Special Report – Seeing the Tech-Tsunami Before the Impact

As the CIO, you’re responsible for staying abreast of technological changes and making sure your company is using them to increase productivity and efficiency in all areas. But in this second decade of this new century, improving these areas will no longer be enough to provide the competitive advantage your organization will need to stay ahead. You must also apply new technology to create new products, services, and markets that will allow your organization to clamber up on top and ride the wave into a bright and profitable future.

Yes, this is possible … as long as you understand a few key hard trends. Those who don’t will experience massive chaos and dislocation. Those who do will find unprecedented opportunity.

So what exactly does this technological tsunami look like, how big is it, and how fast is it approaching?

To get a clearer picture of the world ahead, it’s helpful to see individual streams within the technological wave. The hard trend of technological advancement flows through eight specific pathways:

  • Dematerialization;
  • Virtualization;
  • Mobility;
  • Product intelligence;
  • Networking;
  • Interactivity;
  • Globalization; and
  • Convergence.

Since first arriving at this list of technology-driven hard trends in the mid-1980s, I have presented it to thousands of audiences, and it has been fascinating to see how people have responded differently over the years. At first, some of these concepts seemed a little arcane or obscure. Not anymore. Today, they have all become everyday household realities — yet still we have barely begun to experience their true power and scope.

The 8 pathways of advancement

Pathway No.1: Dematerialization – As technology improves, we are reducing the amount of material it takes to build the tools we use, subtracting atoms from them even as we improve their capacity and performance. The computer, which soars in speed and memory even as it shrinks in size, is itself a microcosm of modern technology. Computers, among other devices, are getting smaller, lighter, more portable, more economical (in terms of the materials it takes to produce them), and softer in environmental impact. Laptops used to be several inches thick and weigh six or seven pounds; today they use a fraction of the material and accomplish far more than their predecessors — and cost far less.

Whatever your company has, you can make it smaller … that is, if you want to. On the other hand, we don’t necessarily want to make everything smaller, and dematerialization doesn’t necessarily mean miniaturization. For example, we have the capacity to make our cars much, much smaller, but we may not necessarily want that for all models. However, we do want them to be lighter, because then they use less fuel. How do you make something lighter? Dematerialize it.

Pathway No.2: Virtualization – When it comes to IT, CIOs are well aware of virtual storage and virtual desktops. And for those who are looking ahead at what I call hard trends, you can see that we will soon be virtualizing processing power and much more.

A good way to consider broader opportunities using virtualization is to take things we currently do physically and shift the medium so we can now do them purely in a weightless, representational world.

An example of virtualization is simulation. As our technological capacity has increased, our ability to model incredibly complex physical realities in software simulations has grown to amazing proportions. Now we can test airplanes, space ships, and nuclear bombs without actually building them (let alone detonating them!).

Virtualization is transforming our world in ways we’re often not even aware of. Today, for example, the time lag from the moment the engineers at Toyota see a car in their minds to the moment it rolls off the assembly line is a mere 12 months. How can they possibly take a car from concept to completion in such a short time? Advanced simulation and virtualization.

Remember those crash dummies we used to see on television? Today’s newer generation of crash dummies are simulated along with the cars: they are so sophisticated they have a pulse, blood pressure, and other vital signs, which is possible because they exist only virtually. We can even perform a virtual autopsy that lets us see what happened to them internally.

Pathway No.3: Mobility – With advances in wireless bandwidth and availability (along with progressive dematerialization), we are rapidly being de-tethered from everything: telephones, computers, stereos, etc. For example, our primary computing device has shifted from mainframe computers to desktops, then laptops, then palmtops, and now smart phones and tablets.

Ten years ago our software and data all resided on our hard drives and in-house servers. Not anymore. We now use cloud computing and Web-based applications like Google Docs and MobileMe to tap into distant servers, as well as store our data on other servers, allowing our computers to act as “clients.” It is becoming increasingly common to hop onto any computer, anywhere, to work on our proposal, check our appointments, and much more.