The Cranky Admin

Telemetry and Trust

The next big tech disruption isn't what you think.

I have recently come to the conclusion that the adoption of public cloud services will put the brakes on the explosive growth of technology companies. It's normal in most walks of life for the customer to eventually be seen as the enemy by any vendor; but the rapid pace of evolution in tech has led to a resistance toward customer rights that borders on an elemental force. The need for trust in the public cloud may change this.

An Uber Warning
Vendor laziness and apathy is what allows startups to "disrupt" a market, and disruptors quickly earn loyalty for solving the simplest of problems. The current canonical example of a disruptor, Uber, is allegedly possessed of an appalling corporate culture and seems to have a business model of breaking laws around the world and then bullying legislators into changing laws to suit Uber.

Uber managed to change the dialogue regarding taxi services around the world not by fundamentally changing anything about hiring a cab, but by building an app that lets bored and anxious people watch the cab slowly make its way towards them. Uber made hiring a cab easier; more importantly, it made the seemingly interminable stretch of time spend waiting in limbo for the cab to arrive seem less existential. They sold a minor reduction in frustration, and on that concept built an empire.

The public cloud is being adopted behind the backs of in-house IT organizations around the world because on-premises IT is frustrating and inconvenient. Even the mighty Microsoft had to walk back its insane UI changes to Windows 8; apparently, even having a monopoly only lets you increase end user frustration so much.

This brings me to telemetry.

The Problem With Telemetry
Vendors are in love with telemetry. The idea that everything you do on your computers, servers, Web sites and so on can be hoovered up and sent back to the mothership is appealing; at least to a certain type of person. One key thing telemetry allows vendors to do is see what features of their solutions customers are using, and how.

Vendors use this as an excuse to focus development time on those features. The logic is that the most heavily used features are what drive both adoption and demand, and thus deliver the most value for the money.

How useful this is really depends on how you interpret the data. If you're Google, for example, you would probably see that several times a day Chrome takes over my screen with a demand to log in. This causes me to stop whatever I'm doing and interact with Chrome. A true believer in telemetry would look at this and think "this feature is driving increased interaction with the application." They're the sort of people who remove the button that says "go away and never bother me again."

Everyone else would realize that having Chrome pop up and demand that I log in 15 times a day isn't making me a happy user. They might also conclude that after several months of this, increasing my frustration level isn't going to get me to do what they want me to do, i.e. log in so they can track me more efficiently.

This isn't really a discussion about vendors who prefer the stick over the carrot; rather, it's that some vendors lack the ability to understand that design choices constitute sticks or carrots in the first place. What these vendors build increases frustration, and creates openings for newcomers.

Saving Money By Reducing Frustration With Trust
More often than not, the important question isn't related to what features customers use. Instead, vendors need to be asking after those capabilities customers choose not to use. That is the direction from which the enemy will attack.

The future of integrated hardware, software and online services that vendors have been pushing means they won't be able to win a deal just by having the newest technology. They'll also have to have the customer's trust.

There's something about not being able to wrap our arms around the IT we depend on that makes us more risk averse. Consuming IT as a utility means customers are less tolerant of frustration and that they react very badly to surprises.

The next big wave of disruption in tech isn't going to come from things that go faster, or more 3D, or have a newer, better command line. The next big disruption in tech is going to be stability, predictability, and familiarity. For our industry, that's a radical concept.

About the Author

Trevor Pott is a full-time nerd from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He splits his time between systems administration, technology writing, and consulting. As a consultant he helps Silicon Valley startups better understand systems administrators and how to sell to them.


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