The Emperor’s New Clothes; Sale Now On!

Tommy Mitchell of NVT Group

I’m finally going to ‘fess up to something that shames and embarrasses me as a lifelong technologist.

My name is Tommy Mitchell and I don’t know what the term “Enterprise” means in the context of technology solutions.

There, I’ve said it.

I used to think I understood and used the term extensively in conversations with colleagues, clients and partners. But when I stopped and thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a definition that I was satisfied with.

It came in to focus recently during conversations with a prospective client when, discussing the merits of our proposal versus a competitor’s, he cautioned that they (the competitor) were proposing an “Enterprise Solution”. The inference being that ours, by whatever definition was being applied was not. Since, in my mind, our solution was more than fit for purpose and commercially very competitive, I was caught somewhat off guard by this. It prompted me to ask “how are you defining “Enterprise”?”

If and when I receive an answer, I’ll be happy to share it.

This whole thing got me thinking about terminology we use in technology in general and specifically the tag of “Enterprise”.

At the risk of exposing myself to further ridicule and professional humiliation, I asked the question of my immediate colleagues. I was reassured that there wasn’t a single, definitive answer that was agreed by all. Maybe I hadn’t missed that class after all.

The adjectives that emerged included scale, complexity, performance, resilient, secure and expensive. I’m sure you get the picture. Broadly speaking, in the context of technology; Stuff big Companies would use.

My confusion was undiminished however. The client that provoked the question is very firmly in the SME category. Why is “Enterprise” in their lexicon? Further, looking at the largest users of technology (I’m thinking Google, Facebook, Amazon and the like), they don’t appear to be building their environments using what we might recognise as “Enterprise” technologies. In fact, quite the opposite, it seems. So, the smallest businesses want “Enterprise” technology while the very largest consumers of technology use commodity products? Still confused.

It struck me that we could have unconsciously sipped the marketing “Kool-Aid” that has dominated and transformed other industries with one word. In the consumer world, “Designer” when attached to pretty much anything creates an aura of prestige, value and quality. The reality however is the vast majority of such goods are manufactured in the same places as their nameless counterparts, by the same people, using the same materials and at pretty much the same cost. We choose to pay a premium for perception.

More recently, the phenomenon for “Craft” goods, applied with huge success to beer for example, has a similar effect in establishing and promoting an elitism in what was previously a fairly uncomplicated and democratic world – if it tasted good, it was allowed to be considered good. Now, if you’re not drinking room temperature Wizard’s Toenail from an authentic medieval tankard, you can reasonably be disowned by your family (or at least scoffed at by your drinking buddies).

Like “Designer” and “Craft” in these industries, it seems that “Enterprise” in the technology sector has been commandeered by a small number of major brands. It does appear that if a consumer hasn’t previously heard of the vendor, their products can’t possibly be considered equivalent to those from the name they recognise. Ironically, the vast majority of these recognised “Enterprise” vendors began as unknown start-ups themselves. If there wasn’t some sector of the market willing to take a chance, they could never have succeeded.

Getting back to the point, could it be that we’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book? We, the technologists, the voice of reason, the pragmatic and sceptical, the cautious and diligent have been hoodwinked by the marketeers? Have we been lovingly admiring the Emperor’s New Clothes, arguing only about the colour of the trousers or the style of shoe?
I’m beginning to think so.

And the purveyors of fine, hand-crafted, designer garments to discerning dynasties are starting to admit it.

On a daily basis, we see increasing acknowledgement in the industry that open source, and software defined technologies for example, are acceptable and a mimicking of what the data centre giants have been doing for years emerging as the way forward. The corporate reorganisation, disposal and performance of some our dominant technology vendors indicates that Emperors may be shopping elsewhere for their apparel these days. Meanwhile industry giants are battling out to dispose of last season’s collections at knock down prices before the market arises to the aroma of the freshly hand ground, craft roasted, Indonesian Cat Pooped, hot beverage.