Beware the Frankencloud

In my new book about to be published in June (pre-orders now available on Amazon.com) I warn organizations looking to truly innovate to stay away from the “Frankenstack” – collections of disparate software tools bundled together by mega software vendors. When you bolt on new technology on to existing technology, the bolt, like the ones coming out the neck of Dr Frankenstein’s monster, remains visible and impairs movement and agility. I think we should also watch out for the Frankencloud – the same collection of disparate software packages that try to hide the bolts by putting the whole thing into a Cloud environment.

We always advise clients to check for those visible bolts on the neck, and double check for agility. Is that capability bolted on or built-in? Is it innovation that the vendor loves and is passionate about? Are the people who created the software still there? Make sure you test it first, perhaps with small children by the lake; watch for sparks, odd lurching behavior, and general unintended consequences.

There was a time when software vendors took the time. Adobe for example did a great job in the 80s and 90s taking over the creative desktop by acquiring and integrating the best of breed tools for vector, text, bitmap, video and audio editing. Users benefited from better interoperability, consistency, and well-designed form factors to make an industry standard desktop. Oracle in the early days made sure that anything that might make a relational database easier to use and more powerful was bundled into its franchise RDBMs.

Things have changed. The rush to the Cloud has become a quick way to gloss over the heavy lifting required to truly make things work together. It is easy to spot the bolts when the good Dr Frankenstein is working on-Schloss (on-premises) but it gets a little more difficult when the hacking and stitching and stapling is done on the Frankencloud. Do the bolts go away? Not at all – in fact the integration effort can become even more difficult. But it’s in the Cloud, therefore it is completely, seamlessly, unified, right? All that integration work is eliminated because it’s on the Cloud and because it’s on the Cloud that makes everything easy? I don’t need my DBAs or my risk guys, my end to end process guys, everything will “just work” (sorry Steve) simply because all my APIs now support RESTful conditions and I have dumped everything on Amazon AWS?

If you believe that I have a castle in the Odenwald overlooking Darmstadt I can sell you on a monthly subscription basis. 

Oracle’s co-president Mark Hurd was recently overheard in an article in AdAge talking about the Oracle marketing cloud:

"The fact that everything ever works perfectly together, anybody who tells you that is pulling your leg…There will never be a day where the depth of integration, unless it was all built from the bottom ground up, will be integrated as any of us would like."

I couldn’t agree more! Mark Hurd is absolutely correct. Building from the bottom up makes the most sense. Bolting things on can lead to problems. When you can acquire complementary technology that can be truly unified, or brought into a single object model, design time and runtime environment, this can provide a terrific boost to clients and partners. Software that is built-in -- as integrated and as unified as we would like from the ground up – is not hurriedly bolt-on just in time for the next Wall Street interview.

Pegasystems’ is well known for its unified platform. I take pride in the fact that we have approached our recent acquisitions with a view to finding technology that is so compatible that it can be re-built quickly within the Pega Build for Change platform. Chordiant, Antenna and most recently MeshLabs technologies, are examples of our complete commitment to this Build for Change promise. While it can take time, it is we think time well spent. No bolts here.

But a real challenge the industry has is that business buyers have in recent years come to think of ‘SaaS’ (self-contained, everything taken care of) and ‘Cloud’ (hosted but some assembly required with shared accountability) as synonymous. And they suspect that IT just hasn’t looked hard enough to find all their business service needs as dirt cheap SaaS offerings. When the mega vendors whisper the seductive words that your troubles are over and everything is now in the cloud, there are many who very much want this to be true. SOA integration challenges, process consistency, and governance issues? Don’t worry, the Frankencloud will take care of all that.

But wanting something doesn’t make it so. Conclusion: be careful, the villagers (end users) will eventually figure it out, and rise up with their pitch forks and firebrands. And the monster hates fire.