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Dawn of a New Day

| January 11, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft and previously a key figure at Software Arts and at Lotus, and founder of Groove, is leaving Microsoft after a short transition period.  Shortly after he made his announcement, Ozzie wrote “Dawn of a New Day,” as an email to Microsoft’s Executive Staff and his direct reports.  He also posted it at <>.  I believe that this piece is a “must-read” for everyone who is, or who aspires to be, a university IT leader.  Ozzie has a good track record at producing cutting-edge products and for envisioning the future, and this piece gives all of us a lot to think about.

As I read the piece, three things popped out at me:

1.  About every five years the IT industry experiences what appears to be an inflection point that results in turbulence and change.  From my past experience, university IT has generally been slow to recognize and respond to these forces.  How should universities proceed today?

Ozzie believes that our personal-computer centric / server-centric world has become too complex.  He sees this complexity continuing to increase as products mature.  In his view, complexity is inescapable, sucking the life out of users, developers, and those responsible for IT services and support.  This view of the current and the near-term IT environment leads Ozzie to envision a plausible future for IT.

He notes that essentially all of our personal computers are connected to the network and routinely connect to servers.  And, he notes that we are also rapidly embracing increasingly powerful app-capable phones and pads as well as innovative services and websites.  As we do this, we are mentally moving away from a focus on the artifacts of specific hardware and software.  This leads Ozzie to see a world of cloud-based continuous services that we all connect to and appliance-like connected devices enabling us to connect with these services.

2.  Continuous services, websites and cloud-based agents we can rely on for more and more of what we do.  Always available.  Capable of unbounded scale.  More and more of our personal and corporate data now sit within these services.  With this comes increasing concerns about issues of trust and privacy.  Today, we typically interact with these sites and services through browsers on our personal computers.  And increasingly, we also interact through apps loaded onto a broad variety of service-connected devices including phones, pads, and desktop computers.

3.  Connected devices beyond the personal computer will increasingly come in a broad variety of form factors.  And, from Ozzie’s point-of-view, in the future each person will interact with a significant number of these devices each day.  The key difference between today’s and tomorrow’s devices will be their simplicity and their appliance-like design.  He also believes that this will include many embedded devices including sensors throughout our environment.  He sees these appliance-like devices as easily configured, interchangeable, and replaceable without loss.

Ozzie believes that we will inevitably progress to this Continuous Devices | Connected Devices model.  In his mind the only variable is the rate at which we do so.

If he’s correct, are today’s app-capable phones and pads precursors of that future?  If so, what experiments should we be doing now?  What other “killer” applications, services, and devices are lurking out there today that will show up tomorrow in the consumer’s hands and on our campuses?

To me, no matter whether you believe Ray Ozzie to be correct or not, IT leaders are being challenged to look hard at the technology we expect to have in place tomorrow.  That technology will be different than today and be even more driven by what’s available in the consumer marketplace.  In addition, university IT, both central and departmental, will likely be pressured to deliver more and higher quality services with fewer resources.

All this calls for IT leaders, working collaboratively across the campus, to develop a path to the next future.


Best wishes on your journey.  .  .  .     jim