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It has been just over a year since the last time I was reminded of a simple principle. Last March, it was the Gartner Data and Analytics Summit.  This year, it was the Google Cloud Next event.  The principle is this … if you are the smartest person in the room, find another room.  I was most certainly in a different room, and somewhat overwhelmed by what I experienced. But as a Product Management leader, it is an experience I find necessary and useful from time to time.

Roughly 30,000 people … some of the leading technical minds of our era … topics such as the launch of Google Anthos (their multi-cloud capabilities), Containers, Kubernetes, Redis/NoSQL, and so much more I can only begin to understand at a foundational level.  So why does a Product guy even subject himself to Analytic Summits and Cloud Events? Simple answer, really.

What feels like an eternity ago, I actually received my undergraduate degree in computer science and got my start as a programmer.  While not 100% necessary to succeed in the Product Management domain, I found having a technical background gave me advantages I would not have otherwise had.  Understanding the technologies and what they are capable of (and equally important, what they are not) was extremely helpful as I translated business needs into functional requirements.

I’m no longer directly in a functional requirements definition or programming role, but I still find it necessary to understand the latest technology trends to have meaningful conversations with our CTO and COO about where the market is going, how it will affect consumer behavior, and what the art of possible looks like with respect to tackling the challenges.  Being able to talk with them in their language earns me a level of respect others may not have. It also affords me the opportunity to call BS from time to time (although this happens much less frequently as it used to).

I also value the perspective being exposed to these companies and technologies brings relative to other struggles within my day-to-day job.  Let me share an example that begins with the difference in approaches Apple and Android each took with their mobile operating systems and carries forward even into my role today.  There are various terms that can be used to describe the approaches, but to keep things simple I will settle on these:

  • Android – open systems/network, inter-operable
  • Apple – walled garden, closed, proprietary

There were pros and cons to each when the smart phone era took off.  For example, Android touted some of the better widgets because of their developer program … Apple’s OS was more secure and less prone to virus attacks.  And while even today I tend to be more in the iPhone camp from a user experience perspective, the business world we operate in has been evolving over the past decade such that platforms, APIs, and ecosystems are becoming the necessary norm.  It is nearly impossible today for a single company to own every need within the client’s they serve.

Expanding on what they started in the Android days, Google is continuing their open-systems approach into today’s cloud-first era.  By announcing their multi-cloud solution (Anthos), they are essentially acknowledging they will never own every technology stack within a client and advocating cooperation with their competition.  And it wasn’t just an announcement from the main stage either.  There were multiple references during the breakout sessions alluding to AWS …  and Pivotal had a booth in the showcase area.  Nor did it end with just cloud technologies … Dropbox had a booth (competitor to Google Drive) … VMWare shared the stage during the keynote (competitor to the container capabilities Google is pushing). I’m sure there were other examples I missed as well.

There are key learnings relative to this proprietary v. open discussion and how Google is not only approaching the market, but also succeeding with their efforts I am hoping to glean some insights from.  Certainly, the Financial Services world is not immune to these technological changes, the evolving needs of our clients, nor the expectations consumers have with respect to managing their financial lives.  Some resist an open-systems approach out of fear of opening the kimono to competition and making it easier for clients to leave.  And while there is an element of truth to these fears, I am a firm believer an open-systems approach, working within the ecosystem (competition included) to enhance value to the end clients, will actually position our business as a thought leader and propel us forward.