By Jeff Wacker, HP Senior Fellow and Futurist, HP Enterprise Services
The fourth wave of information technology has untethered computing from the desktop, catapulting the enterprise to the cusp of dramatic change. Information is available everywhere, on most any device, and it’s always on. (Shift innovation to ‘always on.’)
This phenomenon is ubiquitous computing, or ubicomp, and it’s the driving force of this wave, which affects both IT and business organizations in the enterprise. Each of the three preceding waves (mainframe computing, distributed computing or PCs, and networked computing) created massive disruptions and this fourth wave will also do so by driving the enterprise to unprecedented dynamism.
Until recently, IT was a fixed system of record, meaning that IT assets were owned or controlled, and IT interaction was bound by clearly defined interfaces executed at clearly defined intervals. In the fourth wave, rigid control gives way to flexible utilization and interfaces. Enterprises are transforming traditional IT assets into systems that dynamically engage with other systems.
Lower overhead, new CIO role
What is the impact of this new “dynamic enterprise?” For one, it reduces, or in some cases eliminates, the overhead costs of fixed IT assets. Instead, organizations will be using flexible resources such as cloud services. This frees up capital ordinarily devoted to IT equipment and maintenance, opening greater capital flows to core assets and capabilities.
The fourth wave is also transforming the role of the CIO. The assimilation of the CIO into the business organization is occurring at an unprecedented rate, and here’s what to expect:
- Instead of an officer directing an internal department, the CIO is becoming a general officer in the organization.
- The CIO will orchestrate and manage IT assets the corporation doesn’t own.
- It’s the CIO’s responsibility to integrate those assets into the operational functions of the enterprise.
Enterprise analytics, automation and workforce
Some of the most profound impacts of the fourth wave are in the operating structure of the enterprise and the role played by the workforce. As the pace of operations increases rapidly— from days and weeks to minutes and seconds—decisions must be made instantly, moving from reactive to predictive. In the fourth wave, there is no luxury of time. There is only the tyranny of time. Because of this, employees can no longer be the core of operations, making routine decisions and conducting routine activities.
Instead, analytics will move from the back office into every fiber of the enterprise and point of impact in order to drive quick and consistent decisions. Further, action must just as quickly follow decision, and this will be achieved through increased automation. Workers will be elevated from executers of work processes to positions of oversight of automated operations. This shift allows the workforce to focus on why things happen and to use their unique human insight to drive the next generation of analytics and automation.
Fourth wave transformation therefore demands a dynamic workforce. The workforce of the past operated under the proviso of “here’s what you need to do, now go ahead and do it.” In the fourth wave, “go ahead and do it” will be automated and figuring out “what you need to do next” will be the primary role of an engaged workforce. As a result, the new workforce has the responsibility to collaborate, create, and innovate. In addition to creativity in the cloud, dynamic people engagement is the hallmark of the new enterprise—a culture of engagement, not just optimization.
Fourth wave IT is also typified by pervasive intelligence in the form of sensors, embedded processing, and mobile computing, as well as massive amounts of semi-structured and unstructured data. This information rich environment will deliver unprecedented volumes of enterprise relevant data from new and diverse sources to unique destinations. These additional exabytes of information must be integrated into the fabric of the enterprise to derive optimum value and drive differentiated business outcomes.
To achieve all of this, the fourth wave organization must shift from fixed, highly optimized systems (of record) to dynamic, flexible and distributed systems (of engagement). This includes the ability to employ social networks and methods in an enterprise context by embracing consumer trends and adapting them to the enterprise.
Fourth wave IT will trigger crosscurrents of disruption, requiring dynamic leadership to guide through all these new and difficult waters. That means if you want to stay in the race, it’s time to rethink traditional strategy on your way to becoming a dynamic enterprise.
To hear more from Jeff on the coming mega-disruptions, watch the replay of his Innovation INSIGHT webcast, “The Next 5 Years: 6 Trends that are Redefining IT and the Enterprise.”