Four learning curves that may jostle your 2012 agenda

Perhaps for the first time in the history of IT, the meta-technologists — those who talk about technology (subscription research firms, futurists, pundits, journalists, academics) — are of one mind regarding what the short-term future looks like.

Just about everyone involved in the technology game concurs that on the cusp of 2012, IT executives stand at the most interesting — and risky — portion of four critically important technology learning curves: big data, social media, mobility and the cloud. Everyone recognizes that disruptive change is afoot. Here are some high-impact blind spots to avoid.

Blind Spot No. 1 is the interdependence of these four transformations. The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges reminded us that “everything touches everything.” Each of these four change vectors/opportunity spaces/learning curves has become a sub-industry unto itself, complete with tribal elders, preferred campfires (must-attend sub-industry events) and a unique vocabulary — some senior executives are convinced that cloud jargon transcends human comprehension. Such microspecialization may not be a good thing.

Since just about every truthful decision-maker in a position of power in the Fortune 500, the CAC 40 or the FTSE 100 admits that they “don’t know enough” about these four disruptive tech vectors, the advice industry has become white-hot. There are mobility experts (Mobiquity). There are social media experts (Paul Gillin at Paul Gillin Communications). There are big data experts (SAS and Splunk). And there are cloud experts (Tim Chou at Stanford University).

Most large enterprises have pilot projects underway to create capability along all four vectors. One major insurance company has a mobility pilot, a social media project and a cloud “experiment/lab” going. But these initiatives weren’t conceived as a unified whole. They are run by separate project managers, involve different consultancies, have very different timetables and ultimately report in to different senior executives. Shouldn’t all these initiatives be coordinated? Shouldn’t we develop a “quad-change” expert, someone who knows what all four of these transformations mean combined?

Blind Spot No. 2 is the magnitude of the change associated with these transitions. History tells us that every time technology changes, power shifts. There are winners and losers. Business models change. IT skill sets change. The accepted canon and pecking order of vendors change. And IT’s role and relationship with the business change. Has someone in the organization mapped out how these power shifts impact the major players and programs in the enterprise?

Blind Spot No. 3 — the elephant in the room — is whether the legal department is helping to move things along the learning curve or sniping at those who would be pioneers. In every workshop I have conducted regarding moving forward along these four critical vectors, when we come to discussing barriers, the word legal emerges and sucks all the innovative air out of the room.

It appears that a critical success factor for developing competence in big data, social media, mobility and the cloud is being able to render the legal department nontoxic. How do we get the lawyers to hop on the change bandwagon? Having a good and productive relationship with corporate counsel materially impacts the CIO’s ability to create high-value change.

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