By Sramana Mitra and guest authors Shaloo Shalini and Bhavana Sharma
SM: I have two other major questions. One is from an entrepreneur’s point of view: What do you see in the realm of cloud computing in general, security included? Where do you see are open spaces or blue-sky opportunities, unsolved problems, and open problems for entrepreneurs? That is one question, and the second question is related: What is your acquisition strategy? What is the portfolio of solutions you are trying to put together through acquisitions in terms of functionality?
DF: I will deal with first question. Where do I see white spaces? Well, if you buy the hypothesis that the future is PaaS and programmable Web, people are viewing the platform and the tools for building the applications that will span the programmable Web and PaaS. But another thing that could emerge is this concept of end-user programming. It’s the sense that today this is somewhat pejorative: If you are in an enterprise and you are a line of business sort of employee and you want to modify an app, or you want a new app , you have to submit a request to the data center or the IT organization and they go figure it out, they staff the team and build it. All the APIs are out there and there is a place to run it. How do you actually enable semisophisticated, semi-IT-savvy people, people who can use the spreadsheet but can go to the next level, people who understand Visio and stencils? How do you actually get those people to build such apps? That I think is an open space.
SM: Have you see efforts on that front by Serena software?
DF: There are several companies that are doing this. There are two types of white spaces. One type of white space is where there is nothing, and another type of is a white space with little dots.
SM: Right, and then the question I was asking about these little dots enterprise mash-up – that is what Serena was calling it – why hasn’t that been as successful? I mean, I think I heard about that a good three or four years ago.
DF: I think there are a few reasons why. The first is in any thing like this, there is a tipping point. The adoption of technology tends to have an inflexion point. A lot of times it seems like it is just dead or on life support, and then it suddenly explodes. I think that is just the case here, we haven’t just hit the inflexion point. Part of that I would say is because enterprises at some point get comfortable – what they would say is, we are already using IaaS or PaaS and we are comfortable with it. Let’s just have everybody use it. Part of it is that enterprises just aren’t comfortable with it, but they know they need to go to cloud computing and after they take three or four steps along the cloud computing path, they’ll then go, Oh we are all right with that. In a similar vein, what we might see is what we saw with wikis, which was wikis were kind of happening here and there. They were a bunch of little dots in the enterprise to start with. Suddenly, there were enough of them that the enterprise said, “Oh, OK, they are cool. We will now start supporting wikis.” There is going to be this tipping point where you know at some point enterprises are going to be using enough programmable Web APIs and would have done enough with PaaS that suddenly it just tips. That would be my guess on why it has not taken off.
SM: You are saying that point that tipping point has not arrived yet?
DF: No, I don’t think it’s happened quite yet. Also. it might be demographic factors. Among people my age, approximately fifty, most people except programmers and IT people like me wouldn’t really feel comfortable doing that. It wouldn’t occur to them that they could do it? On the other hand, there are people who are significantly younger than me who probably would. I don’t know that for a fact, but I will give you a couple of anecdotes. I take martial arts, and when we used to sign in for a class we signed in on one of those big leather-bound logbooks, like something Dickens would have done. People around the Dow Jones basically got high school students to do a Microsoft Access app. You scanned a bar code, it registered it, and someone e-mailed you how many classes you had taken – a junior in high school. When I entered the computing industry, doing such a thing required COBOL programmers, and now it has become so simple that high school kids do it. These people are going to enter the workforce, and when the CIO says, OK you can have that app but it is going to be nine months, they [are not going to wait.] They are just going to go and do it. I suspect some of it might be demographic. I don’t know, exactly where we are in that demographic transformation. But my guess would be that it’s going to happen. You saw the same thing with spreadsheets; when the spreadsheet first came out it was only the finance and accounting people who used them and now everybody is using them.
SM: You can’t be a businessperson and do without spreadsheets anymore.
DF: It is the same phenomenon: At some point it’s just going to be something everybody is using as opposed to something that a specialist uses. So, that I think is kind of white space with measles, little dots.