Is it the end of enterprise?

I remember a conversation in the late nineties with a colleague and good friend of mine, during which I played devil’s advocate. It was about IP Centrex. He claimed that such a solution would never displace premises-based solutions, as it does not answer the enterprise’s real needs. He had a lot of good points and I sincerely agreed with him. But I pressed on anyway with a radical and provocative view: hosted solutions will win it all.

My approach was based on a simple analogy. A man can be wealthy in two ways: money and knowledge. As business occurs when money changes hands, so does communication when information is exchanged between minds. I told him: “Consider how we’re using money, stashing however much we can afford in secure banks, being able to draw sums anywhere, anytime and as needed while keeping small change in our wallet. It’ll be the same with information for individuals and businesses alike.”

Barely ten years have passed. Google, data centers, cloud storage and smartphones have happened. Social networking, Facebook, Twitter and so many other services have changed our way of interacting with each other. So much for being “provocative.”

So I won’t risk it this time.

Several months ago I had another conversation with another colleague – I like conversations. This time I vented my frustration about enterprises. We know how much faster innovation goes on the consumer side these days and how reluctant enterprises can be to deploy or authorize new technologies and services. But it was not about that. It was about a simple question: is the enterprise as a form of organization still relevant in a global economy with our current technology level?

Today I can easily create a “good” (content, a piece of software, whatever I am good at) and sell it to anyone in the world. Similarly I can reach out to anyone in the world who has a specific talent and collaborate on some sort of project without even meeting him. But then I can work on a dozen projects, create multiple companies, associations, initiatives etc. all at the same time. Why would I accept a subordination link with a legal entity which prevents me from doing that, forcing me to work with a given pool of resources, constraining me in many ways in how I should do this work? How is that more effective, for me as an individual and for our societies?

Could we not imagine a worldwide broker of talents, linking people together, project by project, and enabling them to carry out their ideas and deliver innovative solutions to a global market? This broker would take care of the fun stuff such as legal, taxes and accounting while people would focus on being both creative and productive.

Would we still need enterprises then?

I am not going to predict whether this will happen and develop within the next ten years. But I’d like to think that what we are doing at ng Connect, bringing together as broad as possible a pool of technologies and know-how to invent new service concepts for tomorrow, is actually taking a step in that direction.

Vincent Weyl
Alcatel-Lucent

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