Rob Carter, CIO, FedEx: 'It's About Connectedness' - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
03:44 PM
John Soat
John Soat

Rob Carter, CIO, FedEx: 'It's About Connectedness'

There's a very fundamental shift taking place in the world, Rob Carter told the assembled technology managers at SIMposium 2007: The rising tide of network access is lifting the boats of opportunity.

There's a very fundamental shift taking place in the world, Rob Carter told the assembled technology managers at SIMposium 2007: The rising tide of network access is lifting the boats of opportunity."I'm proud to be living in a time where access has changed the world," Carter said. He was referring not only to Internet access but also access to physical networks such as what his employer, FedEx, provides. Digital networks and physical fulfillment networks work "hand-in-glove" to create the extended marketplace we have today, Carter said, and offered as an example eBay, the online auction site. Most people describe eBay as an Internet phenomenon, he said, but eBay's business model wouldn't be possible without the physical network created and supported by FedEx and other logistics and supply chain providers.

Carter predicted that the digital side of the marketplace revolution was only just beginning. "All networks propagate by a single significant application," he said. "And the Internet has exploded based on the Web browser." But there are derivative applications to come that will drive the Internet to even greater reach and connectedness. For instance, the Internet currently has 3 billion end points, Carter said, but he predicted that would expand to 30 billion end points based on the use of sensor capability such as active RFID tags. "Not the UPC tag that has been such a bust," he said, but the active RFID technology FedEx is working on that can record and transmit data about inventory such as temperature, light, and movement. "There's lots of value creation in the next generation of [sensor] capability," he predicted.

Carter pointed to several Web 2.0 technologies that are changing the way people view connectedness and networking, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Second Life, which are defining "the notion of virtual place" and represent how people are beginning to break down the idea "that community is defined by face-to-face interactions." Also, Internet-based, community-oriented platforms such as Wikipedia, the blogosphere, and World Of Warcraft, a so-called massively multiplayer online game, are changing the way people think about tasks and how to accomplish them, which will more than likely affect how people approach their work in the future, Carter said.

There are pitfalls in the virtual connected marketplace, chief among them the debate over intellectual property. "We have a long way to go before we clarify what IP is all about," he said.

But it's an interesting time to be alive, Carter said, and he counts himself very lucky to work in an organization -- and for a CEO -- that understand the revolution that's being fostered by the intersection of physical and digital networking. Carter mentioned he was leaving the SIM conference to attend a Google conference called Zeitgeist, where he would be addressing the audience along with FedEx CEO Fred Smith. "I actually think I have the best job in business," Carter said. The audience applauded vigorously.

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