Is mobile computing scarier than Y2K?

Y2K_3Those of us older than 35 can vividly remember the Y2K scare perpetrated on the computing public by a variety of fear mongers two decades ago. Leading the doom and gloom scenario were the vendors most likely to profit from fixing the supposed problems. The widely held view was that most computer software and hardware systems relied on a two-digits to specify a year, instead of four-digits. Thus, as the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 1999, all data-related processing systems would recognize the day as January 1, 1900. Trains and planes wouldn’t work. Banking systems would fail and you could even lose your money. Emergency response systems would cease to protect the public. It was so bad that FEMA got involved in the US to prepare itself for this natural disaster. In the United States alone, business and government organizations spent over $300B to prepare themselves.

Guess what? Nothing happened. The Wall Street Journal called Y2K the “hoax of the century.” This is not to say that the technical problems weren’t real or that the ramifications for doing nothing were low. But, fear and anxiety were blown way out of proportion given the amount of preparation for Y2K. Fast forward to 2014. The new scare is that everything is moving to the cloud, and mobile computing is the “only” way to interact with our critical business systems.

If your systems are not multi-tenant, multi-browser, and fully Web-enabled, they’re dinosaurs–destined for extinction. Move to the cloud now or your businesses are destined to become non-competitive. And, if your software doesn’t do big data analytics, cloud, and mobile computing in some way, shape, or form, then you had better migrate quickly or you’ll be left holding the bag, and you may even lose your job.

Rich client desktop applications are dead. IT organizations are losing their ability to keep up with everyone’s desktop and laptop installation needs, and budgets are being slashed as more and more enterprise software moves to the cloud. While this scenario may not be life and death like Y2K, you can bet enterprises are spending more than $300B to fix the imminent disaster of being left behind. It’s like being the last person in your company still using a Blackberry when everyone else is using an iPhone or Android device.

So is this a Y2K false alarm? Maybe not. I just got back from the IBM Insight Conference in Las Vegas. IBM is doing some pretty neat stuff with Watson Analytics and cognitive computing. Almost all of their innovation is headed for cloud deployment only. While Amazon seems to be winning the Infrastructure as a Service race, IBM is leading on analytics and big data innovation. 70% of all transactional data still gets created on IBM gear and much of that data is headed to the cloud for advanced analytics.

And what about mobility? Look no further than the recent announcement between Apple and IBM to understand where the market is heading. Intelligent personal devices and enterprise computing are irreversibly interdependent. Phones, tablets and hybrid tablet/laptops are the way business professionals are interacting with their business applications and software is preferred when it is a service. I spoke to dozens of IBM customers at the Insight Conference over a four-day period. The message was consistent: “Our applications have to be cloud and mobile ready. Not three years from now but today.”

So on the hype cycle, we can argue about how big “big data” really is, or on the true definition of cloud, but there is no arguing that cloud, big data analytics, and mobility are here to stay. And unlike Y2K, this is no hoax.

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Bob Potter is Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Business Information and Analytics Business Unit at Rocket.

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