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Age of empowered individuals: People power behind robust computing

Editor's Note: This is the text of Chris Shipley's keynote speech given to open the recent DEMO 2007 Conference in Palm Desert, Calif.

I shouldn't be surprised by the energy in this room today, and neither should you. You are at the very center of an exciting shift in the information technology market. As computing power becomes increasingly distributed, individuals themselves become increasingly powerful.

Quite honestly, we have struggled to find a name for this power shift. A couple of years ago, I thought we might call it “service-based computing.” And then a lot of marketing muscle came along and started talking about “SOA” - service oriented architecture, and “SaaS” - Software as a Service. Big ideas to be sure, but they failed to capture the whole market.

At one DEMO event, we bandied about the term “device computing” to give a nod to mobility and the computing power of mobile phones and the proliferation of PDAs, MP3 players, GPS systems, and a dozen other device types that moved computing power to the edge.

More recently, “Web 2.0” has garnered a following, even if it is non-inclusive of many technology markets, and never mind that many of us struggle to find a real meaning behind the label. Web 2.0 is a type of application, a business model, a condition of the market. To punctuate the trendiness of the term, we're also hearing talk now of Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Career 2.0, and just-about-anything 2.0.
None of these names, though, really capture what is happening. And I realized that our challenge is to break from a model that is technology-centric - one where we can define the capabilities and the impact of a machine, based on its form factor - to a model that is people-centric - one that is defined by the authority to influence - and manage the application of technology. It would have to be an authority that will drive development and design of new technology products.

Age of Empowerment

Forget mainframes and minis and PCs and mobile devices. Forget even the Internet-based model of Web 2.0. We are clearly and deeply engaged in the Age of the Empowered Individual. Whether it's for business value or personal entertainment, individuals - you and I - have tremendous power to choose which technologies we use and how we use them. We have a tremendous influence on what products will succeed and what comes next.

This people-centric focus is obvious in areas like consumer Internet sites or mobile devices and applications. Individuals are making personal choices about which applications they use, which mobile phones they buy, and which services they engage.

It's evident that when we think about user-generated content and social media, we have moved beyond sharing of media to become designers and producers. It's no longer enough to post a photo, comment on a blog post, or add tags to a social taxonomy. As creating consumers, we ask: “What's Next? How can I do more?”

So we seek out sites that leverage our individual creativity, and our individual influence, and services that give us greater control of media, and tools that enable us to customize and personalize our own experiences.

The empowered individual is easy to see in consumer markets, and most surely consumer products will garner a great deal of attention at this DEMO event.

But I also see the empowered individual influencing all aspects of the enterprise market. Empowered individuals influence which business applications to adopt. They are purchasing for themselves mobile phones, laptop computers and portable storage, and a range of other products; their personal preferences drive those buying decisions. They are demanding performance, ease-of-use, and reliability, and Web-like experiences with enterprise data.

Savvy end-users

Even where the buying decision is held deep in an IT organization, those decisions are greatly influenced by the need to serve a savvy end-user base. Later today, we'll see a number of enterprise products that would barely be necessary if individuals at the end points of these highly distributed environments weren't demanding better support, quicker response times, and more reliable systems - all while fully addressing their specific business needs and their specific business styles.

Decisions are not taken in a vacuum; solutions are not imposed upon a work group. Instead, they are driven by individual interests, requirements, and influence.

We may think that the influential individual might concentrate market momentum into specific market segments. The reality is that highly distributed computing power actually drives to a highly diversified innovation marketplace. That is certainly true among the 68 companies that will present on this stage over the next two days.

The most frequently asked question in the weeks leading up to DEMO was this: “Is there a theme for DEMO this year?” That question is usually followed by “Is there something that's really cool at DEMO?” and “Is this DEMO consumer-focused?” or “Is this DEMO more enterprise-focused?”

The answer to all these questions is “Yes.”

Yes, DEMO's theme is culled from the hundreds of products that aimed for the event and the 68 that you'll see in the next two days. While not always self-evident, the thread weaved through each of these companies is one of empowerment. The power of individuals to select and use specific products and services; the power of individuals to move markets; the power of individual expectation and the belief that new capability is possible.

Yes, there is something really cool at DEMO - 68 somethings, to be exact. Each of these products is different, each is cool in its own right - whether it is 6th Sense's solution to layer business metrics into application development, or ZoomInfo's ability to gather and aggregate Internet-based information, or any of the other 66 products that are - alphabetically - in between. These products bring new value to the market - and that's cool.

Tipping the scales

To be sure, some of the companies here are advancing new features. Their business models have not been vetted by the market. Some companies will be acquired before they'll determine how they will become a scaleable, profitable company; others will focus on market value, and they'll adapt and adjust and drive to scale.

Yes, DEMO `07 offers a consumer-heavy lineup of companies. And, yes, the interests of enterprise customers are well represented here. In the age of empowered individuals, it is tremendously difficult to isolate the influence of individuals on purchase decisions for home and office. Indeed, one person's office application is another's home-based business in the making.

No matter what the intended market, we give every company seeking a spot at DEMO a full and careful screening. Our intent: to show areas of interest, to push boundaries of innovation, to promote a new idea and new market leadership. The class of DEMO `07 is a reflection of today's market directions. We've identified 68 companies that - each in its own way, direct and indirect - innovate and embellish our individual lifestyles.

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Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMO Letter, and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at Shipley has covered the personal technology business since 1984, and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today.

Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine, and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

This column was reprinted with permission of Network World, Inc. All registered trademarks are owned by IDG. More information can be found at

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.

WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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