If your company isnt a world-class technology user, it wont last long: Aggressive adoption and deployment of information systems, both computing and communications, are a minimum requirement for a sustained competitive role in todays economy.
The paradox, though, is that even though technology matters more than ever, the world that surrounds that technology demands an even larger, and rapidly growing, share of enterprise IT attention. Like politicians saying, "War is too important to be left to the generals," social institutions are no longer willing to let technology be guided by those who actually understand it. Everybody wants to get into the act.
Will Microsoft be broken up, both liberating and complicating many key technical choices? If so, that breakup will be in pursuit of fair competition, not technology efficiencies.
Will IT vendors gain the upper hand in provider/consumer relationships? If UCITA makes that happen, it will be at the hands of lawyers, not technologists.
Will tight money put the brakes on new business formation and research activities, lowering rates of productivity growth and reigniting the fires of inflation? Perhaps—but the Federal Reserve Board is staffed by economists, not by engineers.
Will U.S. companies succeed in attracting the worlds best technical talent, or will immigration limits encourage the formation of more overseas competitors? Thats in the hands of Congress, not ANSI or the IEEE.
We dont entirely decry the growing role of the non-IT world in shaping the IT environment. Were hopeful, for example, that growing popular awareness and concern about our daily dependence on IT will accelerate the long-overdue updating of laws that fail to capture the criminality of many forms of cyber- mischief. Virus attacks, privacy hacks and the like need to be defined as breaches of the social contract and be subject to appropriate sanctions.
Were wary, though, of the learning curve that government and other institutions must follow. Its easy, for example, to write anticracking laws that criminalize routine administrative tasks and tools. This is, in fact, a critical concern over proposed international cyber-crime conventions.
But as companies increasingly rely on standards-based IT products and outsourced technical services, its hard to achieve, let alone maintain, a competitive edge on technical grounds alone. We suggest that the greatest 21st- century leadership opportunities lie in finding new paths through the territory where state-of-the-art technology overlaps with business practices, legislative actions, international markets and other non-IT entities.
IT people need to be, in 2001, real-world strategists, in every sense.