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8/19/2004
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What Will Be The Next Big Thing?

It's time for industry mavericks to inject new thought, energy, passion, and creativity back into business technology, Michael Friedenberg says.

What do the microchip, the spreadsheet, the PC, the network, and the Internet all have in common? Basically, they were innovations that thrust a new era of technology development and investment across the globe. Each initiative in some way drove the next. And out of these innovations came one of the most powerful and productive industries ever to exist.

Yet, here we are in year four of the post-dot-com-bomb era and there's no "next big thing" on the horizon. Sure, we still have the Internet and security and wireless and integration and service-oriented architecture and business-process management and radio-frequency identification and blah, blah, blah. But it doesn't seem that any of these items have captured the necessary ingredients of passion, science, and imagination to drive our industry on to the next great era of innovation and growth.

All of the business technologies help us become more efficient, productive, and safe, but let's look way past these incremental achievements. What is The Next Big Thing that will reinvigorate a seemingly tired industry? I never thought I'd use that term to describe high-tech, but is it not appropriate? It sure seems as if business technology needs a gulp of Red Bull. Not only has product innovation been lacking, but even the personality of the industry has become bland. Where are the cowboys, the mavericks, the personalities that used to drive the vision of this industry? Heck, even Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have buried the hatchet. No longer can we enjoy the great McNealy-Gates debates.

Is it not time for the next generation to step up and take the reins? And even if it is, who are these visionaries, and what technological developments are being created that will drive the gross domestic product for the next five years? Some say Serge Brin and Larry Page of Google are that next generation. Maybe so.

But maybe, just maybe, it now falls on the user community--not the IT vendor community--to drive the industry to its next growth phase. Maybe it's the new and emergent breed of intensely business-driven CIOs, typified by FedEx's Rob Carter, Owens & Minor's David Guzmán, and General Motors' Ralph Szygenda, who will be credited with sparking new thinking and creative breakthroughs within the IT community.

Has the high-tech industry come to a point where the technology applications are just the "parts" to the actual business-innovation engine? I certainly hope not, for that means that the IT industry has just lost a key strand of its DNA that allowed it to offer incredible and insightful value. Maybe we're still just feeling a bit of a lull, but to me this industry needs a face-lift. Let me offer a few questions to help frame the discussion about what this industry needs:

  • Which software company is really going to make huge steps in making this stuff truly reliable, easy to use, easy to manage, and secure?
  • Which company is going to make real-time business a real-time reality?
  • Who in the business-intelligence field will really deliver business intelligence rather than faster information access?
  • Which vendor will step up and really begin to create industry-driven solutions that cater to the unique business processes of that industry?
  • Outsourcing is a tired, overused, and ineffective description for a dynamic set of radical process changes. When will one or more companies in this field step forward and articulate in bold new terms the goals and resulting value of this service? Who's going to redefine it for the benefit of all?
  • It's time for some leaders to step forward and inject new thought, energy, passion, and creativity back into the mix so technology can again become what it has always been: innovative.

    Send me your thoughts at mfrieden@cmp.com. The best response will receive a complimentary pass to the InformationWeek Fall Conference taking place Sept. 19-22 at the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

    Michael Friedenberg is a VP at CMP Media LLC and the publisher of InformationWeek.


    To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

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