Autumn is upon us and, along with the falling leaves, comes the second conference season of the year. Spring and Autumn are the two big seasons for such events and it's not over yet.
We've had IDF, OpenWorld and MAX 2009, and RSA Europe and the Web 2.0 Summit are just around the corner. There's been a host of people telling us all about where the industry is headed, so this week we're going to talk about the men and women with vision who've been successful in doing just that.
The following list is filled by people who have driven innovation and change. We've all had great ideas in idle moments that are either forgotten or impractical, but these are people who identified technological advances and made them happen.
Visionaries are what has made the industry what it is today, but they can also be dangerous people. To the established order they are game-changers, able to wipe out five-year business plans with a single idea.
But they can also be hell to work for. If the vision is wrong the company can go under after all, and many of the people listed here have taken a wrong turn or two in their pasts. But all have (eventually) recognised this and changed tack; that's what makes them visionary and not fundamentalist.
Mention: Larry Ellison
Iain Thomson: You might think Larry Ellison only makes the list because of Oracle OpenWorld 2009 this week, and to an extent you'd be right. But there's more to it than that.
People are inspired by many things in life: it could be a beautiful sunset, a falling apple, or seeing a burning bush after too many odd desert mushrooms. Larry Ellison was instead inspired by databases, and used his vision of the future of data to build Oracle into a huge corporation.
But there's another facet to Ellison's vision: only he can see the way. It's not uncommon in Silicon Valley, but it made Ellison rich beyond the dreams of avarice. He could have sold out to a company like Microsoft, but Ellison will never be happy playing second fiddle so he's stayed in command and built a company with billions in the bank and a solid customer base. But he's been wrong in the past too, as the NC project showed
When we sat down to draw up the list, Ellison's name was on there, but kept moving down the rankings. It's a reflection of the strength of the rest of the list that he only gets an honourable mention.
Shaun Nichols: Ellison's ability to see the direction of the industry often gets overlooked by the success of his company and his own outrageous personality and lifestyle, but none of that would have existed had Ellison not seen a huge opportunity where few others had even bothered to look.
To describe what Oracle actually does nearly puts an audience to sleep. Databases are an incredibly mundane topic, far less glamorous than things like home computers or video games. While Oracle may not have had the public appeal of its Silicon Valley brethren such as Atari and Apple, it has become arguably the most successful company from that era.
Ellison also displayed great vision in what he didn't do. Over the life of the company countless new products and markets have come and gone, but Oracle has proven for the most part very methodical and cautious when it comes to acquisitions, and they tend to pay off for Ellison and the company more often than not.
mention: Marc Benioff
Shaun Nichols: Today nearly every software vendor is using some sort of web-based service. Be it under the label of 'software-as-a-service' (SaaS) or 'cloud computing' or whatever other buzzword you prefer, companies are scrambling to get their products running not just on the local computer, but over the web.
While Marc Benioff wasn't the first to offer a web-based application, he has certainly been among the most vocal and successful advocates of the concept. Launching his Salesforce.com customer relationship management tool as a browser-based service, Benioff was largely laughed at by bigger firms such as SAP and Siebel. These days, Benioff's doing the laughing, as Salesforce is a billion-dollar enterprise and rival vendors are scrambling to offer comparable services.
Iain Thomson: Meeting Salesforce.com staff in its early days was kind of like running into a pack of Scientologists They were scarily committed to the SaaS vision and saw it as their role in life to spread the word.
Fervent religions often kick off because the followers are laughed at or ridiculed, and for Salesforce.com this was particularly true. After all, who would be willing to entrust their key business data to a third party and only be able to use it when they had an internet connection?
Well, it turns out that a hell of a lot of people are happy to do just that, and SaaS is now one of the key growth areas of e-commerce. But now that Benioff has turned out to be right in his vision, could could Salesforce.com please stop being so messianic about the whole deal?
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