Welcome to the fourth era of digital.
The first three periods or ages or phases — call them what you like — were each defined clearly by transformative events.
First, the dawn of the personal computer age in April 1977 with the debut of the Apple II (and validated in August 1981 with the introduction of the IBM PC).
Next, the beginning of the Internet age when the Netscape browser was released in 1994, which redefined forever the way we connect.
Then, on June 29, 2007 — ushered in again by Steve Jobs and Apple — the mobility era began with the unveiling of the first iPhone, which ushered in a "Mobile First" mindset for the masses.
And now we’re in the fourth era. This time there’s been no single, monumental event or technology to mark its beginning, though mobility and the cloud are the primary enabling technologies. What’s happening instead is that a number of technologies are coalescing and achieving, even as we speak, a critical mass that will make this age as transformative or more so than any of the previous three.
This is the age of multi-device mobility, the cloud, seamless computing from one device to another, a growing ecosystem of connected devices (watches, cars, thermostats), instant and ubiquitous communication, the blurring of the lines and hours between work and not-work. It’s a transformation that may have started with the smartphone, but has now engulfed everything about the way we use technology for, well everything.
Organizations that master the ability to collect, understand and act upon knowledge derived from user experiences, application behaviours, and infrastructure use from across this connected ecosystem will outcompete those that don’t, and win in this fourth era of Digital: The Age of Application Intelligence.
A Tectonic Technological Shift
There’s really no precedent for the speed of what has become a tectonic technological shift. In her much-anticipated Internet Trends 2014, KPCB’s Mary Meeker characterizes a tech market that saw 20 percent growth for smartphones, 52 percent for tablets, and 82 percent for mobile data in 2013. She predicts 10x growth in mobile Internet units in this decade — from the one billion-plus desktop Internet units/users to more than 10 billion for the mobile Internet.
Seemingly overnight, we have new models for hardware and software development, new models of behavior, and unforgiving expectations from consumers — for more apps, more functionality, more entertainment, more speed — driven by mobility, but extending to all online experiences regardless of interaction preference.
This is good, and it’s a great time to be in the thick of the enabling technology platforms — if you’re functioning with a model designed for this fourth era of digital.
On the other hand, it’s a pretty challenging time if you’re dealing with technology that matured early in the 2000s. Think huge, monolithic apps, sprawling private data centers with proprietary consoles for every piece of your infrastructure supported by “engagements” — a very loaded term — when a literal or figurative truckload of consultants, engineers, and programmers would descend on an enterprise and spend several months and multiple man-years engrossed in a single project only to emerge at the end with a big, bloated, largely rigid “deliverable.”
And if the applications themselves were large and unwieldy and slow to adapt, the Application Performance Management systems were (and legacy systems still are) similarly complex, difficult to adapt, and slow to process the limited amount of data they collected. The notion of “real time” was not even a consideration.
It wasn’t that long ago, but it’s hard to imagine trying to do business like that today. And in fact, you really can’t do business that way today. Some of the legacy APM platforms are trying to make the transition. But it’s a difficult maneuver that requires the kind of wholesale reinvention that few entrenched enterprises are willing to attempt, or that those brave enough to try can accomplish successfully.
The recent challenge faced by OpTier is a case in point. It’s always a bit alarming to see a player leave the arena, even a competitor. But it’s not likely to be the last such story we’ll hear.
Whether you’re building the applications themselves or the platforms to optimize their performance and business value, today everything is about speed, agility, and creating exceptional end-user experiences.
If you’re providing the applications, that means you have to be able to iterate quickly — often multiple times per day — and deliver the features and functionality your customers want, whether they’re outside or inside your enterprise. And of course, your apps have to be continuously available and meet your customers’ expectations for speed and performance, whatever OS or device they’re using. And you have to do this in an environment that is distributed, heterogeneous, complex, and ever-changing.
To pull this off requires a level of application intelligence designed specifically to succeed with these challenges in these environments.
Delivering Real APM Value
Specifically, for an APM platform to deliver real value for the application and the enterprise, it has to satisfy a number of key requirements, including:
● Fast setup: minutes or hours vs. days or weeks, without need for a professional services ‘engagement.’
● Self-learning, auto-configuring: Your apps and infrastructure change frequently; your APM platform needs to automatically detect and learn those changes and configure itself in real time, without manual intervention; there’s simply no time or resources for that.
● Detect, diagnose, and respond: If there’s a problem, a slowdown, an outage, your APM platform should be the first to know about it, and whenever possible, should fix it before you know about it; or if it requires a bigger intervention, give you the data you need to solve it quickly.
● Deliver actionable intelligence in real-time: In the old days, APM was about speed and availability and not much else. In today’s software-enabled enterprises, the APM platform not only has to measure, monitor, and manage system health, it has to be able to tell you, in real time, what impact performance is having on the business. It’s a focus far beyond availability and throughput, on the business transaction for the end user.
● Provide end-to-end transaction visibility: Your applications may be running on your premises, in the cloud, or both; you need to be able to see what’s happening everywhere, through one pane of glass, because you can only manage, fix, and optimize performance that you can see.
● Be insanely fast: When you do a release, you need to know immediately what’s working, what’s not, and how to fix things in a hurry, live, in production.
And it has to be stingy with the overhead, be able to scale itself and your applications up or down in response to changing demand, make the most of your resources and infrastructure, and many more things.
That’s a far cry from the big, heavy, slow systems and processes of a few short years ago. And characteristics like these don’t just apply to APM — it’s the way of all technology development today, from VR gaming headset hardware to massive e-commerce systems. Fail fast and recover (smarter next time). Design from the outside-in. Iterate quickly. Respond in real time. Innovate faster than the competition, in technology and marketing. Create user experiences that drive success.
In Internet Trends, Mary Meeker says that “New companies — with new data from new device types — [are] doing things in new ways and growing super fast.” And she describes the rapid growth of “uploadable/sharable/findable real-time data.” These are ideas that describe much of what is driving this new, fourth era of digital.
The old adage is true now more than ever: Change is the one constant you can count on. Those organizations who can adapt continuously are the ones that will thrive and win.
Steven Wastie is Chief Marketing Officer of AppDynamics.
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