The democratization of IT is happening, and vendors need to recognize that if they want to survive
Just back home from KubeCon/CloudNativeCon in San Diego, which can only be called a force of nature. I was joined there by more than 12,000 other folks to discuss, listen and learn about all things cloud-native and open. Once again, I was blown away by the passion of and buzz generated by this community. What is driving it? I think I figured it out: The developers and builders shall inherit the earth. It is the democratization of IT.
What I mean is that a fundamental shift has taken place in the IT world. Developers, architects and builders are in such high demand and are now the alpha predators of the food chain. They are the ones demanding and deciding what tools they use, how they build and what infrastructure they use.
Smart vendors are recognizing this and penetrating large organizations by giving these builders the tools they absolutely will love working with. In many cases, these tools are free and open to use in non-enterprise versions. The vendors also have DevRel teams and marketing that cater to these builders and developers, rather than traditional marketing and sales.
The fundamental shift is that for the nearly 30 years I have been in IT, the mantra has been to talk to the “decision-makers”—the CTO, CIO, and VPs who approved and paid for purchases in IT. Entire marketing strategies and sales were built on this. Lead generation campaigns focused on reaching executives, while salespeople vied for position by taking these people to dinner or golf and shmoozing them. Content was created that spoke to the executive class. Very few folks tried to focus on the practitioner; after all, they didn’t make the decisions; they didn’t hold the purse strings.
That way of doing business has all changed. Yes, there are some dinosaurs out there who don’t hear the meteor speeding down just yet. But by and large, companies that are thriving in this new era of open solutions, open core and free software are doing so by following a new way: They cater to the developer/builder class. They listen to what this group wants and provide it to them. After that, they make sure tools evolve to meet the needs and wants of the builders. They have figured out that when they deliver delight, these people will tell their organizations that these are the tools they want to use.
I heard Shlomi Ben Haim, co-founder and CEO of JFrog, call this the “democratization of IT.” This, along with DevOps and the cloud, are the megatrends driving transformation. But I also spoke to dozens of other vendors at the show. Maybe they didn’t call it that, but they instinctually recognize it.
The world wants software-based everything. The people who are building the infrastructure, writing the code, testing, deploying and securing this software are demanding that it be open, free and cloud-native. They want to use it for a while before they will invest in the paid, enterprise versions and functionality. But once they do, their organizations buy in.
The buying cycle starts off with the use of free software—maybe an employee whips out a credit card for a small monthly fee to purchase the SaaS version. But it ends with an enterprise purchase.
The democratization of IT is going to work its way through our entire ecosystem. Content is going to be catered not to the executive suite, but to the practitioner. Lead generation programs aren’t going to focus on CXOs, but on people who will actually use the product. Sales strategy and tactics will reflect this as, too. More dev relations, less golf.
Another driving force of this market is the new generation of people who are building and deploying. They don’t have an allegiance to the whales of yesteryear. They are fresh and willing to try new things if it gives them the functionality they want. Don’t give me that millennial, “OK, Boomer” crap, either.
These folks work hard, and they are passionate about what they are building. They want open. They are used to having free tools and they are the new boss. Maybe not the same as the old boss, but they are not fickle and want to choose the tools they work with. They will not be dictated to by a generation of folks who built during a different time with a different way of doing things. Successful vendor organizations need to realize that and work with these people.
Of course, executives still set budgets and have to sign off on larger or more expensive purchases. They will need to be satisfied. But increasingly, it is not going to be the vendor who does that. They will rely on their builders and their developers to choose their tools and products. If you are a vendor and are not operating this way, look up to the sky because you just may see a large fireball coming your way.
I, for one, think this is a good thing. It is time for the democratization of IT. Let the builders inherit the earth.