Practitioners often complain that tech industry trends are over-hyped and hence introduce an element of risk into the decision, deployment, and management phases of projects. Technology investments are inherently risky due to fast replacement cycles, competitive cannibalization, and high rates of project “failure” (defined as not meeting business objectives). This is why many CFOs require higher internal rates-of-return (IRR) for technology-heavy projects as compared to other initiatives.
IT services fall under the category of “boring but important.” Service delivery is not sexy, but it’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of value creation. Professional services are the missing link whereby raw technologies get converted into business capabilities. Technology services generally and specifically outsourced services are designed to cut buyer risk. By backfilling capability gaps and shifting the burden of deployment and/or management to an outside source, organizations often realize better ROI and higher success rates as measured by on-time delivery, time-to-value and minimized cost overruns-- albeit at often higher up front costs.
In the past 24 months, cloud computing and Big Data have been two of the most talked about and hyped areas of technology. Practitioners cut through the noise of technology hype by having conversations with trusted peers. This process helps filter reality from puff and decrease decision-making risk. In an effort to understand what IT buyers really think about cloud computing, Big Data, and other important technology topics, Wikibon performed an analysis of emerging trends specifically related to IT service delivery.
We used social media analytics as a proxy for peer-based conversations. New analytics and data mining techniques allowed us to quantify different conversations among relevant IT buyers and track the shift in attitudes and consumption over time. To accomplish this task, we collaborated with VDP Finder – a Big Data analytics company – to filter hype from reality in social media. The process has enabled us to measure changing attitudes and trends around IT on a daily basis, with a particular emphasis on comparing perceptions of IT professionals relative to other industry influencers.
Our research findings show the following:
- Until quite recently cloud computing has dominated the IT Services conversation among IT buyers - developers, engineers, systems administrators, and architects, and even IT directors and CIOs.
- Most IT practitioners are concerned about remaining relevant in the emerging IT era defined by cloud and, more recently, Big Data.
- Practitioners are looking for new IT certifications to enhance their skills, and many continue to share conversations that help them understand how cloud and Big Data will impact their jobs.
- Buyers also want to understand what new suppliers are entering the market that they should be investigating and how overall trends in the market will impact their organizations and professional careers.
While cloud remains very important, more recently the conversation about Big Data has peaked, and we expect this conversation will surpass that of cloud over the next 12 months. We see conversational trends that are similar to those aroud cloud, but also an intense focus has developed on understanding new products (particularly Open Source), forecasts for growth, and a desire to get better understanding over what is real vs. what is fiction.
Over the last four months, VDPFinder and Wikibon built a community of more than 300,000 individuals who are actively tweeting about a variety of topics related to IT Services. We have analyzed more than 1.5 million tweets from this community of IT practitioners, media, marketing, analysts, and even recruiters, students, and other IT enthusiasts. Using text mining techniques, we are able to filter for the most relevant individuals, eliminate extraneous conversations and people, and track meaningful conversations. In four months we have analyzed the conversations of more than 25,000 IT professionals and 3,500 Data Scientists relevant to the IT services market (see Figures 1 and 2).
IT Services Trends
Over the last four months, references to Cloud have dominated the IT services social media discussion within our IT Services vertical – more than two-thirds of all conversation has been about Cloud issues (see Figure 3). However, Big Data conversations have been growing quickly and now account for 33% of the overall conversation among IT professionals (see Figure 4). Other conversations relate to analytics (14%) virtualization (6%), disaster recovery/business continuity/security (6%) and IT operations (4%).
A deeper view of the “long tail” of trends is shown in Figure 5 and highlights how the main focus of different constituents varies dramatically. Specifically, the following points highlight the six top areas of focus within our IT Services vertical.
- Cloud: Cloud conversations cover the gamut of public and private cloud topics – applications, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, security, providers, hosters, platforms and infrastructure (see Figure 3). The broad spectrum of conversation is expected, given the number of suppliers that now participate in this market and the crossover between enterprise and consumer markets.
- Big Data: There are two very distinct conversations around Big Data; focus on the platforms & tools and the emerging role of the data scientist. This conversation is particularly important to the data science community, where more than two-thirds of the conversation is related to Big Data (see Figure 4)
- Analytics: The Big Data conversation has quickly bifurcated between general big data discussions of platforms and tools and concerns and questions about analytics. This second conversation gets closer to the heart of the value of Big Data – findings, insights and ultimately, business value.
- Virtualization: Much of the virtualization conversation is dominated by VMware, particularly among IT professionals. This is not surprising given the large footprint VMware has in the market and the foundational role the technology has as part of IT services and cloud.
- Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity/Security: These three areas remain a very important part of the IT services discussion, primarily because of the impact of business operations and risk. This is particularly true for IT professionals who need to measure the SLAs and risk associated with Cloud as well as leveraging DR/BC solutions as part of a cloud portfolio.
- IT Operations: Dominant conversations here include frameworks such as ITSM and risk management, not surprising given the focus on Cloud, the desire for robust best practices as part of a Cloud migration strategy, and perceived challenges of a Cloud strategy.
Figure 5 also underscores the diversity of conversations among various constituents. Not surprisingly, media, marketing, and analyst conversations tend to be more forward looking than those of the IT practitioner community and are often focused on the “next thing” as part of their messaging agenda rather than what is happening “right now.” This is particularly true as it relates to services, because the focus tends to be on tactical implementation and management.
While IT pros and data scientists do focus on forward-looking trends, the emphasis tends to be on what they can learn that will help them with the task today, such as choosing a platform or supplier, investigating new tools, or thinking about alternative IT solutions. For many IT pros, social media tools such as Twitter are considered a personalized news feed that is generated by trusted sources such as friends and colleagues. IT professionals tend to use social media sparingly, so when they do speak, the IT conversation is typically very relevant.
In the area of IT services, Figure 5 demonstrates that IT pros are now equally focused on Cloud and Big Data, while Big Data and analytics dominate the conversation among data scientists – almost 85% of their conversations can be categorized in these two areas. IT pros are, however, disproportionately thinking about virtualization, particularly the dominant market player VMware, which again speaks to the challenges that they face day-to-day in operations and to closely related to Cloud initiatives.
Action: Define ‘influence’ as a matter of relevance to a specific objective. Big numbers of followers and friends (for example) may create the sense of influence, but often this is illusory. Unless people can be classified into relevant categories, information captured from signal will become increasingly unreliable, not relevant and, even worse, detrimental to the discussion at hand. Moreover, suppliers and marketing professionals can be leveraged, particularly those who are genuinely interested in helping on a day-to-day basis with relevant content or those that can bring a community of peers in an environment that supports an unbiased sharing of ideas. Figure 5: IT Services Conversation by Member, August-November, 2012
An analysis of our IT professional community is instructive. By analyzing the intersection between professional and personal lives, we can gain insights to practitioner tendencies and topical interests. Not surprisingly, we see a wide variety of qualifications that vary based on job title – security, cloud, Linux, Web, virtualization, hacker, etc. But some of the most interesting information comes from adjacencies in personal lives and how practitioners identify themselves – husband, father, dad, geek, musician, gamer, sports enthusiast, photographer.
Action: Don’t dismiss social media as a collection of people “nothing like me.” They are probably just like you.
Top Stories from August-November, 2012
Some of the greatest insight from social media can come from the stories and links that are shared among like-minded individuals. Almost one-third of all the 1.5 million tweets collected over the last four months in the IT services community involve the sharing of a link to a story, blog, or website.
The Top 10 stories/articles/blogs that were shared each month among IT professionals in the IT Services community are listed below in Table 1. Two things are immediately obvious here:
- IT professionals use social media to share content that primarily aids in building their awareness and understanding of key market trends. In this case, the focus is on building new skills or identifying relevant job certifications, as well as keeping up with product announcements on new and interesting technologies and pricing.
- The level of interest in a given topic will change quickly over time. In this example below, the stories shared in August were almost exclusively about Cloud, yet by November, the stories shared were almost exclusively focused on Big Data.
One of the most shared stories in November related to the use of Big Data in the Obama campaign. This story provided not only insight on a very topical story but also gave perspective on predictive analytics, which is quickly being viewed within corporations as the enabler of internal justification for emerging Big Data projects.
Action: To build a strong social media following among enterprise IT professionals, share what is actionable, timely, and interesting. Good examples include well thought through opinion pieces that synthesize and simplify bigger industry trends. Short, well written product announcements that place context around the technology are also well received as is content that reports on real life applications of technology in industry domains.
Information on social media today is highly relevant. Many of the top IT suppliers, media outlets, and analyst organizations are focusing their attention on social media for distribution. Our research shows, however, that practitioners are also active on social media, and the best information comes from peers who have similar interests and are willing to share. As it relates to our IT services community, there is a major emphasis on training, education and certification. While we believe this is normal with IT practitioners, our research shows a heightened awareness of the mega shifts occurring in the technology business around cloud and big data which we believe are catalyzing the requirement for improved and modernized skills.
Action Item: Mega-trends around Cloud and Big Data underscore industry shifts that are creating demand for training and certification in these emerging areas. Wikibon research shows that that IT practitioners are actively using social media to share ideas, transform their organizations and accelerate personal development. In particular, practitioners are advised to leverage social channels to efficiently tap sources of information that can enrich organizational and professional development while at the same time reducing decision-making risks.