21st Century I.T.
Leave legacy thinking of the last century behind.
Information Technology is a field and segment of business that was created in the 20th Century. It is only in the last 75 years that this now ascendant part of business has been in existence. Compared to such business disciplines as accounting, production, sales, and marketing it is the new kid on the block.
Of course, there has been information technology and people who conveyed information via the latest technologies for millennia. The scribes of ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome to the scribes of the early Renaissance was the information technologists of their time, yet they served the state and the church. In 1455, Gutenberg disinter mediated knowledge and the dissemination of information with his publication of the Gutenberg Bible, allowing information and knowledge to reach out beyond the state and the church, and find its way into the hands of people who used it for not just education but business. The movementof information sped up in the mid-1800s with the invention of the telegraph and again in the early 20th Century when the landline phone connected people across wide distances.
The first room-sized computers came into existence in the 1940s, and when they migrated into large corporations and universities in the 1950s, the title Chief Technology Officer really came into being. The beginning of the Information Age in the 1970s and the introduction of the PC into the workplace and education place in the 1980s triggered the explosive growth of IT and its central importance to business and the world. The foundation of modern IT within corporations was built between 1975 and 1995. Then, of course, the next transformation began with the introduction of the browser and the resultant explosive use of the Internet. All at once it was no longer just about computing power, efficiency, automation, and speed; the element of connectivity entered and changed the game dramatically. Connectivity is when the CTO and the IT department began to service every single employee of the enterprise, which completely changed the game as technology became central to the workplace experience of almost every employee, executive, or customer.
Simultaneous to all these developments was the explosive acceleration of speed, innovation, miniaturization, and computing power. Moore’s Law is still in effect more than 40 years after Gordon Moore announced it. So that was IT in the 20th Century.
Business unit becomes the unit of Business
As a futurist, the most consistently asked question of me from audiences is how humanity can keep up with the speed of technological change as technology has evolved much more rapidly than human physiology and even psychology. It goes far beyond information overload. Technology and its applications and manifestation in the workplace, the education place, and home are creating entirely new landscapes, possibilities, and even new evolutionary possibilities for humanity. That is why the title of this magazine, LEAD IT, ™ is so perfect for these times. There is no IT without Leadership (with a capital L!). The CTO now manages the leading edge of most enterprises. Technology can drive innovation, and, of course, innovation drives technology. So how must senior technology executives lead in the 21st century?
The first thing any tech executive must do is completely let go of legacy thinking. Any thinking that was formed during the last 25 years of the 20th Century must be questioned. We all form a lot of our thoughts in early adulthood and in the early stages of our careers, and tend to hold on to them as truths that guide us or reference points to help us. No longer allowed! Legacy thinking is completely counter to tech leadership in the 21st Century. CTOs who will become true, dynamic, respected, and influential executives both within their enterprises and the larger IT community are those who face fully forward, looking both at what is, what is coming, and what might be. A quote from one, if not the greatest, hockey player is pertinent. When asked why he was such a great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky replied, “I skate to where the puck is going to be.” Any senior IT executive must lead to where IT will be, not where it is and certainly not where it has been. All rules are to be questioned, all procedures reevaluated, and the very essence and boundaries of IT must be constantly reanalyzed.
The CTO leading the IT division – no longer a department but an enterprise-wide entity – is now the chief video officer, the chief innovation officer, the chief communications officer, and the chief automation officer. In a new 21st Century world when time, distance, and place no longer limit human communication, the IT department becomes the connective tissue of any enterprise. In a century where creativity is the most essential management quality and collaboration the most essential work skill, the CTO is the lead facilitator of both. The legacy duality thinking of hardware/software is completely out of date and limiting in this new environment.Every day a 21st Century CTO and the IT department he or she leads must ask the following questions as any major IT decision is being made:
- How can we increase creativity in our organization?
- How can we increase innovation?
- How can we increase connectivity to promote ever more collaboration amongst our employees, partners, and customers?
- How can we facilitate the creation of IP (Intellectual Property), as that is our greatest contribution to the valuation of the enterprise?
- How can we eliminate downtime, increase productivity for all stakeholders, and create both an open and secure environment at the same time?
- When do we plan to integrate brain wave computer interface into the system?
- Outside the human/computer interface, how can we embed smart technology across the entire enterprise, allowing individuals to let go of data collection, analysis, and reporting? How “smart” can we make the enterprise?
- How do we move ever more toward mobility to allow our stakeholders to be ever more productive regardless of where they are?
- How much do we need to do internally, and how many people do we need to employ when everything is available on the outside and the costs of everything will always go down?
- Since the word “architecture” implies structures, and structures are resistant to change, how can we move from architecting to the weaving of a net or a fabric model that is more clearly in line with this new century?
If you cannot or will not hold all these questions in your mind as you move toward a decision, then you will no longer be the leader needed for your enterprise. Leadership now includes vision, and all decisions must be, to some degree, vision-driven.
Long ago in my career I had the good fortune of working with and making sales calls with Ted Turner, a visionary who was largely responsible for the creation of the cable television industry. He lived by a simple saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Now there is a simple thought to leave you with that sums up this article. The next 15 years of IT will have as much change and transformation as the last 50. There will be more change in IT between now and 2025 than has occurred since 1960. Are you ready?