Interestingly, according to research reported in the FT some four years ago, the leopard can change its spots. The researchers, from Bristol University, analysed the markings of 35 wild cat species to understand better what drives the evolution of so many beautiful and intriguing patterns. They captured detailed differences in the visual appearance of the cats by linking them to a mathematical model of pattern development. Broadly they confirmed that coat markings help the animals to melt into their surroundings. All cats benefit from camouflage as predators, helping them to stalk their prey until they are close enough to catch it. And small cats also benefit from protection from predation by big carnivores.

Cats such as leopards – which live in dense habitats, among trees and are active at low light levels – are the most likely to be patterned, especially with irregular or complex shapes. Species that live in open grassland, such as lions, tend to have plainer coats.

The research also explained why black leopards are common but black cheetahs unknown. Unlike cheetahs, leopards live in a wide range of habitats and have varied behavioural patterns.

Let me draw parallels with the enterprise fighting to win through in its competitive market environemnts. The new ways of exploiting the capabiltiies of contemporary ICT as Cloud-sourced services is shifting those competitive environments, in at times radical fashions.

Consider ERP - Enterprise Resource Planning –‘ business management software, a suite of integrated applications that a company can use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities’. When I arrived in the IT industry some 21 years ago as the newly minted Global VP IT at ICI the revolution in play was SAP’s mainframe-based ERP – my predecessor’s policy was to implement SAP ‘wall to wall across ICI’, and we came to early blows when I demurred – some ICI businesses certainly did not justify the complexity of old mainframe SAP!

Fast forward the 21 years. In the intervening decades innovative ventures such as Sage have reinvented ERP in the world of client-server computing, competing with SAP who followed suit ‘onto the server’. Cloud compute certainly has the potential to sharply reduce the cost of old mainframe and client-server SAP and Sage.  But its real impact has been to underwrite the arrival of Cloud-native ERP capabilities such as NetSuite, a head-on competitior of SAP – and the innovation of a company such as Xero, developed in New Zealand, an SME (small to medium enteprises) economy, as a Cloud-native ERP capability that has the responsiveness that the smaller enterprise values. SAP, the old giant, and Sage, pioneer of ERP in the client-server age, are both now in a fight for survival. (NetSuite has been aggressively attacking Sage in full page advertisements in the FT with the strap line ‘All Sage Lines lead to NetSuite’. Award-winning Xero is powering on through.) 

At the heart of the Cloud is undoubtedly a technological revolution -  Moore’s Law exploited by virtualization and automation to create the ability to flexibly manufacture and deliver services at very low cost. This is the first transformation shaped by, and shaping, the Cloud. The second and the third transformations are where the business rubber really hits the road.

The second transformation I have illustrated above – the vendor competitive market environment is changing so fast that the vendor leopards really have to change their spots to survive. Dell has gone private to give it the room to ‘radically change its spots off market’ – Oracle will have to follow suite if it is to survive. I forecasted several years back that platforms would become the stuff of Cloud commerce and on cue that is what is happening. These are focused and big capital manufacturing operations and related business models  - Amazon has set the pace. But these are operations that focus on just that - big capital manufacturing operations.

The responsive services (SaaS, Apps) that exploit the market requirements of multitudes of specialised verticals are the home of smaller & nimbler ventures – Xero’s not HP’s – exploiting the platforms to operate off. The laws of the vendor jungle are re-written! HP will never flourish as an Xero.  

The third transformation is in our businesses, our business models and how we deliver them. Disruption is frequently now the key word. In my client work I seek to help to establish a clear analysis of why and how ‘the leopard must change its spots’. There is a transformational journey to map. There is always an IT change dimension – but the real focus is on the commercial, organisational and cultural change agendas that need to be scoped and worked. And to get ‘the leopard to change its spots’ is a board challenge, not a simple exercise for the CIO in the background!