Technology is imposing rapid change across industries with no signs of slowing. Few recognize this better than futurist Peter Schwartz, who has spent much of his career focused on forward-thinking. From early space travel, to the birth of the Internet, Schwartz has had a front row seat to it all. Now Senior Vice President for Global Government Relations and Strategic Planning for Salesforce, Schwartz shares his thoughts on where tech is headed in the coming years, its impact on IT, and what can be done to adapt. Read on to learn more in this latest installment of our “IT Visionaries” series.
First, the smartphone will be the device that connects us to many things, automatically. Wherever you go, it will identify you to your environment and enable a whole set of services. Second is the first age of what I’m calling “little artificial intelligence” applied to take the friction out of almost every process. For example, when you arrive in a city, it will not only bring up a calendar, but all of the relevant information you need for your trip. Third, is this idea of intimate computing. It’s basically the last stage of personal computing, from “we know the computer but the computer doesn’t know anything about us,” to it going both ways. The computer will be able to organize your life because it knows you intimately.
2. How will these changes affect the way people work?
The boundary between consumer and business technology is disappearing. It used to be that I had a completely different orbit of technology at home and then I might have another orbit at work. That is gone. In the era of mobility, I move seamlessly between my work and personal environment. Corporate IT functions are going to have to learn to live with the realities of the end of that boundary, if they haven’t already. The only way they can deliver these kinds of services and be able to do it anywhere, at anytime, via any platform, is with the cloud. The architectural advantage is so great.
3. How do apps play into this?
Apps basically allow you to choose the best capability to carry out the task you want. That is the beauty of the app model: a small, lightweight piece of software that is optimized for a simple task. Tell me when the airplanes are arriving. Give me the weather. Give me my train schedule. What we will see in the world of business is big software giving way more and more to appification, essentially software designed for a simple, single purpose, and a device that it is optimized for.
4. What changes are you seeing when it comes to IT’s role?
The role of IT is becoming more important because the information enabled worker is ever more important. It’s a challenge for IT in the following sense; what IT did before and what it needs to do now are two very different things. It used to take very conventional processes and help automate them. And it provided routine services such as laptops, cell phones, and a little bit of software to executives and employees. What’s happening now is that software capabilities are enabling people further down in the organization to have better productivity tools. So everybody will have the equivalent of an assistant. And IT is a big part of making this happen.
5. How can IT prove its value to the Business in this new landscape?
By enabling new capabilities to the organization. There is constantly new competitors and new ways of doing things. There’s a phrase called OODA loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It was developed to train fighter pilots in aerial combat. The idea is that you look around, confirm your location, decide what to do, act, then repeat. If my OODA loop is faster than my enemies, I win the fight, because I’m learning faster and moving faster than he is. What IT needs to do is enable the OODA loop of the business front line to move faster. The question is: Can they facilitate an environment of high speed adaptation and still take care of things like cost, security, reliability, etc.?
6. What’s the secret to finding the balance between these two?
Getting the balance right comes down to a couple of things. One is experimentation, the willingness to try stuff. Can you create context where you can try things and see how they work out? IT also needs a close connection to the leading edge of the business. Really paying attention to what the business is actually demanding to be able to deliver on its needs. Salesforce1 Lightning is a good example of a OODA loop accelerator. Something you can use to develop apps really fast. It takes an understanding of the current situation and enables you to adapt quickly and then iterate.
7. You also recommend that IT build “innovation funnels.”
It takes an awful lot of ideas to find good ones. I’ve been a venture capitalist. We never invested in a company we thought was going to fail. The problem is we didn't know which was which. About a third failed, another third earned their money back, another third began to make more money, and one company made the whole fund. Our ability as humans to judge what is and isn’t a good innovation is very poor. You have to try stuff. That’s one of the huge advantages of the Salesforce1 Platform. IT can build an innovation funnel around the platform for massive experimentation and new potentials. This allows them to try things quickly, come up with apps that are interesting experiments, see what works, and move on.
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