UPDATE: Please also be sure to check out Part 2 of this series, which lists the #6 through #10 most influential IT vendors. You can view Part 2 here.
Cloud computing, mobile, analytics, people-oriented apps, virtualization, revising the stack, flipping 80/20, coping with information explosion, the social enterprise, and more: CIOs have had to turn numerous conceptual challenges into business solutions this year, and I suspect the global business climate in 2011 will only accelerate that pace of change.
In that context, my list of the 10 most-influential IT vendors from 2010 and into 2011 isn't based in sheer mass or market cap or history but rather on the influence those companies have had not just on IT organizations but on how businesses and other large organizations think about technology, how they deploy it, and how they are using it to transform their organizations.
So the 10 companies I'm proposing include some surprises because some IT vendors from outside the traditional enterprise bubble have come crashing in with unconventional ideas that have jarred conventional thinking and approaches, while some other longtime enterprise stalwarts didn't make the list or fell to the bottom half because they have done more following than leading.
Among the reasons I feel this list can be useful—or at least interesting—is that this industry has been absolutely brutal in flushing out once-dazzling companies that first lose their willingness to be great, then lose their focus on their customers, then become overwhelmed with cutting costs, and then get acquired by someone who wants only their various assets and not the brand itself.
That's a dynamic that is continuing and will continue, and that pace of change noted above is becoming more of a factor in determining competitive advantage and business success for the customers that run their businesses on all that technology.
That's because it is increasingly important for CIOs to be sure they're creating powerful relationships with not necessarily the biggest but rather the best and most-influential IT suppliers: the ones that are driving and creating the ideas of tomorrow instead of just reproducing the products of yesterday.
And for CIOs who want to keep their jobs—and not succumb to the type of involuntary separation I described in a column called Global CIO: 10 Reasons CIOs Will Get Fired This Year--the knack for picking the right IT suppliers to lean on for the future will be absolutely critical.
(Please note: In drawing up this list, no surveys, polling firms, robocallers, or psychics were used. So if you've got complaints about this list, direct all hate mail to me, but if you think it's brilliant and wonderful, send all bundles of cash to my standard offshore account.)
Numbers 6-10 will come in a column later this week, but for now here's my list of the top 5 most influential IT vendors:
#5) Google. While Google's enterprise-oriented team makes up only a tiny portion of the company's overall revenue, I've picked Google for two very different reasons. First, its focus on new ways of looking at how to capture, manipulate, and deploy vast quantities of information has proven to be enormously influential for customer-side companies of all types, as well as for the IT vendors who now clearly regard Google as a leading-edge indicator of bold new concepts and customer practices.
From cloud computing to video to mobile, Google's influence has become staggering, even if that magnitude is not directly reflected in the size of its official Enterprise business. Second, Android is clearly having a profound impact on the mobile market, and that heightened competition from yet one more brilliant engineering company is great for consumers and business users alike.
#4 Oracle. Larry Ellison saw and pounced on the notion of "optimized systems" at a time when more and more of the IT industry was stratifying into the isolated worlds of hardware over here and software over there. As one writer at a well-known investors' website chirped in criticizing the Oracle-Sun deal not long after it was announced, Oracle's just a software company—what the heck do they know about hardware? In fact, that question—for all of the totally wrong reasons—captured the enormous impact of Ellison's move: as enterprise software and hardware become more sophisticated, the only way to wring out their full potential is to remake that model of isolated worlds and instead start bring software and hardware together in highly engineered, integrated, and optimized systems offering levels of performance, power, and speed that can't be touched by generic make them more work together more effectively.
And ever since Ellison and Oracle began the integrated push with Exadata 2 years ago, highly engineered and optimized systems have become one of the hottest sectors in the IT market. Along with Oracle's new Fusion applications that will become available in 2011, and the company's ongoing acquisition strategy, Ellison's evangelism of optimized systems and unified stacks have made Oracle a forceful leader in the IT industry.
#3) Facebook. I've met with dozens of enterprise software companies this year to hear about their strategies and roadmaps, and if I had a dollar for each time one said something like, "It's like Facebook for the enterprise," then I'd have a pretty fat pile of cash.
Whether Facebook itself ever becomes an enterprise player is irrelevant to this selection: rather, it's become the model that shows the power of collaboration and is turning the old bromide of knowledge is power into the new promise that real power comes from sharing knowledge. From Salesforce.com's Chatter to Jive's new Social Business to the deeply collaborative features woven intimately into the new enterprise apps from SAP and Oracle, Facebook has made its mark on enterprise software for many years to come. Along those lines: are some of you CIOs out there still banning the use of Facebook at work? If so, please ask yourself whether you're doing that because you're afraid of change or because of the long-rumored security challenges. And if your answer is the latter, then please ask yourself one more question: hundreds and hundreds of global corporations allow their employees to use Facebook—why aren't you willing to tackle the the related security issues to give your company this demonstrable competitive advantage?
#2) Apple. The iPhone was a huge and unexpected enterprise success, but the iPad is becoming a massively disruptive game-changer for the enterprise. Apple is selling every single iPad it can make because it is the deeply personal and fully mobile computer that so many of us have wanted for so long.
It's not a notebook and it's not a laptop and it's not a smartphone: it is a truly "personal" computer that takes the best of all those other form factors and blends them into a beautiful new machine with which many businesses are falling in love. SAP is using the functionality of the iPhone and the iPad as primary factors in for how SAP's new apps will work, and other enterprise software companies are also beginning to look at the iPad as not just one of many output devices on which their apps need to work but instead as the primary, market-defining standard around which future strategies and features are created. I'm not saying Apple is an enterprise IT vendor, but whether or not Apple wants to be thought of as an enterprise IT supplier, the inescapable truth is that many millions of iPads and iPhones are being used inside businesses today and those numbers will explode in 2011. To you CIOs out there: are you fighting this surging tide, hoping you can find a way to tread water til it subsides, or are you looking to rise up with it?
And here's company #1:
#1 IBM. Smarter Planet, analytics, cloud computing, workload-optimized systems, blazing new hardware, powerful end-to-end stack components, deep and broad services: about the only area in which IBM is not the leader of among the leaders is in a rich mobile strategy. I put Smarter Planet and analytics out in front of this list because IBM, for all of its vast capabilities, has distinguished itself and is continuing to distinguish itself as the IT company that can help your company make the jump from transactions to interactions, from perfecting your past to inventing your future, and from having to react to customers' changing needs to being able to anticipate and meet them.
IBM doesn't just do business in about 200 countries around the world—rather, it has a single global operation with facilities in every relevant country on the planet. And that's a model that many other companies, either inside or outside the IT business, are trying to emulate.
It has jettisoned various product lines in both hardware and software—as well as networking—to be able to focus on markets in which IBM can deliver business value to its customers and significant financial returns to its investors. IBM might no longer be the biggest IT company in the world, but in my estimation it is surely the most influential.
So that's the top 5, made up of two traditional powerhouses and three very different types of tech companies that had been outliers but are now massively influential insiders.
Whether you choose to argue that those three companies have moved into the enterprise-IT domain, or that the boundaries around the world of IT have moved outward to now encompass Facebook and Apple and Google (I believe the latter), the unmistakable fact is that the IT world is no longer ruled by the forces that drove it for the past three or four decades.
I'd urge CIOs to sit down with your top managers and with your C-level peers and draw up your own list based on your company's strategic goals for the next several years: who's in, and who's out?
Size matters, of course, but that's no longer the major differentiator: instead it's nimbleness, vision, and customer-centered innovation.
IBM, Apple, Facebook, Oracle, and Google. Who's next? Find out later this week.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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