Our old buddy Stu Laura, CIO, is a Man with a Mission. And that mission is to find where the new great information technologies will be coming from.
Observed Stu: "IT has been the beneficiary of military spending like no function in the United States. We got computers because the ordnance people needed a way to do artillery calculations, we got the Internet because the NSA was worried about redundancy, and we got global positioning because Congress wanted to be able to detect nuclear detonations." (For a thoughtful perspective on how video games are changing the economy, read Andy Kessler's Wall Street Journal column here.)
So we are looking for more technology spinouts from the DoD and other government agencies?
"Not a chance. The government isn't a player anymore. It's broke, or didn't you notice? Government can spend like crazy, but there is more money than ever coming from private enterprise, and that is where we are going to find the technology we need. It may not have been built for IT, but sooner or later that is where it is going to go. I am looking for technology coming out of the entertainment industry, out of video games. The world has changed."
But, but, but.....we always get the peace dividend.
"We owe the military a lot. Hell, we run our companies by cribbing Karl von Clausewitz. Even Theodore Vail, the management father of AT&T, studied the Russian army to learn how to run highly complex organizations. But those days are over. The best minds and the best innovations are coming out of Hollywood, from Silicon Valley startups, from the real geniuses behind cloud computing. Let's face it, what did we really get from the billions we put into NASA? Tang?"
Give me an example of how this world is changing.
"Sure. No problem. A few years ago I got my wife a Roomba vacuum cleaner robot for Christmas. She was underwhelmed. 'You got me a VACUUM CLEANER?!!' But what she didn't understand was that because iRobot sold 5 million robot vacuum cleaners, they could push the chip cost down and could make robotic bomb removers for the U.S. Army. The same smart technology was used in both."
That's a long way from video games.
"Not as long as you think. The video chips that Nvidia makes for games are going to make it in military hardware. The next generation of workers is going to be working cooperatively across 10 time zones. If you want to know where that is coming from, don't go to Rockwell; go to Call of Duty, where your teammates have to cooperate in real time from remote locations. Yes, the military will slipstream right behind this, and we in industry will be right behind them."
So you're going to stop recruiting at Carnegie Mellon and put up a stand outside Toys "R" Us?
"Look, the gaming industry gets it: color displays, interactive, high-speed, basic infrastructure. Show me a kid who understands Kinect, who understands the underlying technology behind space age algorithms, who 'gets' voice recognition, hand gestures, facial recognition, and I will show you someone who's going to take my job someday – soon."
Surely, Stu, you're overstating your case.
"No, I'm not. The R&D departments of HP, IBM, Oracle, and Cisco have given us bupkis for the last five years. They keep buying companies because their R&D departments keep coming up with nothin! Their old model was do to special work on contract for the government, then build industrial strength versions for the general market. Ain't working."
So the military-to-industry model is broken?
"Yep, like a three-dollar watch. Look, we learned a lot about span of control, line and staff, and mission metrics from the military, but the world I'm living in today means we're creating IT solutions with our suppliers and our customers -- which means a world of real-time cooperation from remote locations. The military service academies someday will require your video game scores instead of your college boards -- and I might want to do the same thing."
There you have it. Most of the innovative work on cloud computing didn't come from the usual suspects, and Stu, as always, is way ahead of the pack.
It's National Go Hug a Geek Week. Go make a friend. Bring Skittles.