Information technology goes far beyond the realm of enterprise IT. New technologies, such as big data, mobile applications, and cloud computing hold promise in addressing many of the world’s great problems, while at the same time offering strategic advantage for businesses. Corporate IT leaders, therefore, need to reach outside their narrow focus on ongoing support to incorporate these new technologies to deliver business value.
This was a key takeaway from the Future in Review 2013 (FiRe2013) conference last month in Laguna Beach, CA. FiRe bills itself as “the leading global conference on the intersection of technology and the economy.” It is an annual conference of the Strategic News Service, which publishes research under this broad theme.
Beyond Enterprise IT
Although FiRe is focused on technology, it is largely outside the boundaries of what is typically considered “enterprise IT,” or even “consumer IT.” It even goes beyond “line of business IT.” It is about future-oriented issues involving the impact of technology on economic and societal interests. Under this year’s theme, Digitizing the Planet, the agenda covered a wide range of focus channels, including computing and communications, economics and finance, education, energy, healthcare, environment, global initiatives, and pure science. Presenters included big names, such as Vint Cert, the “father of the Internet,” who is now Chief Evangelist at Google, as well as a host of visionary thinkers from a variety of disciplines in the private and public sectors.
For enterprise IT leaders, FiRe offers an chance to move outside the usual track of user and vendor conferences. It is also an excellent opportunity during the breaks to speak one-on-one with professionals outside of enterprise IT circles.
Here are some of the big ideas that caught our attention and what they mean for enterprise IT.
Move from Data Analysis to Data Visualization.
One eye-opener was the session on data visualization with Chris Johnson, University of Utah, and Bob Bishop, Founder of the International Centre for Earth Simulation (ICES) Foundation. The aim of ICES is to integrate all the sciences that pertain to planet Earth. The panelists showed one such visualization: a huge simulation of earth’s thermohaline conveyor belt: a single worldwide ocean current that has a large impact on Earth’s climate. Another showed the earth’s magnetosphere.
How does this apply to enterprise IT? Organizations are swimming in data, both internal and externally sourced data, both structured and unstructured. To go from analyzing the data, to discovery of useful information, to decision support requires some sort of visualization. If data analysis is on your IT strategic roadmap, data visualization should be there also.
Social Collaboration around Data.
There was more on the big data theme. Stanford and NASA engineers have come together to form Intelesense Technologies, with its collaborate.org website. The site provides an interactive 3-D globe, dubbed InteleView, with over two million layers of geospatial data (which users can supplement with their own data) along with forums, blogs, shared calendars, video conferencing, and other tools to facilitate group collaboration worldwide around data. To provide a hands-on experience, Intelesense gave trial system access to all FiRe attendees.
How does this apply to enterprise IT? It’s not enough for just one person to visualize large data sets. We also need tools that promote collaboration around data. Collaborators may include individuals within and outside the enterprise, and they often include participants worldwide. Many so-called “social business” tools today only provide the mechanism for collaboration (e.g. threaded discussion) but do not include the content (i.e. data) for collaboration. The real need is to combine big data with social collaboration. The collaborate.org website is an excellent case-study in what this looks like.
Business Opportunities and Threats in Big Data.
John Hagel and Eric Openshaw from Deloitte posed the question: will massive increases in data lead to increased fragmentation of industries, or will it lead to consolidation of businesses in the hands of a few who can support these massive data platforms? Their answer: it depends on the industry and the business function. Fragmentation will occur mostly in product innovation and commercialization businesses, such as digital media, media businesses, and even in physical products that can be disrupted by 3D printing. On the other hand, consolidation may take place with infrastructure providers, such as digital platform providers. With big oil, the question was always, who owns the resource? But with big data, the question is, who can create the value from it?
How does this apply to enterprise IT? In the view of Hagel and Openshaw, most large companies are vulnerable, because they are largely focused on their products, which is the part of their business that is threatened by fragmentation. CIOs, need to look beyond systems to support their organizations’ current business to capabilities and business models that can allow their organizations to compete in the era of big data platforms. It may not even be your data, but if you can create value from it, your organization will succeed in the marketplace.
Protecting IP More Important Now than Ever.
Although so much of FiRe was visionary, there was a significant focus on security, with four tracks on “Achieving Zero Loss of Crown-Jewel Intellectual Property.” Vint Cerf, now Chief Evangelist at Google, used his time to talk about network security. Cerf and other presenters offered a number of potential solutions. Some are technical, such as increased use of two-factor authentication and software security measures integrated with hardware at the chip level. Others go beyond technology, such as the use of economic sanctions and import tariffs against companies that are found to have stolen intellectual property.
What does this mean for enterprise IT? As the world becomes increasingly connected and much of the organization’s IP is digitized, the opportunities and rewards for IP theft increase. As CIOs facilitate new technology-enabled business models, they must also increase their focus on security.
Simplification of IT Environments Key to Big Data Challenges.
The conference was not without an enterprise IT focus. Mark Hurd, Oracle’s co-President and a regular speaker at FiRe, was on hand for a wide-ranging conversation. He pointed out that twice as much data will be created worldwide this year than has been created in the entire history of the planet. Much of this is machine- or sensor-generated data, such as data coming from sensors positioned on deep sea drilling rigs. Drilling companies collect all of this data–much of which is uninteresting–so that they have access to that one piece of information that turns out to be critical when there is a failure deep beneath the sea floor. Storing, managing, and analyzing that much data is a challenge, and technologies such as virtualization and data compression are key to success. Yet many businesses are shackled by legacy systems and infrastructure that do not scale to meet the demand. Simplification of the IT environment, including use of public and private clouds, is essential to meet these challenges.
What does this mean for enterprise IT? CIOs have two responsbilities that are somewhat in conflict. They must maintain current systems while investing for the future. With limited IT budgets, IT organizations must simplify and optimize their existing systems and infrastructure so that they have the bandwidth to make these strategic investments.
A Challenge to Enterprise IT Vendors
The expanding role of technology is not only a challenge for enterprise IT leaders, it is also a challenge for IT vendors. Nearly every major enterprise IT vendor has its visionary initiatives. SAP has HANA, Oracle has its Exa-boxes, IBM has Watson and its Smarter Planet initiatives, and so forth. At the same time, these vendors have enormous revenues in legacy technologies: SAP in its Business Suite, Oracle in its collection of acquired software and hardware technologies, IBM in its legacy hardware and systems integration business lines, and so forth. If IT organizations are challenged to rise above their legacy system support requirements, so too are IT product and services providers. Can the major IT vendors meet the challenge, or will a new generation of big data and cloud providers take their place?
One note on the conference format itself. In contrast to most technology conferences, which feature highly scripted keynotes and breakout sessions with single speakers, the format of at FiRe is nearly all panel discussions or one-on-one interviews. This format promotes a much more conversational and spontaneous style. The moderators or interviewers take a minimalist approach, guiding the discussion where needed but not becoming a center of attention themselves. Mark Anderson, the FiRe conference chair, and Ed Butler from the BBC hosted a number of sessions in this style. Other conferences could learn from FiRe’s format.
The registration page for the FiRe 2014 conference, May 20-23, 2014 in Laguna Beach, CA, is now open.