Editor's Note: This article is part of our Future of Business Technology series which focuses on what is happening to business today as a result of technology, and in turn, what's happening to the economy, the job market and IT careers.
The inspiration that information systems could radically revolutionize the way we worked, was reached by people observing the way businesses were structured in the 1970s. Before many organizations could even take the first step in evolving their strategies -- the way they thought about IS -- their business structures had already changed.
Salesforce speaks of the advent of the "social enterprise," as if the notion of people in an organization talking with one another was something discovered in 2008. What we're coming to learn is how true this may actually be. The structure of many organizations, especially those founded in the twentieth century, consists of the partitions that stifle communication, buttressed with decades of bureaucratic barricades intended to keep things secret... and undermined with decades of subterfuges designed for clandestinely sharing those secrets. Only when such institutions have reached the brink of failure, and have been bailed out by the grace of governments, was it revealed that corporations organically evolved operating units for the express purpose of working against each other.
In the 1980s, when many information systems were first adopted by enterprises for the first time, replacing the data processing systems in place, they were not expected to evolve into communications systems. But the adoption of Internet protocols for the networking stack brought that change upon them, quite often by complete surprise. Of the four trends that analysts say are converging today to produce change in business technology -- cloud dynamics, social architecture, Web services, and mobile deployment -- all four constitute characteristics of existing systems that planners had not realized they already had in their possession.
It's as though a crowded public park suddenly realized there was an outdoor play going on in front of them, even though workmen behind the scenes had been setting the stage all week. Or, more accurately, for decades.
This is what makes it seem like change is so rapid, when in fact, it isn't: perception. The first experiments with the concepts of running applications over a network, with parallel processing, and even with virtualization took place while men were walking on the moon. Never mind that the apps were primitive and the networks were practically smoke signals; the concepts have been present since the beginning of computing, waiting for the inflection point where all the facilitating resources evolved just enough to make them feasible. The existence of new ways of working sneaked up on us when we weren't looking. Information systems were communications systems. And now, the curtain has lifted and the truth is revealed.
The impetus for businesses transitioning to cloud services is usually cost reduction. Sure, there are cases where cloud deployments increase resource utilization, encourage greater collaboration, and help employees to concentrate upon the goals of business rather than IT. But the extent to which those deployments are successful in doing these things, is measurable in dollars.
In an interview, Ric Telford, IBM's vice president for cloud services, states:
"The early days of cloud have been around optimizing IT and reducing costs. But most of the conversations we’re having now are around how to leverage this more flexible delivery model for business differentiation, because it can allow companies to do things they couldn’t do before."
The most profound change in business technology that we must face today is with us: How do we make adjustments to our own perspective, so that what we perceive aligns with the way things actually are? And once we've done that, how can we put that improved perception to use in conceiving a more efficient and more competitive information systems strategy?
Scott M. Fulton, III has chronicled the history of computing as it happened, from the unveiling of the Apple III to the undoing of MS-DOS to the rise of the cloud. Scott was one of the original online managers of the Delphi network (you remember modems, don’t you?), part of the original editorial team of Computer Shopper (you remember paper, don’t you?), the Senior News Editor at Tom’s Hardware and the original TG Daily (you remember... never mind), and for four years served as managing editor of Betanews. He’s the author of 17 books and over 5,000 articles printed worldwide in multiple languages. Scott also appears as contributing technology analyst on NTN24’s Ciencia, Salud y Tecnología. So basically, he has at least one finger in just about every medium, in hopes that maybe one of them will take root and bear fruit. You never know, something could happen. His fingers are crossed. (Which could explain the typing problems.) While he’s waiting, Scott and his wife Jennifer, herself a best-selling author (where do you think he gets it?), run Ingenus, LLC, an editorial services provider for technology and higher education publishers. Right now, their daughter is probably on Tumblr telling her friends how Dad keeps finding something new to go wrong with his VCR. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @SMFulton3.
See here for all of Scott's Tom's IT Pro articles.