Movers and Shakers Eye The Millennium
CIOs, IT managers and vendors give their thoughts and opinions on the future of the IS industry, disappointments in the field, and more.
The dawn of a new millennium provides a unique opportunity; an occasion to review the past – the accomplishments and disappointments – in order to gain closure and to glean whatever lessons experience may hold. It also provides the opportunity to peer into the future and to plan and strategize in the face of uncertainty and change.
As part of this "Visions for the New Millennium" edition, Enterprise Systems Journal asked several IT vendors, all industry leaders in their respective markets, to do just that: Reflect on the past and project into the future.
Those who participated contributed viewpoints that reflected the character not only of their spokespersons, but also of their corporate cultures. They include IBM, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard Company, Computer Associates International, Candle, WRQ, Unisys Corporation, EMC Corporation and Ricoh.
The responses received to the six questions submitted to each company contained familiar themes – the technological watersheds represented by the introduction of the PC and the Internet revolution, the growing importance of e-business, the increasing dependency of business on technology, and the growing need for IT professionals with the ability to harness IT to business objectives and to achieve automation goals in the face of mounting IT skilled labor shortages.
Interspersed with these not too surprising responses were flashes of wit and wisdom: from Computer Associates Senior Vice President Yogesh Gupta’s call to arms for a technology that actually improves the human condition, to Unisys CIO John C. Carrow’s observation that, as much as any technical or business skill, tomorrow’s IT managers will need to cultivate a sense of humor to see them through the challenges that confront their organizations.
Here, then, are the views of nine executives from firms that will likely make a difference in all our lives over the next few years.
ESJ: In your career in the IT industry, what has been the single event or breakthrough technology that has most impacted the corporate IT manager?
David R. Carlucci, General Manager, IBM S/390 Division: What has created the greatest impact on corporate IS managers has been the rate of change in the industry.
In the past decade we have seen tremendous changes – computing power followed Moore’s Law, driving IT from the glass house to the individual. Today, computers aren’t just on every desk, they’re everywhere – from your pager and cell phone to your hand-held organizer and ThinkPad computer, from your car to your home.
At the same time and in the same way that the PC brought power to the individual and threatened the old order, the explosion in growth and use of the Internet ushered in a new democracy – some would say anarchy – of computer use. The Internet and intranets are leading to larger changes – e-business is about more than computers, it’s about the way companies operate internally and connect with partners and customers. And it’s not slowing down.
The impact on IS managers has been to force them to a new way of thinking and acting – at Internet speed – to help users and the corporation adapt at the same speed of light.
John C. Carrow, CIO, Unisys Corporation: The personal computer. Everything started to change when the PC came out. When you look at the IT billionaires that have been made, they all stem from the demand to support and surround the PC – be it software systems, network capacity, and now, the Web. The PC opened the door for everybody to be involved in the industry as a consumer and user of technology. However, we’re still walking through that door and we face more change in the years ahead.
Aubrey Chernick, Chairman and CEO, Candle Corporation: The major event of the IT industry during my career was the combination of internal intranets linked together via the world wide Internet. This capability provided ubiquitous access to information both within the corporation as well as across businesses – while also providing consumer access to information and facilitating e-commerce capabilities.
Yogesh Gupta, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Computer Associates International: There has been more than one IS nexus that has altered business conduct but none has been more important than the Internet, which most people became aware of with the acceptance of the Web paradigm. Although the technological underpinnings were introduced and refined gradually, the exploding level of awareness made it seem that, suddenly, anybody who could load a browser had global access to the world’s information. We are still trying to fathom all the dimensions of the historic shift, but obviously it is having a profound impact on the role of the IS manager, as they are increasingly called upon to not just enable, but drive business and service initiatives.
Jim Rothnie, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Technical Officer, EMC Corporation: It may seem a very nearsighted look in the rear-view mirror, but I believe the most important thing that has ever happened to corporate IS is happening now. It’s the arrival of the Internet. Because the Internet puts a company’s customers directly in contact with its information systems, it raises the importance of IS far more than anything in history. This is both an opportunity and a threat to IS. It’s an opportunity if the organization embraces it, recognizes its profound business importance, and moves on it with breathtaking speed. It’s a threat if IS takes a business-as-usual approach to deployment.
I visited a large New York financial institution to visit the executive vice president responsible for Web programs. He wasn’t the CIO – in fact he didn’t know the name of the CIO. If IS doesn’t move quickly on the Internet, someone else will.
Doug Walker, CEO, WRQ: The most significant change for corporate IS is that it is moving from being the support to existing core business functions to being the actual core business function. There is a fundamental shift in the mechanism of business, and a revolution in the way their customers, suppliers, partners, investors and employees interact. Of course, much of this is being brought to the forefront by the Internet. And the IS organization is central to this revolution.
For many established companies, IS must provide leverage to maximize its existing investments in legacy systems and applications while extending access to the applications and information resources required for e-business. Some may argue that if not for the PC revolution we would not even have this change going on, and, as Sir Isaac Newton said, "I stand on the shoulders of giants," so does the revolution brought about by the Internet stand on many other events leading up to it. The PC brought computing power into the hands of many, but it just did not change business processes the way the Internet has.
Selby Wellman, Senior Vice President, InterWorks Business Division, Cisco Systems: Clearly, the Internet Revolution. It is transforming internal business processes to an open systems architecture, versus the proprietary architectures that have dominated the industry over the past 25 years.
Les Wilson, Worldwide Mission-Critical Solutions Manager, Hewlett-Packard Company: In a period of huge innovation, it is difficult to choose just one! My view is that the introduction of PC systems in the 1980s was the biggest breakthrough in IT to date. The PC brought computing to the "people" and enabled the massive distribution of applications and data – in addition, the PC prepared both businesses and consumers for the innovations and functions now delivered by the Internet. The impact of the PC on the corporate IS manager was huge – imposing new disciplines for management, security, networking and user support.
Stephen Weyl, President of the Advanced Development Center, Ricoh Silicon Valley Inc.: Without a doubt, the rise of Internet Computing has impacted IS managers the most and will impact them even more in the future. By Internet Computing, I am referring to computing based on Internet technologies and protocols, whether they are contained within a company’s intranet, or resident in the global Internet cloud. At incredible speed, in "Internet years," it changes the economics of the information economy and transforms fundamental business processes.
The new Internet processes range from marketing communications to sales and order taking to distribution, and from planning to internal logistics. The Internet will increase the efficiency, throughput and speed of the world’s micro- and macro-economies to a degree unprecedented, and far more rapid to take effect than the industrial revolution. It will be the job of IS to transform all of the processes that it has built support for over the past 20 years to Internet technologies in a few years.
ESJ: What has been the most disappointing aspect of the high-tech industry?
Carlucci, IBM: The corporate IS manager deals with complexity on a daily basis. However, the rate at which technology is changing in the industry has introduced a new, intensified complexity that has hindered fast implementation. So, the inability of the managers of the larger IS infrastructure to integrate this new technology has been disappointing. A larger share of the responsibility, however, has to rest with the IT industry, which, while it had been concentrating on faster, better, cheaper computing, lost sight of the costs and complexity involved in implementing the next best thing.
Carrow, Unisys: Overall, systems are still too hard to use. We have tremendous capabilities and some aspects are easy to use, but we need to go further. We’ve got it in the hands of businesspeople now, rather than highly skilled technicians. But if you compare IT ease of use to the automobile, we’re still in the Model T era. We have to do a lot to make things easier than they are.
Chernick, Candle: Until recently, the business value of high technology had been mostly relegated productivity improvements associated with the back-office capabilities. The CEO has constantly been disappointed with the IT department’s failure to deliver against the dream of helping the corporation by providing strategic (versus operational) facilitation.
Gupta, Computer Associates: On a personal level, I can’t say I’ve had many disappointments working in this industry. An upside surprise has been the default operating mode. However, I would say that there are many opportunities to use advanced technology for improving the human condition. For example, if we could wed neural networking technology with geological systems, perhaps we could at least cut down on earthquake casualties by giving more specific and advanced warnings. I also see medical research, with emerging technologies, such as wearable computers, biosystems and genetic algorithms, as fertile ground – but let me stress that with Web sites like Missing Children, technology is already being deployed in creative ways to help people in really meaningful ways. The opportunities seem boundless...
Rothnie, EMC: Artificial intelligence. Thirty years ago, we were all sure that computers would be able to perform tasks requiring human-like intelligence well before the end of the century. Many thought that computers would exceed human intelligence by now. But even the most basic human skills, like understanding this paragraph as I speak it, is beyond today’s technology.
Walker, WRQ: When I was first learning about computers and read about them in science fiction, there was no anticipation of the ubiquity of the machines and the power of individual devices that we have today (e.g., Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) – but there was this vision of incredibly intelligent systems. We really aren’t at that point, and it does disappoint me. In some ways, our focus on the PC over the past 20 years may have kept us from developing truly intelligent systems. Going forward, we will have to develop truly intelligent and powerful large-scale enterprise systems.
Wellman, Cisco Systems: Communications bandwidth has not been able to keep up with demand for the global networked applications.
Wilson, Hewlett-Packard: It’s continued complexity – which continues to make IT a "black art." The recent success of the iMac has shown that simplicity is key and a huge competitive advantage to companies that get it right.
Weyl, Ricoh: My greatest disappointment of high technology is the unreliability and unnecessary complexity of the Wintel PC. From an IS perspective, we’ve only scratched the potential of the productivity of the PC and this inability to meet the "promise of the PC" has been enormously frustrating. The complexity of the PC has not changed in the past 15 years and continues to be a point of intimidation to the uninitiated. The answer to this is functional focused "appliance" products that make it easy for users to accomplish well-defined work tasks.
ESJ: What technology issue will most confound the IT manager in the next year? The next five years?
Carlucci, IBM: The rate of growth in e-business and e-commence is dizzying. And it shows no signs of abating.
Carrow, Unisys: Right now people are scratching their heads about the technology issues around e-business on the Internet. There’s a sense of urgency to do more within an e-business context, but not yet a clear understanding of what is required from a functional or business perspective – nor what the real gain is. I think in the next five years we will have figured out how to use e-business profitably and made a lot of things simpler, but we will still struggle with making the right information available all the time. Also, with the powerful technologies we are now deploying, we will have to look at minimizing human error – the blunder factor – or face increasing numbers of mission-critical risks. We are already dependent on the technology and that means we must master it at each moment.
Chernick, Candle: The tremendous increase in complexity caused by integrating disparate systems. In the past, the challenge was to marry a diverse set of silo systems that were not integrated and often unconnected. Technologies, such as EAI, connected technical and culture islands – most of which were not natively designed to work with each other. Additionally, the Internet and B2B (business-to-business) capabilities connect businesses. The combinations of technology that is integrated for IT through hard-wired integration (versus loose coupling) will often increase "software cholesterol" that will clog the corporate process and business arteries to a dangerous level.
Gupta, Computer Associates: The IS manager will always confront the basic challenge of finding the most powerful and innovative, yet efficient means of placing technology in the service of business. Harnessing technology for business growth will be the main goal, so IS management must fight to promote and conduct intelligent business, not merely install "Business Intelligence" software.
Rothnie, EMC: In the next year, Internet implementations. The next five years? Effectively managing the vast amount of information that will be in online systems by then. I think it will approach 100 times the amount online today.
Walker, WRQ: In the next year, the e-business challenge is going to become more and more of an issue. As I said earlier, most IS managers have to deal with integrating existing legacy systems into their e-business initiatives. It’s an easy thing to say, but so much harder to do. Longer term, the most troubling issue will be the management of e-business applications. The complexity and volume of business computing and communications applications is growing much faster than our ability to simplify, consolidate and manage the entire system end-to-end.
Wellman, Cisco Systems: In the next year, the issue that will most trouble IS managers will be adding Internet applications fast enough to meet the demand from their users. In the next five years, managing the new world networks using integrated data, voice and video.
Wilson, Hewlett-Packard: In the next year, the major technology issue for IS managers is the need to react to the business opportunities offered by the Internet. All enterprises (".com" start-ups, ISPs, ASPs and established companies) need to build a Web-enabled mission-critical infrastructure on which e-business applications can be deployed quickly and reliably. A corollary to this is the need to integrate new front-end applications (e.g., e-commerce) with existing back-office systems (e.g., billing, supply-chain).
In the next five years, IS managers will struggle with the need to develop and manage Web-based applications that can support literally millions of users and devices. These applications will also need to integrate effectively "on the fly" with different systems developed by other companies in order to offer "e-services."
Weyl, Ricoh: Managing the corporate migration to Internet Computing is the huge challenge for IT managers over the next five years.
Remember the effects the PC had on the IT structure as it migrated slowly into the corporate landscape? Far more rapidly, individuals, workgroups and enterprise leaders will be migrating to network application services and appliances. An important step will be the adoption of Internet appliances and services for managing all of a workgroup’s documents and communications electronically, which will help customers cope with information overload and make collaboration efficient.
ESJ: What will be the surprise breakthrough technology or strategy in the next two years?
Carlucci, IBM: If we knew the answer would it be a surprise? Seriously, the breakthrough will be the growth of a trend in software that’s already realized with hardware.
Advances in technology have driven great improvements in servers – today they’re far more powerful and more efficient than many would have guessed just five years ago. The S/390 G6 Server, for example, is 1/20 the size and more than four times as powerful as predecessor systems. At the same time, it is far more open and adaptable than anyone thought a mainframe ever would be. The next step will be in software, as the pervasive acceptance of Java and component-based applications spread from the desktop to the data center and to the technology we all use all the time. I think we’ll be surprised at how ordinary it will seem to use Internet-based technologies as an alternate delivery system for many everyday activities.
Carrow, Unisys: If I knew that, I would be a venture capitalist. Seriously, to look for possible surprises, I would focus on a couple of areas: one, this whole need for convergence of telecommunications – phone, video, TV, Web, cable, voice, data. Look for breakthrough technology to make that convergence happen. I think along with convergence is a complementary area called data synthesis. We must mine the huge amount of data into a clear enterprise picture. The question is how to find a way to the precise information, how to manage the knowledge. Whether it’s sophisticated search engines, algorithms, indices or other ways, breakthrough technology will be required to make sense of the mountain of data.
Chernick, Candle: E-business networks will enable business and components to interoperate on a flexible and scalable basis. The result will improve process management within and between companies, enabling them to respond more rapidly to customer needs.
Gupta, Computer Associates: I think that organizations which develop the best techniques for providing differentiable service levels, especially for conducting e-business, will have an edge. I see the advent of intelligent software, especially when embedded into the business infrastructure, as being key to this development. It will be essential for telling organizations about their customers so that an appropriate amount of resource will be brought to bear in service of clients. An old cliché is "you can’t tell the players without a scorecard." The scorecard was the initial means of conveying context at sporting events. Well, technology – radio and television – changed that by adding pre-game shows and after-action analysis. For e-commerce, Web sites will need to be improved with intelligent software for delivering business context – it will provide the pre-game show, the playbook, the program and even the profits. Everything but the post-game party ... for that, it’s better to add people!
Rothnie, EMC: Storage will emerge as a completely separate piece of IT infrastructure, like networks are today. Within a few years you will never buy a computer that comes with storage. Just like you never buy a computer that comes with a network today. Instead, storage capacity will be accessed via a plug in the wall. Treating storage as a manageable element of corporate infrastructure will help us handle the hundredfold growth in data.
Walker, WRQ: I have great hopes for wireless connectivity. Today, we mostly see only nascent, vertical applications. But real-time, secure and reliable wireless connectivity can make a real difference in how we work, where we work, and how others can work with us. People want to be untethered, but with their critical information at hand. You can see that from all the small-footprint devices being carried around. But they still, ultimately, have to be wired to get their data. We need to get away from that, and there are breakthroughs that we will see very soon.
Wellman, Cisco Systems: The rapid development of integrated data, voice and video network infrastructure solutions.
Wilson, Hewlett-Packard: If I could answer this question, then it would not be a "surprise!" Right now, we are seeing the start of Web services and applications designed exclusively for mobile devices (e.g., cell phones, PDAs, cars). I think this will drive a tremendous amount of innovation and new business opportunity.
Weyl, Ricoh: The office appliance revolution will be a significant strategy shift. Appliances, as we define them, come out-of-the-box, easily snap into existing networks and quickly enable an entire office workgroup to be more productive – without disrupting the existing environment.
Networked office appliances make maximum use of open Internet technologies and leading-edge conversion, translation, retrieval and presentation software [where] … information is … held in a reliable, secure and easily managed database, and can be retrieved instantly from any connected Web browser.
ESJ: What do you see as the number one responsibility of corporate IT in tomorrow’s business?
Carlucci, IBM: The responsibility of IT managers will be to develop an infrastructure that can accommodate this rapid growth while simultaneously dealing with the rate of change in applications. In other words, the manager must be flexible enough and swift enough to deal with the needs of external and internal customers in a business environment characterized by a quicksilver rate of change.
IS managers need to understand that the reality of the "Web Year," this supersonic rate of change in the industry, is not going away. Above all, corporate IS must build its infrastructure on a base of flexibility to deal effectively with change.
Carrow, Unisys: I think number one is the rapid innovation of solutions to move the business in a direction of greater competitiveness. Competition and speed by which businesses are emerging and taking over markets from each other will be intensified. The IT manager has a business role to play. Business management may not recognize when they’re going to get "Amazoned," that is, lose market share to an e-business player. The IT manager has to be in a position of helping to put the alert signals out about competitive technology, help drive the strategic direction, and help maintain competitiveness in an intensified marketplace.
Chernick, Candle Corporation: Tomorrow’s IS managers will be charged with designing, creating and operating a flexible and open IT infrastructure that enables businesses to react quickly to the unforeseeable changes in customer demands, global competition, government regulations and changing technologies.
Gupta, Computer Associates: I see changes, but fundamental responsibilities will remain. As I said earlier, my philosophy is that IS managers should work toward reducing the IS equivalent of coefficient of drag (CD), by which I mean facilitating organizational service and product delivery with minimal loss of momentum, while deploying enabling technologies. The trend will continue to develop where IS suggests creative new uses of technology for business differentiation. So, although baseline responsibilities won’t change, we will increasingly be expected to secure the "first mover" advantage for our organizations.
Rothnie, EMC: Insuring that customers have a reliable and satisfying experience when they interact with our companies via the Internet.
Walker, WRQ: To contribute to revenue-generating activities. IS is no longer in the position of just cutting costs, but is a major component of the revenue stream. If IS becomes the core business function, then it becomes a revenue-generating organization.
Wellman, Cisco Systems: To use the Internet as a competitive advantage in the operation of their organization’s business.
Wilson, Hewlett-Packard: Simple. Develop IT skills, infrastructures and the capability to support new business strategies and opportunities quickly, with low overhead and at the lowest total cost. Time-to-market, speed and agility are key in tomorrow’s world.
Weyl, Ricoh: The IS manager’s responsibility will be to manage the relationship between the corporate information systems and the global information network. Outsourcing opportunities and security issues will be critically important. The focus of harnessing technology to meet specific corporate needs will expand to one of harnessing global information needs, while protecting proprietary corporate information flow.
ESJ: What skills will the 21st century IT manager need?
Carlucci, IBM: IT managers will need to develop a broader perspective of skills than is required of them today. It’s obvious that they will need to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology, but additionally, they’ll need to develop keen business and strategic leadership skills. From a business perspective, IT managers will be required to think creatively. They will need to wed their knowledge of technology and their customers with a vision of the opportunities e-business can provide. This will yield a more innovative business strategy.
As a strategic leader, IT managers will need to provide direction, develop aggressive strategies and execute those strategies. That’s a given. But increasingly the IT manager will need to take appropriate risks and lead change. They’ll need to be a partner in creating adaptive, self-renewing organizations that can habitually and quickly respond to external changes in technology, competition and customers’ needs.
Carrow, Unisys: Strong leadership. Good business acumen. Collaborative skills to deal effectively with a broad set of constituencies. Good technical background. And a sense of humor.
Chernick, Candle: The 21st century IT manager must be able to manage the combination of technical and IT cultural interoperability – all fused together to support the business imperatives of being able to turn on a dime in response to supporting ever-changing and unknown future business conditions.
Gupta, Computer Associates: The 21st century IT manager will need to be more of a business-savvy technologist than has previously been the case. An essential skill will be adopting and customizing prepackaged infrastructure components to build better services for the organization. IT managers must be able to surf on a sea of shrink-wrapped technology while simultaneously keeping their eyes on the horizon for the next big wave of opportunity. Gone are the "roll your own" days when knowing the nuances of a query language, or a superior sorting algorithm, provide competitive advantage to the company ... so managers who came to the fore because of those talents will be less prevalent. The 21st century IT manager will be more in tune with customer service than compiler theory ... and that will be good for everybody.
Rothnie, EMC: Great facility and imagination in applying technical tools to the core tasks of our businesses. That requires at least as much understanding of business as of technology.
Walker, WRQ: Well, if you’re a revenue-generating organization, you have to have fundamental business skills. And because so much of the business that IS will be involved in will be regulated by security and privacy issues, it will be necessary to have an innate understanding of the regulatory and cultural requirements for doing business. And because of the inevitable labor shortages, an IT manager has to be very, very good at recruiting and motivating a work force. People and management skills will be central to success.
Wellman, Cisco Systems: In addition to all of the skills of the past, one important one will be added to the list: managing and responding to the warp speed changes coming with the Internet Revolution. One [skill] that needs to be enhanced is that of motivating and retaining key IS personnel.
Wilson, Hewlett-Packard: I expect that the IT manager will become more of a "broker" of IT services, and less of a "technology" wizard. He or she will take more of an active role in formulating business strategy and plans. In many information-based companies (e.g., the ".coms"), IT will become the only "distribution channel." In this environment, the skills required become more akin to CEO than CIO. The 21st century IT manager should therefore be more entrepreneurial, open to innovation, risk/reward focused, be decisive, quick-to-act and yet capable of sound judgment. He or she must demonstrate charisma, leadership and motivation skills and be capable of developing a unique IT culture in his or her business. Last, but not least, the IT manager must be able to partner and manage complex business relationships.
Weyl, Ricoh: The IT manager of the 21st century must be able to manage Internet systems and outsourced application and business services … The IT manager will need to focus more on business solutions rather than managing technology components.
About the Author: Jon William Toigo is an independent writer and consultant and long-time contributor to ESJ. He is the author of eight books in this millennium, including The Holy Grail of Data Storage Management and Disaster Recovery Planning, 2nd Edition. He can be reached at email@example.com.
...And the Shakers
As you read this, more than a hundred million calendars and clocks are registering the waning moments of the 20th century. As with any ending, the passage into a new millennium signals a time to reflect: What have we accomplished? Where have we failed? What new ideas have yet to arise?
As part of this "Visions for the New Millennium" edition, Enterprise Systems Journal asked several CIOs and IT managers, all respected managers in their fields, to do just that – reflect on the past, think about the future, and even do a little crystal ball gazing.
To help them in their task, six pre-determined questions were posed, to take a reading of sorts, at this point in the century. We spoke to six people whose work exemplifies the forward thinking that helps drive the IT industry.
Those who were asked are heading some of the most leading edge IT shops in manufacturing, distribution, finance and education. They include Robin N. Barrett, Senior Vice President of Technologies, American Express International; Ed Ohanian, Director of Enterprise Technology Services, Wendy’s International; Joe Horlander, Manager of North American Manufacturing Systems, Seagram Americas; Dr. Bernie Domanski, Professor in the Computer Science Department of the City University of New York (CUNY); Tom Ross, Vice President of the Information Systems Division, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.; and Jon Steele, Vice President of Network Computing Services, Union Planter’s Bank.
Most agree that tomorrow’s IT manager better be immersed in the business aspect of computing as well as the technology. As an IT manager, how would you answer these questions? But more importantly, are you truly prepared for the next millennium?
ESJ: In your career in the IT industry, what has been the single event, breakthrough or technology that has most impacted the corporate IT manager?
Robin N. Barrett, Senior Vice President of Technologies, American Express International: I would say there are several important events that led to the creation of modern computing. But, based on the changes we’ve seen, I would say that the personal computer has been one of the most important technology changes that has impacted the corporate IS manager. The desktops continue to proliferate throughout the world and are now seen as a required tool in every office. The IT organization is usually responsible for implementation, upgrades and ongoing support.
My second place would go to the advent of the relational database. It remains to be seen just how important the relational database will be, as we continue into the next millennium. Clearly, though, companies throughout the world rely on the relational database to manage critical business information.
Ed Ohanian, Director of Enterprise Technology Services, Wendy’s International: In my career the biggest breakthrough, I would have to say, is the ERP packages. ERP has an impact on IT, to be sure, but it also changes the way we run our business. It integrates the enterprise more than any application on any platform could.
Joe Horlander, Manager, North American Manufacturing Systems, Seagram Americas: Networking technology, most specifically, wide area networks, have had the most impact over the past years. When networking was a function of the proprietary connections between the organization’s host system and its users, our world was simpler, if not more restrictive. The networks have "become the system," to a large degree.
Dr. Bernie Domanski, Professor, Computer Science Department, CUNY: I believe modeling tools have really been a godsend to the IS manager. Instead of acquiring tons of computing hardware, we were able to scale the acquisition process to match business demands as well as projected demands using a series of "what-if" scenarios.
Tom Ross, Vice President, Information Systems Division, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.: To me, it is the Internet. I don’t think we’ve seen its full impact yet. But it is already making a dramatic change to business. The traditional IS organization is not set up to keep pace with it. The Internet is already shaking up the playing field. For example, we are finding, at Honda, that we have customers who are also our competitors.
Any company, if it is going to stay in business, must establish relationships with prospects and customers in every conceivable way. The Internet is an important pathway to new relationships. The company that maintains the best relationships is the one that will survive. Take, for example, Amazon.com. The company is not really in the book business. They are instead aggregating relationships and future ventures with their clients.
Jon Steele, Vice President of Network Computing Services, Union Planter’s Bank: From an IT perspective, I believe that the wide area network is one of the most important breakthroughs. It provides the enterprise with the ability to communicate across broad spans, as well as manage the network from a single, central point. Any firm that has remote offices in geographically diverse areas will derive benefits from central WAN management.
ESJ: What has been the most disappointing aspect of the high-tech industry?
Barrett: The failure of "English-like" fourth generation languages to deliver on their promise.
Ohanian: We in IS continue to do battle with proprietary solutions that lock us in to a single vendor’s solution package. Take e-mail, for example. One package can’t talk or work with another. The vendors continue to talk about "open systems," but we are continually mired in packages that keep us from truly talking across the enterprise. I don’t need to remind anyone that, after all these years, our PC, middle tier and host platforms are still very separate worlds. When will there be a cross-platform, cross-discipline, general-purpose OS?
I would venture a second major disappointment is working with people who at one time knew their stuff, but have fallen behind and refuse to admit it or put out the effort to get up to speed on today’s technology. Sending someone that fits this profile to training is a waste of time and money.
Horlander: The high-tech industry, for all its creativity, seems to have a difficult time avoiding the game "follow the ‘mind share’ leader." In an earlier era, there was the security of knowing that a decision to utilize a certain technology provider known by reference to the color of a cloudless sky. Currently, there seems a grudging resignation within our ranks to follow the "softly" named leader.
Domanski: Let me speak from a performance management perspective. I would say it is the overabundance of performance measurement metrics. Systems people collect every subtle nuance and permutation, filling entire disk farms with useless trivia. To a very large extent, much of the data is worthless stuff and it is sad to see it taking up valuable space, coupled with little to no understanding of why it was collected in the first place.
Ross: Following on Joe [Horlander’s] thought, I believe that we, as an industry, have not fully lived up to our customer/user’s expectations in terms of system delivery. We continue to struggle to deliver new and changed systems on a timely basis. While a small number of people have mastered IT system delivery, most of us have not done a job we can be proud of. The systems organizations are going to have to radically change their process in order to meet tighter turnaround deadlines. The Cisco model and the future automobile flexible assembly models may well be the wave of the future. We very possibly are headed toward JIT (just-in-time) systems.
Steele: Two years ago there was a lot of hoopla concerning network computers. Sadly, a number of companies wasted their time considering how these appliances might be integrated. Some wasted corporate resources and money as well on this IT dead end. With PC prices plummeting, there was never a good reason to "dumb back down" to a 3270 with a GUI.
ESJ: What technology issue will most confound the IT manager in the next year? The next five years?
Barrett: The issue centers on the growth of the Web as a business resource. Today’s industry still relies on a cadre of good people who have honed their mainframe skills over a period of years. The people challenge for the new millennium will be to re-educate and re-deploy employees with these legacy skill sets in a way that balances legacy demand with the burgeoning Web demands. We owe it to our loyal employees with legacy skills to help them move toward the newer skills; we can’t afford to wait if our shareholders are going to win in "Internet time."
Ohanian: I also think staffing issues are very critical to IT success. It’s easy to say we need bright, capable technical people. But finding the right person with the right skills for a particular job and a specific work environment is really hard to do. I would love to have more people who can relate to other humans and build some synergy on the job. It seems like a number of otherwise bright IT people left their interactive listening skills behind them, somewhere in college. When projects fail to deliver, my first suspicion is that people simply weren’t communicating effectively with one another.
Horlander: Within these next years, we will continue to wrestle with matching network architectures to our business requirements.
Domanski: I agree that staffing is a threat to be dealt with. But again, from a performance perspective, I think we are going to have trouble getting our arms around availability … and IS managers will go nuts trying to find out the response time for e-commerce stuff.
Availability is going to be increasingly important, even though people only interact with what looks like one Web site. There is a whole chain of events that takes place when someone places an order for goods. There could be a warehouse or external supplier who has to see, and then fulfill an order. This example could be far more complex and cascade back a couple of levels.
Are all machines up and available when the transaction is sent? Assuming they are, how responsive are they? Like a house of cards, one poorly performing router on a flaky network can bring the process to its knees. The manager stands accused of having bad response time on his or her Web site, when in fact the problem or problems could easily be anywhere in the chain.
Ross: Regarding staffing issues, I would add, we face a tremendous challenge to change the organization to meet future requirements. How do you structure and supply technology when you don’t know who your future competitors will be? Even in the somewhat more traditional auto sales/distribution business, a competitor can emerge without warning.
Steele: End users have gotten used to a faster pace with high reliability and shorter waits. They have come to expect quick response time. They believe IT should be just as quick, just as responsive. They are not tolerant of any wait, even if it is for testing. Ironically, today’s technology changes and arrives at a pace that strongly suggests the need for testing before implementation. Quality gets pinched and IT feels the pain.
ESJ: What will be the surprise breakthrough technology or strategy in the next two years?
Barrett: I don’t think anyone can know for certain exactly what new technology will come into the forefront and be a predominate industrywide choice. There are a lot of quality vendors out there that would give anything to be the next IBM, Oracle or Microsoft. We’ve seen our share of products that were excellent but missed the market by being around too soon. We’ve all also seen products that didn’t keep pace or failed to negotiate a precipitous change in industry direction.
Having said all that, I believe that convergence of existing technologies will play an increasingly important role in the next two years. Interactive capabilities spanning the Web, cable and telephone are very feasible – even today. Wide-band communications for home entertainment users will marry the various media in new and creative ways. No single technology will predominate. Flat screen panels will become cheaper to produce and will become affordable as wall-size television screens and computer monitors, opening up dramatic new opportunities for the interactive "experiences" industry.
Ohanian: Unlike Robin [Barrett], I brought a crystal ball from my office and I will reveal, possibly for the first time, to your readers what is coming. I believe OS/390 will run NT and UNIX. I see us doing away with "server farms" in the next four years. Mark my words.
Horlander: I’m not sure one needs a crystal ball for the prediction I will make. Tom [Ross] mentioned it. Watch for Internet-based connectivity as an emerging option for enterprise systems.
Domanski: I predict the possibility of data mining packages finally coming into their own. I see data mining as a tool to help in the planning for a complex system. It has taken a long time for people to begin to recognize the validity of data mining. Robin [Barrett’s] remark about things coming too soon to the market seems to apply when we talk about data mining packages. Prices on the big packages have dropped significantly. That means more people can (and will) purchase the software. The more people use it, the more firms begin to reap the benefits. Underlying relationships that characterize an organization’s business will be discovered and used to increase that organization’s competitive edge.
Ross: I can’t predict a timeline yet, but we will soon be able to purchase libraries of functionality from which we will assemble new systems. The paradigm of developing, coding and testing an application takes too long to reach the market. The paradigm of customizing a "vanilla" package is also too time-consuming and laborious. The next step is when we can match the system development process deliverables in real time to what the business wants.
If this rapid deployment concept occurs, it will have a profound effect on the IT staff. The skills will be radically different and the organization will change dramatically. System integration will be called upon to be more extensively involved when rapid deployment projects are initiated.
Steele: From a network perspective I expect to see private networks begin to disappear. In the next five years, bandwidth will disappear as an issue. I expect to see a common network that is powerful and reliable, not unlike today’s phone systems.
ESJ: What do you see as the number one responsibility of IT in tomorrow’s business?
Barrett: There is a more refined mission for the CIO in the next century. It is one of being a transformational catalyst for the CEO. As such, he or she needs to generate revenue for the shareholders at a fraction of the cost of current technology. The corporate IS unit needs to be an integral part of the business, not a supplier of technology. No matter how responsive, the "service delivery" model is, it is the kiss of death for an IS department that has failed to integrate its mission with the focus of the enterprise.
Ohanian: I would add that we need to focus on the business needs, not the desires. We have to avoid getting sidetracked by "low-hanging fruit." This idea is much tougher to deliver than it is to talk about. When it comes to the people in the departments who ask us for systems, needs and desires are sometimes very difficult to distinguish. More often we need to get to the need and make sure it is a tangible item we can deliver. Desires can be very seductive. We have to stay focused on our mission.
Horlander: The responsibility we face tomorrow is the same one we have always faced: Understand and react to the business’ needs with economically efficient, enabling technologies. This is an art, not a science.
Domanski: The question corporate IS must ask, and I think I’m seconding Ed [Ohanian’s] point, is "How can IS help the company be more competitive?," especially if IS is deemed as critical to the success of the company. It’s taken a long time to remove the pointless discussion of "my area is OK, it must be you..." That simply won’t cut it anymore.
Ross: No question about it. We have to partner with the business to enable it to compete in the marketplace. We have all stated basically the same message. That is because it is so important.
Steele: It is a balancing act with very high stakes. We have to keep up with the knowledge curve, yet avoid the "whiz bang" solutions that are being marketed as the greatest technology innovation of our time. We must assess each emerging technology, software or framework to see if it makes business sense.
To illustrate the challenge we face, I use an analogy of a surgeon who is forced to remove the appendix of a marathon runner while he is competing in a race. It is a daunting assignment and our patient/company must finish the race.
ESJ: What skills will the 21st century IT manager need?
Barrett: I would prefer to use the broader term "competencies." But let me first set the expectations that will be in place. The IT manager will have to carve out success with a work force that is a third of the size of today’s headcount. Large portions of the "grunt work" will, like any commodity, be outsourced.
The team he or she will rely on will be a core cadre of world-class IT professionals and visionaries. The manager must have a number of talents including: 1) innovation, 2) creativity, 3) maintaining a bottom line focus, 4) supporting and giving priority to efforts that increase revenue, while paying close attention to minimizing overhead and waste.
Ohanian: I see the manager needing to be able to manage multiple priorities and delivering results using a given set of technologies before one or more of them becomes obsolete. The upgrade game is a high stakes gamble. If you jump to Windows 2000, you risk being incompatible with the rest of the world. If you elect to stay with Windows 95, you are pressured from all corners to get the "better" release, which can solve a bunch of problems. The "bleeding edge" is gone. It has been replaced by walking barefoot on razors.
Horlander: Robin [Barrett] and Ed [Ohanian] raise excellent points in their answers. At the risk of repeating some earlier wisdom, as IT managers, we must refine our listening and analytical skills. These will allow us to use the correct judgement in assembling the available technologies to apply to our business.
Domanski: They have to deal with a bunch of "lunatic" computer people! (Laughter) We seem to have more than our share of nuts. A good manager must be able to take eccentricities in stride and get the best from each of his or her people.
The manager in the next century must also make a concerted effort to understand modern application development tools such as Java, C++ and other Microsoft offerings like Visual Basic. He or she will have to deal with what the kids in school are learning and using. I see this all the time. They get their hands on powerful compilers to write tons of monstrous, horrible code. These young people will need guidance and a firm disciplinarian to model their emerging creativity into a business-centric approach where standards usually apply.
Ross: Today’s first line IT manager needs to know 75 percent about the technology and 15 percent about the business. Today’s CIO focuses on 90 percent business and 10 percent technology. That will be changing. I don’t believe the 21st century line manager in IT will need to know as much about the technology. Even though we are not at a "plug and play," I believe it will become a reality.
With more savvy users, who truly know what a system is and what it should do, it means that next century IT managers will be asked to add value in a very different way. They have to help marry the technology to the business, speed delivery of services and support the transition as business objectives change.
To those IT managers in training today, if you are looking to immerse yourself in technology without paying much attention to the business, don’t look to a retail firm or auto manufacturer as a place to find career fulfillment. You would be better off working in a high-tech company.
Steele: He or she must wear a number of hats. The next century manager has to build a business case that clearly demonstrates to the CEO and the corporate board room that there is a bond between the IT investment on one side of the balance sheet and the returns that register within the company’s profit centers. The manager is an accountant, a skilled juggler, a futurist, in addition to being a technologist.
About the Author: Bill Pike has been immersed in nearly every phase of IT for well over 15 years. A frequent contributor to ESJ, he recently completed a bimonthly column covering the impact of the emerging euro. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.