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Why Do Industry Giants Get Caught Flat-Footed?

Originally published November 5, 2009

Never underestimate the power of vision. It is vision that drives a company to its destiny. Once the vision is fulfilled, the company reaches the end of its natural life cycle. Furthermore, it is vision that ultimately determines the scope of a company’s awareness. And vision is never as important as it is to the companies building new technologies.

Consider the mainframe. Once upon a time, the world of computing was dominated by the mainframe. Nearly everything that was done was done on a mainframe. It is safe to say that at one time, easily 95% or more of all expenditures for information technology were made on behalf of the mainframe. Clearly, the mainframe was the vision of its day.

Then along came Bill Gates with a different vision. Gates’ vision was that there was a place for the personal computer. The companies dedicated to the mainframe found it hard to take Gates seriously at first. Gates was probably considered to be nothing more than a pesky fly on the wall in the early days.

So why didn’t the mainframe companies take Gates and Microsoft seriously? Because the vision of the mainframe companies simply did not include personal computers.

Shortly after personal computers became established, there dawned the day of the Internet. Consider the vision of the personal computing companies when the Internet arrived. The Internet at first looked like a pesky fly on the wall (sound familiar?). To Gates’ credit, the vision of Microsoft was altered. Not wishing to repeat the sad experience of the mainframe forebearers, Microsoft expanded its vision to include the Internet. Had Microsoft not expanded its vision, companies such as Yahoo and Google would be even bigger than they are today.

In another vein, there once were only a handful of companies whose technology allowed them to house data warehouses. These data warehouse infrastructure companies once completely dominated the infrastructure marketplace for data warehouses, being able to handle large amounts of data gracefully. But today there is a new pesky fly on the wall – data warehouse appliances. These data warehouse appliances offer a significantly reduced price for the management of data. And, blessedly, these data warehouse appliances offer simplicity in a world of ghastly complexity. But, alas, they are viewed as pesky flies on the wall.

How is it that large established, profitable companies simply don’t wake up to market conditions until such time as it is too late, or at least until some other competitor has arisen and established a viable, economically entrenched company? The answer is that the larger and more successful a company becomes, the more ossified its vision becomes. The established company learns to operate inside a set of blinders. Anything outside of those blinders is just does not exist. In some circles, this is called focus. In other circles, this is called myopia.

In any case, it is this limitation of vision that allows large, well financed, smart companies to have major blind spots. And it is these blind spots that open the gates of opportunity for the entrepreneur.

So what happens when a vision limits a corporation? If another vision arises and if the new vision has merit, then the older established company does not defend its territory when the competition is at its most vulnerable. If the older established company were to attack the fledgling newer competition when the competition is first starting, the older established competition is usually quite capable of quashing the newly emerging company. But because the established company does not have the vision that the new company has, no real effort is made to engage the new company in the marketplace. Instead, the established company just hopes that the new company will somehow just “go away.”

And once the new company gains momentum, credibility and an economic footing, dislodging the new company becomes very difficult. Now the established company has to pay a LOT of money to compete. And now the established company probably will not have the marketplace and technological edge that it once possessed.

So what are some of the new, promising technologies that are currently showing their heads above the horizon, much like the sun 30 seconds after sunrise? What are the new visions that are being overlooked by the established companies?

As mentioned, one very promising technology is data warehouse appliances. Data warehouse appliances offer serious economic and technological benefits. The existing data warehouse infrastructure vendors have set the stage by charging too much for their technology and by trying to take transaction-oriented technology and turn it into a one size fits all, all things to all people technology. The data warehouse appliance vendors walk into a world that is open-armed to them.

Another technology that has been waiting in the wings for many years is that of metadata management. For years, metadata management was an afterthought. For years, everyone recognized the challenges of metadata, but precious little was done. Today, we wake up to a day and age where data is distributed over many platforms and technologies. Today there is a wealth of data spread all over the technological landscape. Trying to make sense of that data – what it means, what state of repair or disrepair it is in, who calculated it, who uses it – all of these and many more issues are at the very heart of usability and understandability of data. So the metadata marketplace is ripe – absolutely ripe – for exploitation.

The third marketplace that is ripe for exploitation is that of unstructured data. There have been some nibblings at the edge of unstructured data – search engines, natural language processing, and so forth. But the day has come where powerful textual analytics is possible. And textual analytics eclipses the earlier, more theoretical attempts at examining and making sense of text.

The problem with these newer technologies is that they are not part of anyone’s mainstream vision yet. But given time and opportunity, it is likely that they will catch the market leaders flat-footed. Again.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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Comments

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Posted December 10, 2009 by Anonymous

Bill,  Enjoyed your article but Informatica has been making inroads into meta data management and in using unstructured data.  Are you saying that they aren't doing it in a viable way?

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Posted November 11, 2009 by Joey Moelands Joey.Moelands@nl.pwc.com

So the big question is...

When will Bill Gates change his Microsoft Business Intelligence Strategy and make it Meta Data driven instead of a code generation wizard that generates 'packages'

Good article!

Cheers,

Joey

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