Friday, November 29, 2013

The Future of Information Technology

For a time it appeared that the Information Technology profession was dwindling, being reduced to working for a large outsourcer or technology vendor.  Off-shoring was all the craze and IT jobs appeared to be permanently lost to cheaper labor.  All of that might continue in a substantial way, but the rise of Cloud, Mobile, Social and Big Data, while still in their infancy, portend to an exciting future, albeit too fast for some and too scary for others.  

But why are these four forces unlike any other over-hyped buzz words?  For the same reason the Internet has become much more than its hype of the mid-1990's.  It was simply a common communications protocol that allowed anywhere to anywhere connectivity, just like the railroad, and then the highway, transformed where we live, where we work and all that we can experience.  The Internet, the railroad and the highway all democratized movement.  They laid the foundation for huge numbers of innovations. They were the things necessary to build our next way of living.  

The Cloud, which is simply computing power, both vast and affordable, is starkly different than traditional server farms where a fixed amount is purchased and paid for upfront.  The Cloud allows for experimentation, short-duration projects with vast requirements (e.g. hundreds of millions of visitors to the three-week Olympics web site) or needing thousands of servers for a few minutes.  The Cloud is similar to electricity and gasoline; ubiquitous, low-cost, multi-purpose energy.  Electricity and gasoline did not change the world overnight, but enabled innovations like the light bulb and the automobile, which, in time, changed our everyday life.  

Mobile is taking that computing power and connectivity with you wherever you go.  I liken this to the automobile and the airplane, which allowed our physical bodies to go places in minutes or hours, and at a far lower cost than their predecessors.  Mobile is at its infancy.  Sure we've had laptops and cell phones for most of our working lives, but laptops had limited connectivity and cell phones had limited applications.  That changed with the iPhone and its App Store, a short five years ago.  And while our personal lives may have changed significantly, it's just beginning to change our work lives. We currently have business processes built on the old computer-on-a-desk model and a large investment in those systems.  As our imaginations begin grasping how we can blow up the old rules, just like cars and planes changed our view of the bottlenecks of distance, we can expect how we work will change dramatically.

Social is about staying connected with hundreds, thousands or millions of family, friends, customers or business partners than ever before was possible.  How many classmates from grade school do you still have any relationship with?  High-school?  College?  At most, probably a few, unless you went through, or are still in, school.  Our previous generations had to write letters or make expensive phone calls.  It took a lot of time to share information on a one-to-one basis.  You might even add a photo to your letter to describe a particularly striking vacation spot.  But more likely your friends became the group you physically interacted with, and if you moved to another city, most of those friends dropped off and were replaced with new friends at your new physical location.  The Social technologies like Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow you to remain connected and engaged with far less effort than before.  This may be the one that ultimately changes the world on a greater scale, just like the creation of language and the telephone brought the world closer together.

Big Data is about being able to quickly process vast amounts of data and could have a similar impact as the invention of the printing press and paper-making, which allowed for the storage and retrieval of vast amounts of human knowledge, but which are still gated by our human limitations.  We can now store, process and harvest insights from the information produced by our computer systems, medical sensors, manufacturing equipment, tweets, posts and many other sources.  And it will take big thinkers to gain new knowledge from our Big Data.  Perhaps that’s I.T.’s true future.  I think it should be.

Autos replaced horses, electricity replaced candles, the telephone replaced the Pony Express and books replaced scrolls.  The future of I.T. looks brighter than ever.  

But it won’t be hardly recognizable.

Should be loads of fun.

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