The IT Reformation and the Splinternet (Part 1), by Frank Johnson

Information technologies are being carved into fiefdoms just when users need them to hang together.  What will this mean for data governance?


The practice of data governance is in a precarious position as a result of two paradoxical dynamics at work in business technology.

The first dynamic is “the IT Reformation” — the trend toward business units acquiring their own technology solutions rather than relying on or even involving IT.

The second dynamic is known as “The Splinternet” — the devolution of the Internet (and Internet applications) into proprietary fiefdoms of walled gardens and closed applications.

These dynamics have a great number of facets and drivers that go beyond the scope of this article.  So I will just briefly explain the background of the IT Reformation and the Splinternet, and then review some of the issues where I believe the tension between them threatens to slow the pace of achieving sound data governance.

Business and technology leaders, vendors, consultants and others involved in the interrelated disciplines of data governance, such as master data management, data quality, business intelligence, and business process management, should be aware of this threat and begin planning to moderate its effects.

At the end, I hope you’ll add your own thoughts in the “comments” section to keep the conversation going.

The IT Reformation

 “Why do I know more about what my high school girlfriend had for dinner than what is going on in my organization?”

That not-so-tongue-in-cheek question, from a recent AIIM presentation, captures the sense of discontent with the business technology status quo that’s now becoming more prevalent among enterprises.

This discontent first found expression through individual knowledge workers bypassing IT by using consumer technologies — mobile, social and cloud-based — to get their work done in a more interactive and collaborative way.  A powerful motive for using these tools is that users can get them freely and without waiting for assistance from the IT department.

That breakthrough has helped liberate higher-level business decision-makers to acquire point and departmental solutions without IT’s blessing or even its participation.  According to a Forrester survey, 65 percent of business leaders have budgets to buy business technology solutions without involving IT. Another survey reported in Network World reveals more about this “grassroots rebellion”:

In the survey, 20% of those responding said they had actually gone around their IT department to provision cloud services. Of that subset, 61% said it was easier to provision the services themselves, and 50% said it takes too long to go through IT.

I call this trend “the IT Reformation” because, in its most radical form, it envisions (if not actually advocates) doing away with the “priesthood” of the CIO and the IT department.  The meme of the “death of the CIO” is actually quite old, but its most recent incarnation is gaining traction as industry analysts emphasize the need for IT departments to get with the program or get left behind in terms of value and relevance to the organization.

Progressive CIOs and thought leaders aren’t clamoring for IT to re-assert its “rightful” authoritative control.  Instead, they’re advocating that IT work proactively with business users, to address their need for faster, more flexible and more innovative solutions.

The Splinternet

At the same time, information technologies are being balkanized into multiple channels, platforms, and applications. The term for this is “the Splinternet” – originally used to describe restrictions on access to Internet applications in different countries, but today also meaning the fragmentation of the Internet from the perspective of technologies and applications.

Forrester Splinternet

Writing for e-commerce and Internet marketing audiences, Groundswell co-author Josh Bernoff explained some of the fallout in a January 2010 blog post:

Choose your devices carefully — investments in one cannot be transferred easily to others if you make a mistake … Just realize that you’re leaving the comfy environment of the Web behind — along with all the tools you’ve grown dependent on — as you embrace the new platforms.

Two months earlier, O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly had written:

We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

Chris Anderson explained in a widely read August 2010 Wired article that “the [HTML] content you see in your browser … accounts for less than a quarter of the traffic on the Internet,” and that the majority of Internet traffic is made up of peer-to-peer file transfers, e-mail, VPNs, VoIP, video streaming, API communications and others.  He also noted that “Many of the newer Net applications are closed, often proprietary, networks [emphasis added].”

The coming of the Splinternet is also being emphasized at Forrester, as a wake-up call rather than as either a necessarily positive or negative development.  Forrester CEO George Colony offers a version of this future called the “App Internet” – an environment that will supersede the pure cloud model by taking advantage of the processing power of tablets and smart phones as well as the ubiquity of the Internet.

However, this ideal environment assumes that all issues concerning compatibility and interoperability among Internet apps and clouds have been solved.  Vint Cerf, the “Father of the Internet” and Google’s chief Internet evangelist, projected a five-year timeframe for a hypothetical “Intercloud” in this brief but compelling video interview in January 2010.

In the meantime, there are issues that need to be identified and addressed.

Part 2 continues here

Frank Johnson has more than 25 years’ experience in information technology marketing. He is part of the marketing communications and analysis team at Enterworks Inc., a company that offers solutions for acquiring, managing, and publishing master data, digital assets, and related product content.  He is the lead blogger at Enterworks’ Multichannel Content Blog

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