved in programming. At least I got involved because I hate doing anything boring or repetitive – that is what scripts are for IMHO

    perhaps we can create better workflow process tools to create the level of security that people need… that is one of my goals :-)

    thanks for the post Jim!

  • bex

    Interesting… I think you’re on to something there.

    My bread and butter is enterprise software, and I only keep sane by keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in web programming. But lately I’ve been feeling rather disappointed in the slow pace of innovation.

    Personally, I’ve become much more interested in economics, and low-tech designs for 3rd world problems. Maybe I should get on over to Money Tech 09, and see what that’s all about…

  • bowerbird

    there seems to be something strange in the aura of this post…

    when you say “enterprise”, i hear “greedy bureaucrat capitalists”.


  • Provocative. Must digest and regurgitate for client tomorrow. Espec. re: open source as culture virus.

    RE: alpha geeks moving on, part of my web 2 spiel is “always keep ‘nowhere’ on your map, cuz that’s where the next big thing is coming from.”

    True story of how I, on a journey from nowhere to nowhere, discovered Cluetrain:

  • BTW, not allowing a tags in blog comments is very, very, very, enterprise in bowerbirds sense of the word. Meh.

  • I’ll agree that no matter how fun a project can be, if it’s managed in the Enterprise culture, it has the tendency to sap out any of the fun parts and replace it with 500% overhead of design documents, functional specifications, blueprinting, meetings, etc.

    What’s worse is when some of the changes being introduced or proposed genuinely introduce no risk and would enhance the user experience are shot down are over-analyzed since that’s the only blunt method that information management, legal, and/or security knows how to manage change.

    I was going to reply with an optimistic outlook but ended up depressing myself with the negative. Doh!

  • Jim,

    I’ve been thinking about this since our original conversation on the radar backchannel, and I think I can basically sum it up as:

    Disruptive Innovation flows from the Web to the Enterprise, not the other way around.

    However, as I’ve now said many times, “You Become what You Disrupt”. If you disrupt the enterprise, you will eventually become the enterprise and have to “grow up” like everyone else.

    Matt Assay on cnet reduced this to “You are what you eat”, and Dana Blankenhorn observed… “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!”

    (BTW – This is an awesome post, and you and Artur should battle it out at Velocity!)

  • hcba

    It reminds me of the Spanish Armarda, the Galleons are Enterprise whilst the frigates are the web teams. Web will continue to dance rings around enterprise as they are naturally more streamlined.

    I work for an Enterprise org and we are preached to about innovation, costs, best of the best and being agile – yet it takes 24 months for an idea to become reality – teams are tied down by all the support docs, too many managers and no clear vision at ground level.

    Good article and food for thought. Thankyou

  • @hcba: I can absolutly support your comment. I’m working also in an international company and we try to harmonise and simplify things with webbased applications..

    and yes, it’s a great article..


  • Great post, love the analogies… the key will be turning IT into heroes. IMO there is nothing that prevents vendors providing modern, social software that gives IT the right controls and participants the right glossy experience and contribution.

    Added some thoughts in a blog post here:

  • I wish people better understood where “emergence” comes from: why we saw it on the web (and why it is waning) and why we are seeing it in biotech, nano, etc. It’s not hard, but not enough people see it.

    And there’s a converse, too — why enterprises work differently. The “perceived perimeter of control” that Stogdill talks about is a side effect and not a necessary one either.

    Oh, and for Tim, I’ll explain the “alpha-geek” illusion that he sees, at the end.

    Finally, I’ll briefly mention how VC should really work, if we had any sense.

    The key (three part) concept needed is that of a basis set of capabilities, it’s combinators, and its span.

    A “basis set of capabilities” in some area of technology is comprised of all of the ready-to-go “parts” that exist at a given time. I mean “parts” very broadly: it includes (in our industry) everything from commodity software libraries to open standards to a set of known ideas or concepts about programming.

    The “combinators” are the simple-step ways of putting together basis set components to make products of various forms. The human component is a large element of the combinatorics of the basis set: what can a “typical employee” in this or that category do on a given day or in a given quarter.

    The “span”, of course, is the set of products which can in principle be built at an attractive cost given the day’s basis set and combinators.

    It happens from time to time, in this or that field of engineering, that a breakthrough or an economic shift modifies either or both the basis set and combinators in that field. It happens in a subset of those cases that the change makes the span suddenly much, much larger

    When that happens, industry growth is the likely result for that field: capital formation takes place around various points within the new “span”, those products are built out of the basis set using well understood combination techniques, and the products brought to market.

    When the span is suddenly absurdly much larger than it was the day before, capital formation is even more excited because with so many potential new products investors have no problem at all “spreading out” — radically differentiating and so never facing a truly crowded market or any significant barrier to entry. It’s a land rush.

    The conjunction of three breakthroughs radically changed the basis set for the web: the invention and standardization of the web in the first place; the milestone of completing the first, competitive, complete GNU/Linux systems; and the invention of the rather smartly architected Apache web server.

    The Apache web server went one step further and with great tactical precision expanded the set of combinators. Think of CGI / FCGI, and Apache “mods”, and per-directory configuration files, for example. These technologies created combinators that could draw both on the basis set of web-specific technology and on the entire span of unix software. Look at the combinatoric complexity of all the things you can do just by mixing and matching Linux, Apache, MySQL, and P{erl,ython}, for example. That range of possibilities made a much larger span.

    When the span explodes like that you get a land-rush style of capital formation but, indeed: expect a bubble. If the new span is too large then investors have no problem differentiating and enjoy low barriers to entry but they are collectively limited by an external de facto cap on the total amount of revenue available to be split up among products in the span. That is, there may be a gazillion potential LAMP-based products, each potentially quite valuable under the right circumstances, but the market segment of LAMP-based products can’t (because of external factors) ever get enough revenue to support a gazillion products. In fact, there’s no guarantee of enough revenue to support even all of even the good product investments made — so many will fail. And many will fail all at around the same time because most started at around the same time: at around the time that it became widely known that the technological “span” had grown. (Awareness of the extent of the span comes in waves — sudden events of someone realizing something are central splashes that rapidly spread out — so the boom / bust cycle of over-investment kind of reverberates. The first generation of web companies gets culled and then there’ a second generation (and, at the moment, that generation looks to get rapidly culled.))

    In, nanotech, and biotech (and their very large intersection) two key parts of the basis set had huge breakthroughs: “machining” (fabrication) at all scales, and, computational physics, chemistry, and genomics. The “span” increased abundantly with corresponding breakthroughs in drug discovery, materials engineering, genetic study and engineering, and on an on. All because we got better at making machines that make machines and better at crunching huge data sets.

    So, now there is a land-rush in that area. The current economic crisis might delay a boom but I doubt it: more likely, ill-conceived and indiscriminate “stimulus” injections of new money into the economy will create a boom there. But, for now, it looks like the web at the turn of the millennium.

    Things we learn from thinking of it that way:

    The web is getting boring because of a lack of investment in systematically growing the basis set and combinators in significant ways. While the “span” of web technology is still (slowly) growing and is still vast compared to the number of products out there, the span we’ve got is well explored by preceding over-investment, several rich “mines” in the space of the span have been discovered, those rich mines suck up most of what revenue there is for this space, and so new “prospectors” on the web have slim odds — unlike their predecessors they suffer a high barrier to entry.

    Enterprises are boring for similar reasons: the “span” of decisions that the board, executives, or top managers can make is pretty large, but also quite thoroughly mapped and quite constrained. Enterprise management is boring because being boring is rational — just as people finding the web to be boring, these days (as an entrepreneurial field), are also economically rational.

    The only thing that can make either the enterprise or the web “exciting” again is a breakthrough in either or both the basis set and combinators. The question isn’t “what’s the next hot web site” but “what’s the next big step after LAMP”?

    Similarly, in enterprise management, the way to achieve new agility is not to work on it directly but rather indirectly: work to tend the “basis set” and “span” of the firm. In that sense, Stogdill’s suggestion of creating (initially low-risk, siloed) “emergence welcome” zone isn’t necessarily a bad idea: it helps to expand the human relationships and human capacities within the firm — key parts of the basis set and combinators.

    The alpha-geek illusion, turning to that, is a funny way to look at things. I think it’s like trying to catch up to a boat by always steering towards its wake. Sure, events happen that expand basis sets and combinators and awareness of the new span of those rapidly ripples out. And, sure, alpha geeks in industry are typically first adopters. But generally they are following the investment community and the investment leadership community rather than leading it. Alpha-geeks are a trailing indicator. The leading indicators tend to be obscure academic journals, think-tank reports, information from the defense and intel communties’ research departments, etc. Those leading indicators are often fairly explicit and informative about progress in the systematic expansion of the span. (For example, look at how many biotech journal papers around genomics include dollar signs in the text.) (And, no, most of that leading indicator work is not by alpha geeks in any commonsense interpretation of who that group includes.)

    The WWW, for example: Before Berners-Lee worked his magic there had been, in the preceding years, a lot of closely related work specifically aiming towards something at least WWW-like. There was a sense in the academic world that something like it would join the span soon and there was lots of incremental work towards that end. Berners-Lee found a sweet spot and understood it well and so it has that particular form now.

    Well, VCs. The problem as I see it for VCs is that work on
    improving the basis set and combinators is driven mainly by a mix of
    government R&D investment and R&D investment by large, established
    firms. If you find someone working on basis set improvements then the
    odds are almost certain that that person is being paid more or less
    directly by the government or by a very large, established firm.

    VCs mostly chase the outcome of that investment process. That means that their agenda is influenced most by governments and established firms. That kind of R&D yields large spans, sure, but it also pre-determines, thus limits, what kind of breakthroughs are sought and what kinds of revenues are achievable. It puts VCs in a passive role rather than an entrepreneurial role. VCs are acting as little more than casting agents to somebody else’s film.

    But, one of the new things in the world is that powerful research can be amazingly faster, cheaper, and better these days than ever before — at least if you don’t constrain your prospective build-out process. For example, instead of looking for a biofuel approach that “fits” the big energy firms, look for lots of smaller, cheaper, easier to find tech for highly distributed fuel production. Or, instead of looking for new, novel products on the LAMP family of stacks, look for the new stack that opens up 10,000 new apps of an entirely new sort: you can do that with just a few folks and workstations in a room.

    VCs need, in this view, some new “product” themselves — a new product that isn’t like an investment fund. They need an informational product — and R&D results product — in addition to the financial instruments they create.

    Right now, VCs must face their customers (or look in the mirror) and explain their choices of areas of focus and their editorial decisions of who to fund. Well, if the VCs were conducting some on the cheap R&D (perhaps taking advantage of the economics of open source methodologies) with the aim of creating investment opportunities they could be selling reports of that work to their customers and creating a much less passive network of investment. It’s one thing to hire Joy to read a lot of papers and talk to people, it’d be another and more interesting thing to have Joy pick a few directors of “micro-labs” and be able to try answering strategic questions for investing by turning to those labs to conduct experiments and do creative research.

    I understand that the consept of selling something for consumption rather than an instrument for savings is anathema to traditional VC but it is quite a complement….


  • Brilliant and insightful. I think that the really interesting challenges currently lie in trying to bring the Web sense of creativity, usability, and innovation into the Enterprise. As you point out, Enterprise control exists precisely because it is needed. While it is difficult to bring Web innovation to the Enterprise, it can be done and needs to be done. We just completed a very creative and innovative Web mapping application for USAF. That application is an example of how Web innovation and modern architectures can be leveraged to deliver great value to the Enterprise.

    Creativity alone does not deliver value. How many of today’s Web startups are doing anything more than spending some poor VC’s hard earned money? The real test my point of view is delivering value. If the Web truly delivers value (and I believe that it does) then we need to have the persistence to deliver this value within Enterprise frameworks and to have responsible money making business models outside the Enterprise.

  • Amy

    I have always been under the impression that we hate enterprise because of how it makes us feel: chewed up, all the nutritional value sucked out of us, and then spat out — not even given the dignity of being swallowed. Just pillaged.

    In the nerd sector where *I* live (Ruby/JavaScript/iPhone dev, the enterprise hate is from people who have worked in those types of places — as employees or, increasingly, consultants. They hate it based on their chewed-up-and-spat-out experience. And also from Enterprise Believers who tramp into the community and complain that it’s not good enough for them. (Of course, there are the chip-shouldered wannabe alpha geeks who don’t think it’s cool enough for them any more, either.)

    What’s not to hate about flourescent overheads and fuzzy cube walls? There’s got to be something better.

    > The web is about 12’ish years old and maybe we’re worried that our precocious and brilliant technological discontinuity is set to enter a rather dull adolescence.

    I agree with you that lots of people seem to be thinking this. You’re probably even right about that being one of the many causes of geeks’ expanded horizons.

    However, could it not also be that geeks in the past 5-10 years — for whatever reason — have had their horizons expanded for reasons other than boredom? Some pretty phenomenal tools have made lots of nerds able to have much better, more flexible, less demanding jobs than they did before – things like Rails, Django and the big two JavaScript libraries. Ruby made my career explode, and JavaScript my husband’s. Similar tale here for a woman and her hubby: .

    Being able to work from home or work while traveling gives one an opportunity to stumble outside, blinking, into the sunlight once in a while, engage with other human beings, and notice the world around you — and that it’s a pretty cool world, outside the computer, and there’s stuff you can do with physical things and bodies and plants and toys. I knew hardcore nerds who were into bikram yoga and geoactivism 10 years ago, and they were the ones with the “alternative” types of jobs before the rest of us believed we could have them.

    I also really don’t believe that the exciting years of the web are behind us. Ajax is a piddling “invention,” objectively, but look at the stir it’s caused. The thing is, though, that everybody fell all over themselves – and then pretty much forgot about it. What amazing new thing have you seen done with Ajax lately? Not a thing, I’d wager. But that doesn’t mean something amazing *can’t* be done with it. It just means that there’s a lack of imagination.

    These things are not flashes in the pan, for all that it seemed like bite and no bark. It will take a while to assimilate and the next generation of web kids — cutting their teeth on Rails and Prototype and taking them totally and utterly for granted, instead of coming to them as a blessed escape and nice place to retire — will really make things dance.

    I think the main reason is that the key group of people who got all excited about Ajax are too old — not physically, but mentally. And the current younger group is too young to get why it’s cool, even though it’s different. But the group after that will take it for granted and push it to its limits, just like people did 10 years ago with push.

    Unlike jet engines or TV, the web is a tool that you use to build things. We haven’t even begun to see extent of what one can do with it.

    So the older people are saying the cool days are all behind them, because they have stopped learning and being inventive. I don’t think that’s a novel thing in history.

  • Jim Stogdill

    Thanks for all the great comments. I went computer-free for a few days over the holidays so have been slow to respond, but I’d still like to follow up on a couple of the points. Maybe you’ll wander back and see this.

    Thomas, I read (and re-read) your comment with interest. I had a few thoughts…

    First, I am not convinced that the source of the web’s emergence is fully explained by technology. An ubiquitous IP network plus the LAMP stack certainly form a “basis set” foundation for emergence, but an insufficient one I think. It seems to me that the cultural, legal, and economic ecosystem that grew up around it (or that it grew up in the middle of) was just as important – all the stuff that made incremental risk taking possible in exploiting that span.

    After all, as those same technologies are entering the enterprise, but in the context of a different ecosystem the result hasn’t been emergence. Web 2.0 technology in the enterprise sans incremental emergent behaviors is like intimacy with a Real Doll; it can’t be the same. The goal of my work is get the enterprise to not only plan and fund specific outcomes, but to plan for emergence by specific funding, organizational, and policy actions.

    Regarding the choices VC’s make, I think there are a few practical reasons why they focus on exploiting the available span and not, generally, on the basis set. First, a good VC wants to see incremental results for incremental investment. Second, base set creations is often more expensive than exploitation – just consider that Linux is estimated to be a $1.4B investment. Or consider the cost to roll out IP’s first round of ubiquity relative to the size of an average VC fund. Finally, I wonder if the 10 year fund horizon doesn’t limit their ability to focus on longer term base set bets. In short, it seems to me that the cost is in the roads, but the profits come from exploiting them with trucks.

    Put another way, it’s not that VC are dumb, it’s that the strange attractors of the system as it is constructed make exploiting the available span the probabilistically smart thing to do. If it weren’t, someone would have stumbled on an alternative by now and might be doing what you suggest. If you want a different result, you have to change the structure (20 year funds? Exploitation funds linked to base funds? Money raised under different legal regimes? I have no idea….)

    I do think Android and the iPhone can probably thought of as a significant base set shift in your terms. However, in both cases the tension between “owning” the base set and the resultant restriction in downstream span is on display. Makes you wonder how LAMP would be licensed if it’s development had been financed by a VC model.

    Amy, I love the point you made – the enterprise just makes us feel chewed up. In fact, Artur made a similar point in an email. I didn’t really talk about this aspect in the post, though I guess I alluded to it with my “spirit sapping molasses” comment.

    In my worst moments I find myself wondering if the only way to successfully run a large business or enterprise in a mature industry is to sort of collude against our own self interests. Does success require participation in some kind of borg-collective cutting ritual?

    In many ways I guess that’s what this is really about. Why work in an arena that is about control if there is one about emergence just over there? I know why I do it, but it’s not a choice that comes for free.

    Finally, regarding your argument that the web’s best years aren’t behind us, you might be right. I have no idea. But, if the discontinuity is behind us it won’t just be because people have stopped learning. Discontinuities just do that. The P-51 to ME-262 transition was amazing, the 707 to 777 less so. Although, sort of paradoxically, the incremental transition from 707 to 777 took more technology and more brains and probably added a lot more value.

  • Big B

    “The Enterprise.” Even the term’s pretentious. In my experience the term should be, “The Empire” as that really IS the goal of the middle managers you mentioned. While the vast majority of the commenters are quite literate and knowledgeable about the subject matter and obviously work in some manner in the TECH side of things, most of this blog would have flown at least 2 miles over the heads of the IT managers I’ve dealt with.

    I’ve worked within several federal groups, and in every case, the majority of middle and upper managers in IT have little to NO formal education in any technical field – and no, a string of 3-day classes in Las Vegas on some vendor’s packaged solutions isn’t formal education. They’ve moved from low-level positions like data entry clerk or office manager into IT because they outlasted everybody else in the organization. They’ve long practiced the axiom: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” And they also know that there are other bottom-feeders looking to make their own move. Once in place, it’s absolutely imperative that they keep control of their position so they circle the wagons and dig in for a protracted battle with the natives (e.g. Users). They justify their tactics by stating that it’s necessary for security or to maintain network integrity all the while trying to conjure up an image that all this is some magic alchemy to be wielded by a knowledgeable few. Pfffft!

    As an engineer who used to work in R&D I have a simple solution for this: I go around it. As we all know there is no magic to any of this. Unlike those that think IT boils down to keeping up with trends and ordering the latest MS “Alchemist in a Box,” the rest of us see it as just another tool in our tool box. When IT says that I can’t put my equipment on “their network” (even though it runs over “my” comm channels) because it uses TCP/IP which is an “IT protocol” I just build my own network. And yes, I can usually do it in a weekend as opposed to the 18 months if I had to go through The Enterprise. It also costs a fraction of an IT solution too as I’ve taken the time to learn the details required of a LAMP stack, and didn’t go out looking for an expensive solution from Redmond.

    You’re right about us being more than half in love with what we are rebelling against. We know what this technology can do and we are trying are best to make it work for us. However since The Enterprise is in control, they consider it a rebellion.

    You’re also right in that none of the invention that the Web fosters could come from an enterprise-only world. The two cultures are polar opposites. Invention thrives in an open atmosphere of possibility and creativity. The Enterprise strangles this notion with a single closed-minded decree: “Not on my network!”

  • Jacob

    Standards do not dictate what technologies you must use. People associate J2EE with standards-compliance, but any framework can be programmed to use cryptography and keep logs of who does what.

  • I tend to agree with BigB above. While there are some rational bases for a more-controlling culture, I think there’s a lot *more* pathology there.

    Take your acceptance of the Enterprise’s “talent” issue as some sort of external constraint. I’d say it’s a direct outcome of the political culture borg-crap that BigB and Amy allude to.

  • dave

    Enterprise IT is:
    Define bus. reqmts -> architect a solution -> find someone in India to implement it -> test it to the requirements -> decide it really doesn’t work.
    This usually takes years and the requirements are wrong at the moment they are gathered and get wronger (can I say wronger?) as the application is developed. The offshore developers generally miss the wrong requirements and it is only when the business actually tries to use the solution that anyone figures out how bad the situation is.
    IT management is generally incompetent — neither experts at the businesses they support or IT/computer science. They are extremely risk-averse and don’t like to be told by people who can actually code or run systems when they don’t know what they are doing. Some of this is inevitable but much is not. Sadly, most IT organizations have the necessary talent in place.
    Gotta stop being so bitter…