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5/20/2008
11:23 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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The Consumer Effect In Beantown

Boston is a bitter pill for a fan of the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Cavaliers, such as myself. But I guess I'll make the best of it. I'm here to cover -- and participate in -- the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, which got off to a rousing start with a night-before visionary speech by the CIO of Verizon.

Boston is a bitter pill for a fan of the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Cavaliers, such as myself. But I guess I'll make the best of it. I'm here to cover -- and participate in -- the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, which got off to a rousing start with a night-before visionary speech by the CIO of Verizon.Shaygan Kheradpir, Verizon's IT chief, told a presymposium dinner crowd that IT has made manifest what Winston Churchill famously referred to as "empires of the mind." ("The empires of the future are the empires of the mind," is the quote attributed to Churchill.) As an example, Kheradpir referred to Shawn Fanning, who wrote Napster, the infamous file-sharing site, while he was a student at Northeastern in Boston. Kheradpir says he remembers thinking, when he first became aware of Napster, "this is the end of media as we know it." Napster was Fanning's "empire of the mind," and it "moved media," Kheradpir pointed out.

What's moving the technology landscape these days, according to Kheradpir, is the commoditization and consumerization of technology. "The center of gravity of IT is around quality of life in the consumer space," he said. That sounds like the point of view of a telecom vendor, but Kheradpir had some interesting points to support that thesis.

First, "consumers want continuous innovation," he said, which means they are the ones driving innovation in technology, not business. Second, "consumers are addicted to massive bandwidth and high speed," which is spurring the development and implementation of sophisticated networking technology. Third, "consumers can't deal with complexity," a trend that will carry over more and more into business, putting greater demands for simplicity and reliability on IT professionals. And fourth, "consumers want to be involved in something bigger," as evidenced by the popularity of Web 2.0 trends such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, which speaks to the relevance -- and importance -- of networking technology.

Kheradpir used his platform to talk about Verizon's effort to implement a ubiquitous fiber-optic network. "For us to win, we have to have the best network," he said, and Verizon has "invested a ton of money" to make that happen. On the product side, Kheradpir said Verizon is building a platform "that connects everything to everything -- land line to wireless and to business." On the IT side, Kheradpir said Verizon's goal is to "cut service volumes by 50%," by increasing the ability of customers to use online self-service, and by forcing reports of problems with the network "as rapidly as possible back to IT."

"IT has pushed us to the edge of the 'empires of the mind,' " Kheradpir said. Now we need to use that great capability to address some of the major problems of the world: poverty, environment, injustice. IT has given us a chance -- and a plaform -- to do that, Kheradpir said: "Let's get everybody together to crack the code on these big problems."

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