During December (and stretching into January) AWS held its re:Invent conference as a virtual event this year. At Transforma Insights we pay very close attention to what this would-be (and kinda-already-is) behemoth of AI, IoT and edge is doing. We published a report last week entitled ‘AWS re:Invent showcases a broad portfolio focused on solving industry needs’ which provided our views on the host of new product launches and developments including AI hardware, enhancements to its SageMaker AI offering, end-to-end IoT offerings, enhanced edge computing capabilities and many more. This blog post digs into some of the key themes, although naturally we recommend you read the report for the full picture.
The overwhelming impression from watching the re:Invent keynotes was of a company that does not think of the array of buzzword technologies as discrete things, but merely as tools to achieve specific objectives. IoT, AI, edge computing and connectivity are crashed together into user-friendly services aimed at delivering predictive maintenance or some other similar capability. The maxim of ‘users don’t buy technology, they buy solutions’ has evidently stuck.
AWS has been very effective at delivering accessible and applied tools, and particularly at configuring products to meet the needs of their clients as they exist at the moment. Monitron and Panorama both recognise that their respective opportunities are retrofit ones, while the whole ML proposition considers the fact that there are a wide range of entry points for using ML, from SQL programmers to data scientists to BI analysts to complete novices, all of whom should have a capability that makes sense to them.
In his keynote, CEO Andy Jassy talked a lot about the need for organisations, most notably his own, to constantly reinvent themselves. He spoke about things like having the courage to change, creating a culture of urgency, solving real customer problems and setting top-down goals. All very hard to argue with. The pace of change within AWS points to the fact that his own organisation has clearly embraced his principles on constant reinvention. In contrast the world of technology adopters (many of whom are 100 years older than AWS) is incredibly messy and less capable of immediately reinvention. There are skills gaps, legacy systems, aversions to change, and numerous other barriers.
AWS is a company with a phenomenally rich product offering and one which is being enriched constantly. It has launched 200+ features per year for the last few years. Just this year’s additions, including AWS IoT Core for LoRaWAN, Greengrass 2.0, SageMaker Clarify, HealthLake, Data Wrangler, Monitron and Panorama SDK, and many more, are an impressive array of capabilities that would be the envy of any other technology provider. It’s no coincidence that parent company Amazon has the biggest R&D expenditure of any company in the world (USD16.1 billion versus Alphabet Inc at number two with USD13.9 billion, according to PWC's Global Innovation 1000 Study).
The proof of its success is in the number of organisations that are part of its ecosystem. AWS today has 100,000 customers using its machine learning capabilities and tens of thousands of IoT customers. It also has an ‘IoT Edge-to-Outcome Community’ consisting of hardware manufacturers, communications service providers, independent software vendors and SIs.
AWS will be probably the single most important vendor in the market where AI, IoT and edge computing intersect. Every other company’s strategy will be defined by the extent to which they compete with AWS or are able to harness its capabilities.
One notable thing about some of the recent announcements is that they seem to be about positioning AWS as a trustworthy vendor and different from its competitors. If the announcement of long-term support for FreeRTOS was a sly dig at Google’s short-termism, so too is HealthLake (Google’s equivalent Google Health having been shut down in 2011). The message is: we’re in this for the long haul. The strategy is similar to that adopted for hosting, in that AWS wants to be part of the infrastructure across a range of new and emerging technology domains.
AWS is a company that understands this: don’t make your users change, serve them as you find them. And how they are found is typically demanding of easy-to-implement solutions that don’t require wide-spread change within the organisation or the acquisition of new skills. Other technology vendors would be wise to follow suit.