A Technology Renaissance

Opinion: As we exit the dark ages, signs point to a rebound.

Is there currently a renaissance in technology? That was the question I was asked to address first off at last weeks Ziff Davis CIO Summit conference. It turned out to be a timely question and one worth answering in this column as well as before an audience of CIOs.

Asking if were now in a renaissance presupposes that the tech industry has experienced the dark ages. If dark ages are marked by some major crash, well, we had that at the start of this century.

And if theyre marked by a period of uncertainty about the future and a search for new leaders and new ideas, I think a good argument can be made that the tech industry did indeed have a dark age. Characterizing this period was the dot-com crash, the exodus of students from the technology education track and minimal product upgrades—from major vendors—championed as big-leap innovations. So with those days behind the industry, what are the hallmarks of a renaissance?

The first hallmark, Id argue, is that technology is seen as crucial to a companys success and that new technologies enter the market to make it much easier to implement business strategies. During the conference, Symantec Chairman and CEO John Thompson emphasized the crucial nature of technology implementation when he spoke about risk management as a wise approach to judging technology success. The risk associated with a Web site—generating millions of dollars per hour—going down is as great as or greater than making sure all security patches are in place.

Id add another example of technologys crucial nature by looking at the recent rash of business acquisitions and divestitures. The prospective acquisition of Dow Jones for $5 billion, the divestiture of automaker Chrysler and the acquisition of news agency Reuters will all be successes or failures based largely, I contend, on how well new owners transfer and expand the three companies technology under-pinnings.

Development of the green-computing initiative, led in large part by AMD and IBM, also exemplifies a high-tech renaissance. Technology innovation works best when a large challenge is involved. That challenge can be as threatening as World War II or as startling as the former Soviet Unions capability to take the lead in the space race: Both events drove the technology cycle forward. The opportunity presented by green technology, combined with the threat presented by global warming, is a tremendous driver for technology advances.

And, while the task is large, bringing heating, cooling and electrical systems into the IT network requires technical skills, business process planning and a sense of innovation that can provide immediate results for your company.

I hope some of those students who have abandoned their technology education track might rethink their decisions. If youre a student looking for a bigger purpose in life than creating the next YouTube or Facebook, then being part of an effort to save your planet is a mighty big challenge.

Finally, the rise of Web-based services, the capabilities presented by Internet2, and the continued development of mobile computing and mobile devices present a unique opportunity for technology innovation—a renaissance, if you will.

The combination of those technologies will give rise to a new round of companies that allow for business opportunities that we cannot yet envision. These new businesses will be as fundamentally world-changing as the great ideas stemming from the Renaissance that swept through Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries. They will be international in scope and will not be driven by the companies that currently rule the Internet.

Is there a high-tech renaissance under way? Yes, and it is just starting.


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