Bio: Jeff Schneider founded MomentumSI in 1997 and serves as the company’s CEO and chairman. As CEO, Jeff aligns the strategic goals of the company with those of the customers. He spends significant time working directly with client programs and keeps a close eye on disruptive technologies and paradigms. Jeff started his career at 3M working on supply chain and manufacturing systems. In 1996, he wrote the first book on Enterprise Java and continues to write for leading technology publications and is a frequent speaker related to emerging technologies. His concepts of service networks, enterprise vocabularies and the “service oriented enterprise” serve as a blueprint for companies to upgrade not only their enterprise architecture, but also their people and processes.

 

About MomentumSI: MomentumSI helps organizations transform IT processes, applications and infrastructures into strategic advantage. The company helps clients adopt new technology solutions, including cloud computing, big data and advanced architectures. This transition includes moving systems to public cloud providers when possible and implementing private cloud solutions when appropriate.

NTT Com: Your company helps clients embrace some of the biggest technology trends occurring today, including cloud computing and big data. What are the common reasons clients are making the transition to cloud?

Schneider: Many of them are the obvious, commonly discussed reason. The two big ones are agility and a cost advantage. The third is related to new product introductions or new ways of making money. Clients are rethinking business models. You might compare a Netflix to a Blockbuster. Both would consider themselves to be in the digital media distribution business, but one has employed technology to a significantly greater degree than the other, which has allowed them to achieve huge gains. Another example would be Amazon compared to Barnes and Noble. We are seeing a whole group of companies that realize the need to be technology experts in order to rethink their business. So far, with companies that do this like Amazon or Netflix, we are seeing them dominate the areas in which they play.

 

NTT Com: For companies that have not traditionally been technology focused, are these trends pushing them to become more technologically savvy?

Schneider: Without a doubt, and particularly in any industry that is information centric. For instance, financial services are largely information products. Insurance is seeing huge opportunities in technology related to risk analysis. The list goes on. Many of our customers are in education or the creation of educational materials. Where people used to think about distributing books, they are now thinking about how to rework materials for iPads and other mobile devices. I see virtually no industries that aren’t being significantly effected by the changes in mobile, big data and the cloud.

 

NTT Com: For those companies that have not traditionally had technology at their core, what are some of the issues your company is trying to help them figure out?

 Schneider: One of the biggest challenges they face is that their leadership is from the old guard. These are people who were hired 10, 20 or 30 years ago. They know their industry from a traditional sense. They know how to march in one direction and are being asked to consider a completely new direction late in their careers.

NTT Com: Is this leadership challenge one that is apparent throughout these organizations or is it specific to those roles that fall outside the IT department?

Schneider: It is an issue throughout all departments, including IT. I recently had a call with leaders of a financial services company that is hoping to reinvent itself. They are contemplating doing crowd-funding activities. This is a traditional bank that wants to talk about how to crowdsource funding for reinvestment in the local markets. To the traditional business banker, this is new and very awkward. The IT department has historically not been about creating brand new offerings. It is completely outside of their sweet spot. This is the kind of thing that you are more likely to see in your average Silicon Valley startup than a Fortune 500 classic IT shop.

 

NTT Com: Are you starting to see people with these kinds of IT skills make a transition to these traditional Fortune 500 companies because of the companies’ need to rethink their business? 

Schneider: It depends. If the company has brought in new leadership who is pushing them toward things like cloud and big data, then they are also bringing in new IT talent. Other companies have not made this move at all and they are moving nowhere. As we look across our clients, it’s becoming quite clear which of them see the paradigm shift and the threat to their business.

 

NTT Com: What is the approach you take with clients who have yet to recognize this paradigm shift?

Schneider: It typically starts with education. Not specifically technology education, but education about what leading-edge companies are doing. When you are in Silicon Valley talking to a startup, they can tell you why Facebook and Google were successful. In Columbus, Ohio, the insight into those types of successes is not there. A big piece of what we do is bring startup agility to enterprise clients. This begins with helping them to understand what is changing and what technologies have made those changes possible.

 

NTT Com: So across companies, are you seeing the role of the IT professional become more important?

Schneider: This depends. For companies that don’t consider technology to be core to their competitive advantage, they are doing everything they can to diminish IT’s role. Typically this means that they move to off shoring, outsourcing and packaged apps, doing as much acquisition through third parties as possible. In this case, the IT department is kind of knit together from these pieces.

Or it is the exact opposite, where they consider hiring IT talent to be a core differentiator for the company. These companies are committed to competing on technology and innovation. For any business related to information, such as those in travel, education or finance, the technology-centric business will dominate. For businesses that focus on physical materials, they can make a good case that they should focus on things other than their IT systems as a differentiator.

 

NTT Com: When you look at managing the process of a large IT implementation like moving an application to the cloud, what are some of the key things you do to help that process happen successfully?

Schneider: We find that the technology side of an implementation is usually not the biggest issue. The biggest part of what we do is to help them rethink their IT processes or even the business processes. Specifically, we help them consider details like who is involved and when they should get involved. In a lot of cases, we don’t want as many checkpoints and fingers in the pot as they currently have. We are continuing to have all the same safeguards, but they are built in as automated policies so that they don’t have to always be sending emails, calling people and stopping every few minutes. Moving the applications to the cloud is technically not that bad. The challenge is in helping clients to understand how they will continue to operate these applications once they are in the cloud.

 

NTT Com: What does it take to help clients get comfortable with this change to less human oversight?

Schneider: They have to see it firsthand. They want to be sure that things they want to be governed are not lost in this effort. They are typically happy to see things automated, but they need to be assured that there are no holes in the process.

 

NTT Com: Cloud and big data are all the rage in IT discussions. What do you see as the next big technology trend?

Schneider: The things that dominate IT considerations right now are cloud computing, mobile and big data. Considering these, one thing that will continue to grow in importance is a variant of big data called machine learning. We will see significantly more emphasis put on applying artificial intelligence to big data sets to yield real-time intelligence. We have hit a point where this is now available to the average IT shop whereas before you needed rocket scientists to do this work. Top universities now have machine learning as an emphasis in their computer science programs, so there are more people coming out of schools with these core skills.

We are already seeing pretty good work done in the area of machine learning. Those companies that have been doing it for a couple of years are very good at it. I just saw somebody comment that everything in their company’s applications is a recommendation — any data going in or out is being analyzed to figure out how the application can recommend something to somebody. This is a true mind shift for the average IT group, which tends to think in the binary “yes” or “no.” Machine learning is all about the grey zone.

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