IT needs to plan for what comes between now and later

To be sustainably successful, enterprises have to manage the technologies of now, the technologies of next and the technologies of later. Of those, “now” and “later” get a lot of attention. Every organization understands the current period budget (though perhaps they aren’t delighted with it). And most organizations have a vision of how they want the enterprise to look in the distant future, 60 months out or more.

But very few enterprises are masters of the technologies needed for the critically important middle period, the meso-future. The meso-future occupies a no-man’s land that’s outside both the current period budget and the imagined future end state. This time horizon, lying three to five years out from now, is where IT heroes are created and competitive advantage is born, which means it shouldn’t be so frequently ignored by management teams.

Geoffrey A. Moore, author of Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future From the Pull of the Past, likens IT’s three-pronged management task to agriculture. Farmers must “simultaneously harvest the current crop, till the ground for next season, and investigate new crops for the future.” But not enough organizations invest in tilling the ground for the next crop of high-value technologies.

The IT meso-future will be dominated by three tectonic collisions.

Let’s call the first of these the collision of the digital dark side with demographics. The sad reality is that criminals have kept pace with the digital revolution. The forces of digital darkness are on the move, and every week headlines detail new breaches. The median estimate for the size of the cybercrime economy is $700 billion. Ninety percent of breaches involve organized crime targeting specific enterprises. Demographics enter the picture because the rising generations, reared on computers, is nearly genetically encoded to share information. Balancing the needs to share information with the necessity of keeping information safe will fundamentally shape the meso-future.

Next, we have systems of engagement smashing into systems of record. The chasm between these two types of system is exemplified by the Jekyll/Hyde technology transformation that users experience every Monday morning. On Sunday evening, they had been engaged, empowered and delighted by their personal technology, but on Monday morning they are frustrated, enraged and distracted by enterprise systems that they think of as clunky and dilapidated. This is giving rise to the consumerization of IT, and inevitably, enterprise IT is going to have to match the user experience of best-in-breed consumer electronics. This morphing of legacy systems of record into systems of engagement will dominate the IT agenda in the meso-future.

Finally, legacy provisioning is giving way to cloud provisioning. Cloud computing is not a matter of if — it is a matter of when. And that “when” will fall within the meso-future time frame of the next three to five years. At a recent CIO innovation workshop in Dallas, I was a presenter along with Timothy Chou, a true cloud computing pioneer. For the past six years, Tim has taught a class at Stanford on cloud computing. His book Cloud: Seven Clear Business Models is must reading for all IT leaders. Tim is not a cloud crazy or bigot and readily admits that there are some applications that are not appropriate for the cloud. But there are four application scenarios that make eminent sense: early stage/high growth (all startups use cloud computing) on/off (big in medical diagnostics, for example, where you analyze massive clinical data for two months and then stop), aperiodic bursting (events like the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, tax day), and periodic bursting (nightly analysis of financial information).

Smart IT leaders are preparing for these meso-quakes. They are building trust-rich relationships with the millennials in their organizations. They are rebranding infosec as a problem-solving — not productivity-reducing — utility. And they are conducting a series of risk-adjusted cloud experiments.

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