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The power of pull in the clouds

Pulling and analyzing information is key to reinventing business processes, says author John Hagel III.

John Hagel
John Hagel III

The tech industry is moving from push to pull, author John Hagel III says.

Hagel, chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge and co-author of "The Only Sustainable Edge" and "The Power of Pull," spoke with me Thursday at the Structure 2010 conference in San Francisco about how IT needs to change in the age of the cloud and the potential of moving from push to pull in business processes.

Hagel's latest book, "The Power of Pull," is co-authored by John Seely Brown and Lang Davison and is focused on how to address the most pressing challenges in a rapidly changing, increasingly interdependent world.

According to Hagel, "pull" starts with a broad business issue: for example, looking at long-term changes in a business environment to show how well a company is doing over a period of time. According to Hagel's research, some metrics, such as return on assets, have shown that there are statistical issues--both legitimate and anomalous--that raise all kind of questions and show that not enough companies look for long-term sustainability.

With far less predictability and stability in markets and in business, "pull" has become more relevant than "push." There is a disconnect between management practices and the way the world has changed.

Hagel outlines three stages of how we're moving from push to pull:

  • Access--being able to get the resources you need. This is an area already being addressed by Google and other search engines that provide answers to queries.
  • Attraction--you don't know what to look for, but there is opportunity to increase unexpected encounters. In this case, the goal is to find inadvertent patterns or dynamics that can then be reacted to.
  • Full potential--ultimately, this newly discovered knowledge leads to performance improvement.

Cloud-based systems and services are an entry point to exploit the full potential of the vast amount of data that is always in play, but they tend to be stuck on the edge of organizations and practices, while the core of the process still needs to be addressed.

Hagel contends that the vast majority of infrastructure will have to be updated to address the need for pull and that the systems will likely look like those we see emerging as platform as a service rather than a traditional architecture.

These new kind of architectures require a better idea of an unmet need, which existing providers such as Amazon.com have been able to back into because they understand the way the infrastructure has to scale up and down in relation to the business dynamics.

But most enterprise CIOs are still trying to hold off cloud, public or private. They tend to be risk averse and have become aware that their jobs may be at risk if they make major changes. Accordingly, much of the impetus for change will continue to come from the line executives at the edge of the company and won't be driven by the CIO--which could be detrimental to the business as a whole.

One other interesting aspect Hagel mentioned is that economies of skill--as opposed to economies of scale--will likely play a role in the growth of private clouds. Without a highly trained staff to manage private clouds, then current IT staff will need to be trained to be able to manage the infrastructure--introducing cost and overhead into the equation.

Hagel believes that private cloud is still situationally specific--a transitional experience right now as there are things that are missing in the public cloud but that more forces that will continue to make the public cloud appealing.