Recently I had the opportunity to speak with investor and board member of AppDynamics, Ravi Mhatre of Lightspeed Venture Partners. Ravi is a lead investor focusing on enterprise, mobility, and cloud-based services and applications, leading investments in Bromium, MuleSoft, Nutanix, among several others.
Similar to my conversations with Steve and Matt, Ravi and I spoke on the future of technology, how the role of the CIO is changing, and where the next disruption is bound to take place.
Below you can read our full discussion…
In your opinion what category of technology will be most impactful to businesses in the next 3-5 years?
I think we’re still early innings in terms of the eventual impact cloud computing will have on business. More specifically, a significant share of cloud-related advancement to this point has related to harvesting marginal efficiencies & capabilities achieved by applying novel dimensions of abstraction. That trajectory of innovation reflects path dependencies imposed by antecedent technologies like the hypervisor/virtualization. As enterprises’ comfort with the cloud increases, ongoing advancement will by contrast more often consist of re-platforming as opposed to “abstraction stacking”. For a business to “win” over the coming years will require that its IT leadership internalize the implications of a fully-composable environment and accordingly rethink fundamental stack architecture from the bottom up.
How would you describe the future role of the CIO?
The future role of the CIO will increasingly be one of managing constant fluidity. Themes we’re seeing at the application layer like microservices & containers foreshadow that large swaths of underlying infrastructure will continue along a pathway of decomposition. As functions & services get disaggregated, the highest value that a CIO can deliver is in optimizing at the edges of an enterprise IT topology as opposed to trying to optimize at its nodes. That entails that the role itself will be less about building & maintaining a hardened stack, and more about perpetually monitoring, orchestrating and provisioning a federation of components that collectively deliver equal or superior functionality with far greater agility, efficiency & cost effectiveness.
What is the next category to be ‘ubered’?
There are a number of ways one could interpret what constitutes the “uberification” of category. As “collaborative consumption” or the notion of a disintermediated production model applies, I think that an interesting analogue resides in open source licensing as a paradigm for IT innovation. Survey data shows that the number of enterprises leveraging open source technology has more than doubled since 2010 and that nearly 2/3s of corporate IT organizations now contribute to open source projects. Perhaps equally notable, businesses are increasingly launching external OSS projects and reducing barriers to employee participation in OSS in order to strengthen recruiting & retention of IT talent. At the heart of Uber’s business is a question that goes back at least as far as Ronald Coase’s 1937 theory of the firm, suggesting that a formally-bounded “company” only comes about when the high coordination costs for production precludes simpler options like a market-price mechanism. To that end, ubiquitous smartphones changed the fundamental math for Uber in the taxi industry. With open source, a similar pattern is emerging where the coordination costs to collaborate & innovate outside the boundaries of the traditional firm continue to decline. That pattern bodes for an interesting future in terms of how the most impactful IT innovations get built over coming years.
If you were not an Investor, what would you be doing right now?
I take a lot of inspiration from my father, who used his PhD background in biochemistry to grow from junior engineering roles to eventually leading a number of successful medical technology companies in a managerial capacity. My father gave me a strong appreciation for the value of primary research as well as love for technology in its own right. Before entering the venture capital industry, my background was in electrical engineering and I had the opportunity to work in settings that gave me an ongoing fascination with computing. One such position was with Silicon Graphics, which was building 3D graphics display terminals back then. Being in that environment I became quite enamored with the vast possibility held in virtual reality & immersive computing. Had I not entered the investing side, there’s a chance I may have pursued an entrepreneurial path around that opportunity, though it’s difficult to know where that may have put me decades after the fact!
Thanks again Ravi for you time!