This week, Dynatrace held its annual customer conference, Perform 2022.
As a champion of the experience economy and the ExTech market that supports it, I was pleased that the company spent considerable energy focused on the importance of delivering and sustaining the digital experience.
One of the highlights was a discussion with Google’s Kelsey Hightower in which he not only offered an easy to understand explanation of Kubernetes (something I’m sure most in the audience needed!), but also shared a story that hit home about how failed technologies impacted the real-world experience of customers — and why all of the work that Dynatrace supports matters.
But more than anything, the event showcased both the promise and peril of competing in an increasingly experience-focused tech market. The promise could be seen in the ample opportunities for the company to expand beyond its traditional “swim lane” and authentically serve a broader market space. However, it also exposed how easy it is to fall into the trap of a buzzword vision and the risk that doing so entails.
Both the promise and peril represent a lesson that every tech company needs to take to heart if they are to effectively serve the enterprises that needs them.
The Experience, Complexity, and a Hybrid World
The company did a good job presenting the challenges and risks that complexity represents for the enterprise — and the need to answer it with agility and simplicity.
The company’s announcement of its Software Intelligence as Code shows a solid understanding of the need to simplify the process and bake experiential monitoring into the foundation of the IT operating model.
It also made it clear that it is no longer just an application performance monitoring (APM) tool, spending gobs of time covering everything from application security to runtime automation, along with domains closer to its traditional playing field, such as AIOps and observability.
To its credit, much of the event focused on the business challenges facing the enterprise and how it hoped to address them, rather than on the technology itself. Still, the breadth of its go-to-market is indicative of the challenge incumbent with delivering and sustaining a winning digital experience — and with the fact that we are now living in a hybrid world in which the traditional swim lanes seem to have no meaning.
We also saw the rising prevalence of this new hybrid everything world in other news from the week, such as Salesforce announcing the creation of its new wellness center, Microsoft’s Viva employee experience platform hitting 10 million active users, and even WalkMe’s publishing of the book Digital Adoption for Dummies.
In their own way, each of these announcements shows the dynamic nature of our changing work environment and the technology required to support it — making the job of sustaining the digital experience continually more challenging.
But Perform 2022 also showed the perils for tech companies as they try to find their way in this new hybrid and continually shifting world.
The Buzzword Vision Challenge
Dynatrace succeeded in presenting an awareness of the challenges facing the enterprise and the importance of the digital experience, deftly balancing the business and technical sides of its message.
Still, at times it felt as though the scriptwriters had a secret drinking game in which they were trying to squeeze in every hot tech buzzword in existence.
The company laid down a solid base of digital transformation throughout, then heaped on layers of cloud-native, serverless, observability, AIOps, and more that I couldn’t capture because my fingers couldn’t type fast enough.
In fairness, the company does touch all of these areas in some way. Still, the barrage of buzzwords made it difficult to understand what they are actually focused on helping enterprises address.
Ironically, the most compelling description is the one that it is using in its core messaging — and which got the least amount of buzzword air time: software intelligence.
The challenge, of course, is that some of its offerings (app security, notably) do not fall neatly under this software intelligence moniker, thus the company was left scrambling to try to find a way to tie everything together into a single, cohesive vision — and largely failing to do so.
The closest attempt was CTO Bernd Greifeneder’s closing discussion on the four hard trends of the future. In it, he made the pitch that there is a coming data explosion (I’d say it’s already here), a need to transform data into answers and actions, that we will see the convergence of observability and security (totally agree), and that to survive organizations will need to “automate or die.”
While I can’t take issue with any of these trends, it still came off as a somewhat short-term and self-serving vision.
The problem is that as enterprise leaders try to make sense of the onslaught of new technologies and increasingly meaningless categories, a compelling vision of the future is one of the most consequential things a tech company has to sell.
Simplifying a Complex World…and Message
Having followed Dynatrace for years, I have a good handle on the company’s history, current capabilities, and future ambitions. And if its intended audience at the event was its existing customers, it probably did just fine.
But as I attempted to look at its message from an outsider’s perspective, perhaps only peripherally aware of its pedigree, I found myself scratching my head.
It’s a shame because the company has solid technology that genuinely addresses many of the enterprise’s complex challenges. Even its extension into app security, runtime automation, and core observability is right-minded. But without a compelling vision that it can communicate simply and clearly, I fear it will struggle to differentiate itself in the market — and worse, lose its way.
And in that is the lesson for both tech companies and enterprise leaders alike.
As what some have called a “futurist,” the one thing I can say for certain is that we all suck at predicting the future. The world is now changing at a rate that makes anything beyond a few months impossible to predict.
Therefore, the only answer is to craft a compelling vision of the future that is directional and communicates a laser focus on the problems that organizations must solve, and a commitment to solving them. And if you’re on the buy side, invest in those visions. They’re the only thing you’ll be able to count on.