We’ve just concluded the sixth EIC, the European Identity and Cloud Conference. It was my fifth, but I continue to learn something new each time. Before I get into what I learned this year, a brief note to mention that EIC 2013 will return to Unterschleissheim (just outside Munich) from May 14-17. Begin to book now, it’s sure to be even bigger and better than ever.

I’ve been going to technology conferences, both big and small, for 25 years and it never ceases to amaze me that there’s always something new to learn – either a new technology, or a new way to look at technology. While it’s true that there is really nothing new under the sun – “cloud computing,” for example, has remarkable similarities to datacenter computing from the ‘60s and ‘70s – it’s also true that there is always a different way to look at data, facts, or technology which can give insights into better ways to conduct business. This year there were three such “truths” that stood out for me.

First, Dr. Barbara Mandl, who is Senior Manager of Daimler AG, responsible for the Global Daimler IT-Organization as CoC Identity and Access Management delivered a keynote entitled “What About: Bring your own Device?” Her opinion? It’s not about the device. Rather, it’s about the data, the information. While it’s true that building services to provision users and their myriad devices can be daunting, you should never lose sight of what is really important – protecting the data that is central to the organization. This is also a reminder that we frequently get bogged down in details that – in the end – don’t really matter to the detriment of the things that do.

The second was part of a discussion I had with Deepak Taneja, founder and CTO of Aveksa. We were having a discussion about “the Cloud” (so many of my conversations were about that topic), talking about why people move to Software as a Service (SaaS) or “Cloud Computing” as we now call it. What we concluded was that people were still having the same discussion that they’d had 10 years ago – only the names were different. In the late nineties people argued about Windows, Linux or Macintosh as the “best” platform to install applications on. Today, it’s about “The Cloud” or the datacenter. Now I’m not trying to minimize the differences between the cloud and the datacenter, there are major differences in terms of cost and other resources used, but when talking strictly about applications and services then it should be about the applications and services. Just as when we argued about operating systems, or about whether it was better to install apps on the server or the desktop, when we argue about using “the Cloud” or “the Datacenter” then we’re talking about the wrong thing. The most important decision is to pick the right application or service – that one that best fills our need. Choosing the platform first is like choosing a restaurant because of the color of the plates they use.

As in all computing, pick the app that serves you best, then pick the platform that best supports that app. Take into account the costs of planning, setup, installation, distribution, maintenance, upgrades and so on, but unless there are major disconnects, pick the app or service that does what your business needs it to do, and does it in a way that’s efficient, easy to use and secure.

Finally, last – but far from least – was a statement from Susan Morrow. She’s Head of Research and Development at London’s Avoco Secure Ltd. And is involved in the design of Cloud based, verified, consumer identities for use by governments and commercial organizations. I emphasize that she’s involved in design. Susan is also active in the Kantara Initiative’s User Managed Access protocol, again as part of the design team. She was on a panel I moderated on Consumer Identity (what we used to call User-Based Identity) but caused us – especially me – to sit up and take notice when she offered an opinion near the end of the group discussion. She urged that vendors actively recruit more women for their application (and service and protocol) design teams. Not simply because they’re severely underrepresented (although they are) but because they have (in general) a very different point of view from men. She contends (and, upon reflection, most of the audience agreed) that women, in general, take a more holistic view of things including technology.

The dictionary defines “holistic” as: “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts…” What she meant was that men often get bogged down into small parts of the design while losing sight of what the overall plan is. After thinking a moment I realized that this relates directly to something my wife often tells me. Here’s an example. My wife may be cooking and realize that she needs cilantro for the dish, but doesn’t have any in the fridge. She’s aware that sending me out for some means I won’t come back until I’ve found it – even if it means visiting dozens of stores and spending hours in the search. If she goes herself, she’ll go first to the most likely store, but if there isn’t any cilantro she’ll then think about what she can substitute. The difference is that she sees the big picture – delivering a tasty dinner to the table on time – while I see the detail – finding cilantro!

It’s something that all vendors and all software designers need to keep in mind, but it would be easier if a woman was on the design team.

This is analogous to the KuppingerCole theme that IT’s job is to support the business rather than to create beautiful technology. Technology is just a tool of the enterprise; it’s the plumbing on which the services and applications run. But it isn’t really about the services and apps, either. It’s about the output and how that furthers the goals of the business.

The French tells us that the more things change, the more they stay the same (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). And it is the biblical book of Ecclesiastes (attributed to King Solomon) that tells us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” But I’m telling you that there is always a new way to view what we feel are “truths” and that new way might very well be better that the old way.

See you in Munich in 2013!