Like the forces of erosion that carved the Grand Canyon out of the landscape, the traditional model of a central office is crumbling away. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, this erosion will not take millions of years to see its results. This transformation is taking place right now. The central office is eroding away at such a rate that you can actually see the transformation taking place right before your eyes.
Networks Keep Evolving
The bandwidth and speed limits for both local and wide area networks keep increasing. During the early nineties we saw the Internet rise to power on end-user connections of a mere 56k. Fast forward 20 some years into the future and today my home connection is more than 300 times faster than that, and that is pathetically slow compared to what the residents of Kansas City have available to them.
With high definition cameras and teleconferencing technologies it will take less time, energy, and money to hold a global meeting online for a hundred people than it will to gather a handful of people into the same conference room at a single office. The need for a physical shared location is being wiped out by the reality of a more efficient virtual meeting space.
Some people might be saying “That’s nice for some businesses, but my work requires that people meet face-to-face. You cannot do our kind of work online.”
Which leads me to point number two.
Your Future Employees Are Already Online
Suits and ties, a firm handshake, power lunch meetings and drinks after work are how business used to be done. Today business is done via email, Skype, and WebEx. This transition is occurring at a pace equal to or greater than the rate of retirement. Do not fool yourself into thinking that people need to meet in the physical world in order to make a sale, design a solution, or even manufacture a product together. A whole generation that has grown up with Facebook is proving that geography is not an obstacle to collaboration. We have yet to see what the full potential is of college graduates who completed their entire degrees online in the age of the Internet, and those graduates include our future executives and key decision makers.
Others might say that those “kids” will learn once they get out of college and need to land a real job. Such people should not refer to those users as kids, because a more appropriate term would be “our replacements”. When one in five people own a smartphone do you think that these users are going to look at the way business was done before such technology existed and decide to take a step backwards? Salesforce and Amazon have already answered that question for us.
Some of the current and the majority of the next generation of workers are going to do the majority of their work online. They are going to develop whole new methodologies and etiquettes to do business online with. They are going to invent technologies that make online interactions first the equivalent of, and then the superior to, face-to-face meetings. They will still go out for drinks after work of course, but it will be with their friends and their families for recreational and not for business purposes.
They will probably even ride their bicycles to the local restaurant for those drinks, as point number three explains.
Infrastructure Upgrades & Commuting Costs
I am not referring to the infrastructure costs of just servers, storage, and networking equipment. That stuff is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what more and more organizations will have to pay for in the near future. I am talking about power, cooling, cabling, and commuting.
If you watch an episode of This Old House you will notice how part of the show is spent explaining how the existing infrastructure is inefficient compared to modern construction methods. Another common requirement is that a component of the infrastructure is no longer adequate, such as the electrical system needing to be upgraded to meet current building codes. We just keep using more and more power. This trend will continue, and that means the consumption of watts, amps, and volts is just going to continue to increase for the average household. That copper wiring installed in your home will one day inevitably transition from power source to fire hazard if you do not keep it up-to-date.
That same work needs to be done on skyscrapers and commercial real estate around the country. Nothing lasts forever, and eventually you must either rehabilitate a structure or replace it. The problem is that with rising fuel costs and the construction needed for those projects the cost is quickly becoming more expensive than the alternative – telecommuting.
Sure, you could retrofit an existing building with all of the electrical work, cooling systems, and cabling needed to make it a modern structure capable of supporting your growing datacenter’s needs. Or you could build a whole new structure with the latest technologies for even more money and repeat the cycle all over again (entropy starts at birth after all).
Or you can move that datacenter to a hosted facility, replace your applications with cloud offerings, and let your employees telecommute to work each day. This is not just god for your business, but also better for your employees who will no longer have to spend money on gas and commuting expenses. That is going to be a way for your organization to attract the best talent. Who wants to commute to work and deal with weather and traffic when you can stroll into the home office without ever having to step outside? Some people might even choose to take a slight decrease in pay to work for a competitor who offers the ability to work from home.
Hello Future! You Are Already Here!
Some might say that the stage is set for this transition to begin, but I think that we are already halfway through the first act of this show and it is going to be smash hit! Virtual desktop infrastructures, better smartphone applications, and a changing culture are all converging to make the model of telecommuting employees accessing cloud infrastructures the norm and not the exception. The cubicle is making way for the home office, and production datacenters are vanishing under cloud based application services.
As IT professionals we have to make sure that our organizations successfully migrate to these new homes. We are going to have to advocate for and implement these solutions. We will be the ones designing the new business plans that companies will use with these new infrastructures. We will probably even be involved with helping others find and hire talent capable of working in this brave new world.
As always change is hard, but it is the hard work that makes you successful. We might miss the water cooler conversations that occur in the hallways of the central office, but the dollars are going to be better spent on a move to the an online office suite. Besides, we all know that the best coffee is served out of your own personal home office!