In a world of corporate acquisitions in information technology, there are those that eventually matter, and those that are just part of the landscape.
Everyone is free to come to their own conclusions regarding this particular acquisition by EMC, but I for one see this as signaling yet another shift in the technology landscape – one whose impact probably won’t be blatantly obvious for some time.
Let me share with you why I think this isn’t your everyday acquisition …
What Is This All About?
I need to spend a few paragraphs setting up some context here, so please indulge me …
First, you probably know EMC’s position (and my position) regarding the importance of information – we’re becoming an information society -- it’s the currency of the modern era. And, unlike other societal transformations, it’s happening much faster – and with far more impact – than most people can imagine.
If you remember back to the IDC study from last March, they said we’d be the proud owners of six times as much information in just three short years. What you might have missed was a key point – that something like 70-80% of all new information was going to be created by individuals, and not by organizations.
So, the first part of the landscape is that the vast majority of information is now being created by people like you and me. That's a big shift, when you think about it.
Second, the question of “who owns information?” has not been settled in our society. We have clear societal behaviors around things like property and money, but – when it comes to information ownership – we’re all struggling to figure out who owns what, and what the conventions might be.
The natural corollary is that – if the vast majority of information is being created by people like you and me – we’re going to want to have a decent level of control over “our” information.
- How and where it gets stored.
- Making sure it’s there when we want it.
- Who gets to see it, and under what circumstances.
- Making sure that our information is presented in a manner and a context that we approve of.
- And, above all, preserved in the long term -- across all of life's events
Simply put, we’re going to want to manage our personal information.
Personal Information Management
I remember a time where personal information management was SideKick running in an extended DOS partition. We had a handy place to store contacts, action items, etc. in one handy place. We had control over “our” information. I also remember carrying around a PalmPilot for a while -- remember those?
But the world has moved on in a big way. We now all have extended digital lives – both at work, and at home.
• We create value by creating new information.
• We create value from adding our perspectives and our context to other people’s information.
• We create value by sharing with others.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, the lines between our work lives and our personal lives are blurring more every day.
Embedded here is a key strategic assumption – while most of the discussion around information management has been in the context of corporations and organizations – the bet here is that the discussion will evolve into a new focus around us as individuals in the information society.
And, let me be clear, we’re all going to want to manage – and control – our digital lives.
Enter Pi Corporation
Pi stands for Personal Information (not the mathematical constant!).
Although the appeal of naming your company after important mathematical ideas probably never occurred to EMC2 … ;-)
Founded by a veritable “who’s who” of the technology industry, they recognized the shift in information management priorities, and came up with a fascinating approach to the problem.
I think it's going to be hard to value this acquisition by most traditional standards. Pi isn't shipping any products yet. They didn’t have a ton of VC funding. From what I can see, they were just a bunch of incredibly smart and successful people who thought that the world was changing, and they could play a key role. I haven’t seen their stuff running yet, but I’m under the impression that it’s very, very cool.
I think they were right.
EMC’s New Cloud Infrastructure And Services Division
An important aspect of the press release is that Pi’s founder and CEO – Paul Maritz – will be President and GM of this new EMC division.
I’ve been dropping hints like crazy that something was up in this space, but I guess now it’s pretty obvious – we’re taking this shift in the industry very, very seriously. This ain’t just PowerPoint talking here …
We’re saying that success in this new space will require a very different technology base – and a business model – very unlike other parts of the traditional IT landscape.
The visible parts of this new entity include Pi’s assets, as well as Mozy and the Fortress platform … but I think it’s worth a tour through the rest of the EMC portfolio to see other synergistic aspects.
I’ve always thought that acquisitions have to work on a synergistic level – there has to be value from the context and the overall strategy. And, to EMC’s credit, I’d offer that Joe Tucci and the team have done extremely well in this regard.
Who would have thought in 2003 that VMware would be a big deal? Or that security was going to be a defining conversation, hence RSA? Or that the future of corporate information management was changing, hence Documentum?
Or, for that matter, any of the other several dozens of acquisitions EMC has made in recent years?
In my mind, there’s a compelling argument for Pi’s strategic importance in the overall context of EMC, even when just looking at the public announcements.
Did you notice EMC’s initial home offering for storage and information management, the EMC LifeLine software?
Do you think that some degree of security will be desired in this personal information management world, hence RSA?
Or, possibly, that the preferred consumption model will be as a service, using a cloud information management model?
Or, potentially, as our work lives and personal lives blur, that our personal content might need to be shared in very structured ways, using collaborative workflows, across traditional boundaries, hence Documentum?
I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point – it’s worth taking a look at the context to fully understand what’s going on here.
Like a diamond being set into a ring by an expert jeweler, Pi is potentially the centerpiece of a very intriguing strategic play. And one that not too many people will initially appreciate, I believe.
To Paul and the rest of the stellar Pi team – between you and I, I think the fun has just begun …
So, What Is EMC Up To?
Given the public nature of this blog, there’s only so much I feel comfortable sharing at any point in time. But, if you’re a careful reader, the strategic intent of this latest move shouldn’t be entirely surprising.
I think people are having a tough time putting EMC into a neat industry bucket.
Our information infrastructure thinking spans multiple IT disciplines in a non-traditional – but inherently practical – manner. If you’re looking at traditional models, we’re inherently frustrating. But, if you can look ahead at how things might be in the future – well, it’s a different picture.
But, at the heart of it, EMC is all about information.
And in a world where the majority of information is being created by individuals, we think what’s important is going to change.