Don Tapscott: What enterprise IT needs to do now

TORONTO – “The thing with IT is – is there anyone here who actually works in IT?” Don Tapscott asked.

The co-author of the best-selling Wikinomics and its recently published followup Macrowikinomics was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the first annual Webcom Toronto conference, where he discussed major shifts in the operating models of society’s traditional institutions. Much of these changes, he said, were linked to the growing power of the Internet from a platform for presenting content to a platform for actual computing.

Although a few people in the audience put their hands up to say they worked in IT departments, Tapscott said the idea of a global computer that we all share through social media and other tools is creating changes in the way we look for technical expertise.  

“Everyone can move their IT now onto the Internet,” he said, referring to the concept of cloud computing. “The world becomes your IT department, your development shop.”

In a brief phone interview following his remarks, Tapscott told ComputerWorld Canada that he doesn’t necessarily see those with enterprise IT roles going away, but they will need to change the focus of their work in order to respond to new demands from companies.

“I think the cloud is the real deal,” he said. “You need to think about, ‘How do we move IT onto this big computer and that we all share?’ It means that architecture becomes more important than ever. If you don’t have a target architecture and a migration plan, then investments have a danger of perpetuating the past as opposed to contributing to a desired future. This is the new kind of art and science of IT, if you like.” 

Like the book that preceded it, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (which Tapscott wrote with collaborator Anthony D. Williams) is based on the idea of mass collaboration both within companies and between them, with their partners, customers and other stakeholders. That means IT departments will need to do away with the “not invented here” or NIH syndrome, Tapscott said.

“We do not have standards anymore, we have open platforms,” he said. “The old thing used to be, ‘We need to build it ourselves.’ Wrong.”

Some organizations are already making this change, he noted. At Procter + Gamble, for instance, there’s an alternative to the NIH syndrome called “proudly found elsewhere.”

“The bottom line is it’s a really exciting time to be in IT,” he said.

In his Webcom speech, Tapscott pointed out how universities are losing their hold on higher education as students skip lecturers to watch high-profile experts on YouTube or interact with them through Twitter. In terms of government, youth voting is down but youth volunteering is up, suggesting large government is out of touch with a new generation. Large banks and corporations like GM have failed, indicating problems with the old-fashioned top-down organizations.

“They’re all based on the old broadcast model – mass health care, mass media, mass government,” he said. “There’s too much treating people as the passive recipients.”

Instead, Tapscott outlined collaboration, openness, a willingness to share intellectual property, integrity and interdependence as five key values organizations of all kinds will need to incorporate as the Internet’s impact continues to be felt.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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