Young Workers Could View IT as Roadblock

The days of the CIO as a viable member of the corporate C-suite may be numbered unless the role evolves beyond its current operational, shared-service mentality, according to Patrick Gray, author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology.

In this thought-provoking essay “The CIO is Dead (Long Live the CIO),” he says one reason is because of the technological savvy of today’s younger workers.

“Much has been written about the new generation of workers advancing through the ranks, a generation who grew up with technology, and spent their university years playing with Facebook and Linux years before ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘open source’ were bandied about in the boardroom. No longer the sole province of the computer science majors, the rising stars in your marketing, sales, finance and operational roles likely know more about technology than some of your IT staff. Integrating technology into their jobs is as effortless as breathing, and a monolithic IT organization that strives to block them from deploying relevant technology into the groups they manage is an anachronism to be worked around, rather than a critical resource.”

He continues:

“Aside from large-scale infrastructure like networks and provisioning hardware and software, nearly every new IT trend points towards those in operational roles making technical decisions, rather than leaving the task to corporate IT. Virtualization, cloud computing, Web 2.0, etc. will all push the implementation of new services to end users, and unless IT evolves, it will fade into a utility that is expected to be seen and not heard.”

Innovators, Take Note

It’s always gratifying to congratulate ourselves on a fine piece of innovation. It feels good to know we grappled with a situation, jumped outside of the box and came up with a plan, program or product nobody else ever thought of.

But there’s a potential harsh lesson embedded in this sort of pride: If our stakeholders don’t share our perspective on the value of our plan, program or product, we actually may have taken a step backward.

Writing on HarvardBusiness.org, Scott Anthony shared a good reminder of this lesson. He wanted to deposit checks using a newly installed, technically sophisticated ATM at his Bank of America branch. When the machine’s optical-scanner wouldn’t read all of the checks and left him worse off than with the older ATM would have, he reached the conclusion that the super ATM was a good innovation for the bank, but not so hot for customers. He wrote:

“Rightly or wrongly, my check-deposit struggles left me with an image: Bank of America is innovating to help itself, not me. The general point here is to make sure you evaluate innovations through the proper lens. The trap companies often run into is they think their view of quality is the same as the market’s. That’s not always true. If the innovation isn’t perceived to be better by the consumer, customer, partner, or supplier to whom it is targeted, then adoption could slow and frustration could grow.”

Anthony is the author of The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work from Harvard Business School Press.

Entering a World of ‘Constant Disruption’

With most economists now predicting the recession will conclude later this year, don’t get too comfortable. A recent post in the Harvard Business Publishing blog “Big Shift” contends we are entering a world of “constant disruption.”

One of the biggest reasons resides in the IT world: “We now face something entirely different. Today’s core technologies — computing, storage, and bandwidth — are not stabilizing.”

“They continue to evolve at an exponential rate,” the commentary continues. “And because the underlying technologies don’t stabilize, the social and business practices that coalesce into our new digital infrastructure aren’t stabilizing either. Businesses and, more broadly, social, educational, and economic institutions, are left racing to catch up with the steadily improving performance of the foundational technologies.

“For example, almost forty years after the invention of the microprocessor, we are only now beginning to reconfigure the digital technology infrastructure for delivery of yet another dramatic leap in computing power under the rubric of utility or cloud computing. This leap will soon be followed by another, then another.”

So strap in. If the topic interests you, be sure to read the entire post.

Laptop is New Menage-a-Trois

Over a quarter of workers in London are using laptops in bed, according to a recent survey with the odd title “Laptop Use in Bed and the Security Implications.”  International data security company Credant Technologies polled 300 workers in London in April for the purpose of determining “whether the UK has become a nation of work-obsessed, laptop-dependent key tappers and to highlight the security implications of unsecured mobile devices,” according to the Credant press release.

Of the one-in-four who do work in bed, nearly 60 percent do so between two and six hours a week. Forty-four percent admitted they are holding important work documents on their mobile devices, of which 54 percent were not adequately secured with encryption.

And eight percent admitted they spend more time with their laptops than talking with their partners. To which the survey authors concluded: “Little wonder that the survey also found that the majority of their bed partners found their partners’ obsession with their laptops ‘a very annoying habit.’”

Here’s a Top 10 List you don’t want to make

Remember the Microsoft Zune? How about the fizzled product poised to alter the Universe, code-named “Ginger?” Time magazine unveils the 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade. You might be surprised, as I was, to find YouTube on the list; an analyst says YouTube would have to triple its revenue to breakeven. Being big without a successful business model doesn’t spell success. Read the entire article, Failure to Launch, here.

Now if you want to take a look at technologies that succeeded despite predictions to the contrary, check out the Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions on a pretty cool web site called Listverse (the Universe of lists). Among those predictions includes one from Bill Gates, who said, “We will never make a 32 bit operating system.” Or one from Charlie Chaplin predicting that, “The cinema is little more than a fad.”

Here’s one of my personal favorites, given the growing popularity of Twitter. Associates of David Sarnoff, responding to his call for investment in the radio in 1921 said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” (Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if Twitter finds a way to make money as well.)

Lowly Netbook Becoming a Surprising Force

Like it or not, IT departments soon are going to come to grips with netbooks, the stripped-down laptops with low-power CPUs, little storage, dinky keyboards and tiny screens, selling for $500 or less. While they’re surging in popularity well beyond most early prognostications, a recent TechRepublic poll of IT managers tells a different story. Asked if their departments were supporting netbooks, 79 percent of the IT managers said no.

Originally designed for low-demand emerging markets, netbooks have become a favorite tool of business road warriors and others who want an easily portable computer costing a heck of a lot less than a standard laptop.

The new generation of netbooks runs Windows XP Pro and Windows Vista Business, further increasing their usefulness. Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently called netbooks “the only bright spot of growth in the PC industry.”

Because low price is driving netbooks’ popularity — Gartner puts their projected 2009 sales nearly 130 percent higher than 2008 — and the price is a function of their limitations, the basic netbook concept isn’t going to change significantly. Except there will be more and more of them. That means more processing and storage requirements will be shifting to the data center and be a further boon to Google, Microsoft and Amazon and others who are stockpiling computing power.

In fact, the lowly netbook appears to be emerging as a vital evolutionary step in the new paradigm constituting SaaS applications, cloud computing, hosted storage and related technologies.

Rumor Mill: A Google Router?

One of the hottest rumors in the IT world is that Google is developing its own router. Industry observer Erik Sherman, writing in BNET.com, says, “When I contacted Google, the answer was the now-standard ‘It’s our policy not to comment on rumor and speculation,’ which — if memory serves — is the same answer that used to be in play when asked if Google was developing a browser.”

Technology pundit Alex Handy, says, “In a world where traffic is likely doubling every six months, it’s hard to think of any type of hardware architecture that could possibly sustain itself.”  He believes Google may be fed up with Jupiter Networks’s JUNOS routers. “It would seem Jupiter hasn’t figure this out either, and that Google has taken it upon itself to chase down a solution of its own.”

Advisor Urges More IT Stimulus Spending

Investments in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are greatly responsible for the nation’s productivity gains over the past decade, and a key advisor to President Obama is encouraging more investment via the government’s economic stimulus package.

“If you invest in ICT infrastructure in an economic downturn, you not only get better short-term job-creation effects but you get better long-term productivity impacts,” says Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think-tank, and member of Obama’s transition team.

Atkinson notes that the current stimulus plan invests $7.2 billion in broadband networks, “but the market could have absorbed at least $15 billion.” And with the world economy so mired, it’s important that new technology get into place ASAP. “You want these projects to hit the ground running over the next 18 months, and ideally sooner than that,” he told IDG News Service.

Explaining that stalling on stimulus-related technology projects could result in diminished economic output and increased budget deficit, he said: “If you make these investments and you make then right, you can certainly have long-run economic impacts, which can be very sizeable.”

Recent Patents Foretell Huge Smartphone Advances

New patents filed by Apple and Microsoft provide tantalizing glimpses of where the smartphone is headed.

Microsoft’s patent describes a docking station for the smartphone and explains: “The dock should be small enough that you could stick it in a briefcase or bag to take on business trips, allowing you do tasks such as giving presentations without having to carry a laptop.”

Microsoft’s docking station would utilize the phone’s memory and processor to reconfigure an assortment of peripherals. “For example, if the paired devices determine a game controller is connected to the dock, the smartphone assumes that you are at a specific location and configures the interface to reflect the parameters that are used at that location,” according to technology consultant Michael Kassner. “How cool is that?”

Meanwhile buried in Apple’s new patent regarding its iPhone heuristic user interface are clear references to upcoming smartphone video applications. Alexander Wolfe writes in InformationWeek about Apple’s leap forward into smartphone video-conferencing capabilities:

“In some embodiments, an optical sensor is located on the back of the device, opposite the touch screen display on the front of the device, so that the touch screen display may be used as a viewfinder for either still and/or video image acquisition.

“In some embodiments, an optical sensor is located on the front of the device so that the user’s image may be obtained for videoconferencing while the user views the other video conference participants on the touch screen display.

“In some embodiments, the position of the optical sensor can be changed by the user (e.g., by rotating the lens and the sensor in the device housing) so that a single optical sensor may be used along with the touch screen display for both video conferencing and still and/or video image acquisition.”

It’s pretty clear that the two technology giants see different futures for the smartphone, yet the technology described in both patents mean our mobile communications are about to take some huge leaps forward.

And the Top 3 IT Investment Areas Are . . .

Want to know where the top CIOs are really spending their IT dollars — assuming they have any IT dollars to spend?

Some insights are in a recent IDG Research Services tally of major corporations done for AT&T. They found that the top three technologies that companies are most likely to invest in during the next 18 months are:

1. Wireless networking
2. Business continuity planning, and
3. Remote access

This correlates closely, IDG says, with CIOs’ “perceived benefits for productivity, collaboration and innovation.”

Next on the list were investments in compliance, encryption and VoIP.

“Surprisingly, the more hyped technologies show only average investment potential,” says IDG. “For example, VoIP may have rated low for future investments because companies have already deployed it. And the terms ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘unified communications’ are relatively new and could be too nebulous for some respondents.”

Least likely investments in the next 18 months are RFID and utility computing.