Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research and provides tactical and long-term strategic advice to a wide range of stakeholders, including end-user IT and network managers; vendors of IT hardware, software and services; and the IT investment community.
In this PR Vibes™ Q&A, Zeus explains the chip shot vs. the moon shot approach to new technology adaption and why he believes the IoT has truly arrived. He also names a brand new category: UCIoT!
What markets are you currently focused on?
Emerging technologies within the areas of communications, networking and security for enterprises. This means our coverage area is constantly evolving. Next year will be different than this year and the so will the technology we research. Right now it’s the transition to software-defined everything, cloud, virtual and containerized systems, Wi-Fi 6, 5G, artificial intelligence, security evolution, advanced collaboration and contact centers. AI, in particular, will have a profound impact on infrastructure as everything needs to run orders of magnitudes faster. Just look at the impact to date. CPUs to GPUs, spinning discs to flash storage and NVMe, disparate systems to hyper-converged solutions and 400Gig is right around the corner. IoT is another trend I focus on and I believe it’s finally arrived because now when I interview companies, they don’t say IoT, it’s just assumed we connect things.
Here’s an example. I recently visited a company to understand how they are improving customer experience. As we toured the facility, I noticed that almost everything was connected — digital signage, point of sale, customer kiosks and more were networked but not once did anyone say IoT. I know a market has arrived when we stop thinking of it as the unusual thing; it’s the norm. IoT is real and it’s here.
How would you characterize ZK Research?
I view ZK Research a hybrid analyst firm where we deliver analysis the traditional way but also through public media. We have a broader scope than most analyst firms. We interview many people, speak with as many of the users as possible and conduct surveys. A lot of analysts only talk to end users and some only talk to vendors. We talk to everyone involved in the ecosystem of a product: the people who buy, sell or cover the products. This includes private investors, public investors, resellers, and customers. To get as broad a view as possible, we want to talk to anyone who makes a decision about the companies I cover.
What’s your approach?
One of the founding tenets of ZK Research is that changes happen when markets transition. Think of the tech industry as a NASCAR Race. When the drivers are in the straightaway, you really don’t see a lot of changes in position. It’s only when you get to the corners that you spot differences and we want to live in those corners and spot when markets are in transition. For example, five years ago, no one cared about WAN and now SD-WAN is something buyers are looking at but there are dozens of choices making it difficult for buyers and investors to know what’s real and what’s not.
How do you disseminate your research?
My research tends to reach the market through a variety of different means, including my own report, social media and public news sites. I think the days of putting reports behind a firewall and making people sign-in is archaic. From an analysts’ perspective, I want to give exposure to what I’m doing versus locking people out. There are many different ways to get our research out there. In addition to traditional reports, I use public facing sites as a way to disseminate research, one idea at a time. For example, I write for CIO, Forbes, Network World, No Jitter, eWeek, Light Reading and Dark Reading.
What’s the most popular research nowadays?
Right now, everything is moving so fast that enterprise buyers are uncertain and they’re looking for information that will help them make decisions. They want to know what their competitors or companies like them are doing. Should I go with SD-WAN, hybrid, or look at artificial intelligence as a way of changing operations? What parts of the operational tasks should I automate?
If you want to discuss actions and deliverables, shorter reports, like how-tos and comparisons, tend to be more popular now.
Is there still a place for a 20-page report? Not really, nobody has time to read it.
Webinars are always a popular way to get across ideas, but if you’re going to do a webinar, you have to put something descriptive in it. What’s your call to action? What should you do next?
Bottom line: buyers are really looking for something to get them kick-started. What should we do now?
Any thoughts on how enterprise IT projects should be approached?
I view IT projects as a chip shot, not a moon shot. If you were to tell an enterprise IT person that they must select a template model for one of their networks, that process alone is so onerous that they would never do it. It would paralyze them.
Today, if you have an opportunity to hop into a car with no driver, no steering wheel, no controls, well, you probably wouldn’t. You may believe in the vision of self driving cars but in reality, you probably don’t feel comfortable enough to get in that car without a driver.
Chip shop initiatives guide us to the moon shot but incrementally. Not overnight. The new technology augments an IT person, not replaces them. With cars, features like parallel park assist or lane change alert make drivers better. Similarly, AI infused into the network will make network professionals better. These are good smaller initiatives that solve very difficult problems right now.
In the enterprise space, Wi-Fi trouble shooting is something that no one does very well. However, if you can use automation and AI to make that easier, that’s a huge bang for the buck. You’re not completely changing the way you do things. You’re using newer technology to augment a skill set, not replace it.
What is the hottest new category that no one is talking about yet?
UCIoT. The way I’ve talked about this with some vendors is “Giving machines a voice.” This is something I often talk about. Giving machines a voice means connecting people and machines with the Internet of Things.
When you think of traditional IoT, machines are talking to machines and communications is people talking to people. But if you can combine the two and get machines talking to people and vice versa, now you create a whole new way for businesses to interact with customers. From a B2B standpoint, it’s having companies interact with employees. You can create an entirely new experience.
Think about a connected refrigerator. Why can’t your refrigerator tell you when the water filter needs to be replaced through a SMS and then the filter could be ordered through the device? That whole transactional process should happen because the connected thing can actually communicate with a person. A few vendors are pushing forward with this area, but, for the most part, I thought we would be further along by now.
Are there any trends that people may not be aware of?
With communications, I think it’s the ambient nature of voice and video combined with artificial intelligence that will be a game changer. More and more devices, from our watches to our cars and the refrigerator in our house all have mics and many even have cameras. I think we’re rapidly moving towards a world where listening and video become ambient, along with the collection and analytics of that data to help companies make better decision and improve customer service.
There are a privacy concerns, but I believe once it’s apparent our lives are easier, we’re going to be ok with it. If we’re in a building together and I say I have to go to my next client meeting, when I get in my car, why can’t the car already know where I want to go?
There’s a lot more automation that can be done if everything listens and everything watches. I do think there is a big privacy hurdle, but if it makes our lives easier (and safer), I think people will be okay with it. It’s going to fundamentally change the way we live and the next five years will be pretty exciting! Kind of creepy, though.
Your logo is awesome!
Thanks. My mother is Japanese and the graphics characters mean “strategy and tactics” in Japanese. To me, it ties my back to my Japanese roots. Although when I first started using the logo, my mother told me that she didn’t think I should use it because it meant strategy and tactics in a war like sense and might offend some people. My response? That’s perfect!
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By the way, Zeus wrote a book – “Giving Machines a Voice for Dummies” – that you can download here.
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