As part of my work with Architecture & Governance Magazine, I had the opportunity to review a new book: Blown to Bits. The following conversation will appear in the October issue of A&G.
A&G sat down with the Ken Ledeen and Harry Lewis, the authors (along with IEEE Fellow Hal Abelson) to discuss their new book, Blown To Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion. (www.bitsbook.com)
The authors paint a profound picture of the risks and rewards of our techno-enhanced future. In particular, we wanted to get their insight to the implications of every accelerating technological power on the legacy processes of the enterprise.
A&G: Much debate has occurred around the future of IT in a distributed, open-sourced, service oriented world. How do large IT organizations have to change in the decade ahead in order to adapt to the new structures of society, information and business.
BtB: We talk about how institutions move so much more slowly than technology. This is clearly seen in the world of legislation, and how the legal system has a hard time keeping pace with technology change. Global 2000 organizations, while smaller than governments, will likely continue to move the governance mechanisms forward quite slowly in the decade ahead.
Look inside traditional IT organizations. How many COBOL and mainframe programmers do they still have? Lots more than you might imagine. Changes are slow to come about because the IT organization is typically focused on guarding corporate assets.
Organizations that have a lot to preserve become very conservative. On the other hand, organizations without a legacy to manage can become extraordinarily innovative and have the opportunity to surpass the legacy institution.
On the other hand, one of the real opportunities for large IT organizations in the decade ahead is to create enormous value by mining the information that they collected as collateral aspects of their normal business. Leading organizations are finding ways to get at these vast storehouses in information and translate that information to insight and value. This is a place where strategic IT and enterprise architecture can play a major role.
A&G: What do you see as the future of enterprise in the United States?
BtB: There is a tremendous amount of innovation taking place in entrepreneurial companies, and that is also spreading to other forums. And it takes large organizations with their span of resources and influence to apply these innovations. The risk among large corporations is that they miss out on embracing these new organizational paradigms.
As an example, we discuss about how Search is a new organizational paradigm in the book. Enterprises were built with physical buildings that had rooms filled with file cabinets of information. That metaphor carried forward into the digital age with file folders and windows and directory structures. Search turns that paradigm on its head. Search says you don’t categorize, you find. While this concept came from small companies, it is now finding a foothold across the largest enterprises, which are the repositories of so much undiscovered value.
Even Google continues to morph itself. It is no longer “just” a search company. It is becoming a storage and retrieval company – understanding the value locked in the unstructured data of the world – for companies that don’t consider information as their main product.
A decade ago, the question was about outsourcing my hardware. Do I want to outsource it. Should I go to India to make that happen? More recently, the question turned to outsourcing the application stack. A critical question of the near future is: Do I outsource my data? Not just the storage of it, but the management, care, feeding, and curation of it.
Are the employees at Google better in tune with the Enterprise Architecture approach of managing the inconnectivity of that data, the relationships that exist through it, and the associated value that can be captured from understanding those non obvious relationships – rather than your typical IT organization?
If I am an insurance company, I know the relationship between policy and policyholder, but I no doubt have tremendous insight buried in the related grid of information assets that I don’t have a clue about uncovering. This offers both a tremendous challenge and opportunity for companies in the decade ahead.
A&G: The workforce for corporate IT is aging, and it is not readily apparent that today’s “digital natives” are overly anxious to step into the shoes of their data center and application management forefathers. What advice doyou have for corporate IT teams looking to recruit the best and the brightest?
BtB Rekindling the excitement about IT careers of any kind is a major task for the American education system. Every computer science department is thinking about this. The Bureau of Labor statistics point to a 50% growth in the need for IT professionals in the coming decade. But the fact of the matter is that there is a labor shortage in every niche.
Much has been made about the cost benefits of outsourcing IT jobs - $200,000 per head in the US vs. $60,000 per head in India. The reality is, that in the not-too-distant future, when a company has to choose from these too options, they will find that they will need to hire both –just to keep up with headcount demands.
Companies need to expand their vision of what an IT job entails and help young candidates understand that their skills related to the newest technologies can really make an impact within their organization.
A&G: Stewardship of the bits becomes more and more an issue as value shifts from physical to digital ownership. This shift is accelerating at many of the companies who read our magazine. These companies used to make their money selling physical goods and running bricks and mortar establishments. Now their primary value comes from the data they own and the insight it generates. How should these companies protect their digital assets at the same time leverage them to generate increasing value?
These companies face two orthogonal issues: How do I find value in the information I have collected, and how do I protect the information that I have?
Traditional digital protection is about protecting the medium – with access codes and firewalls and encryption. But the growing issue now is about also protecting the “message”. Who speaks for your brand? How should you respond and nurture public commentary. What insight should you give away, and what should you charge for? How do you (and your customers) know that the message they are seeing is really legitimate?
A&G: To further your point, look at the explosion of Twitter. While there are hundreds of thousands of people “tweeting” away every day about life, products, issues etc., very few companies have embraced the medium. Just recently, an imposter named “Janet” became the voice of ExxonMobile in the twitterverse just by registering and tweeting under the name @ExxonMobileCorp. She answered questions on behalf of the company for several days before she was exposed. And even after exposure, she continued to tweet under Exxon’s brand.
BtB: Right, the question becomes one of information security – not just security of the medium. It is one of the key challenges facing IT today.
About the authors:
Ken Ledeen is Chairman and CEO of Nevo Technologies and has served on the boards of numerous technology companies. Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard. Together with Hal Abelson the teach Quantative Reasoning 48, an innovative Harvard course on information for non-technical, non-mathematically oriented students.