Convergence -- where is it taking the CIO?

At the recent UCLA CIO Perspectives Conference, an important question that repeatedly came up was how to define convergence and what does it mean for the CIO's job.

Does it mean the convergence of businesses, such as banks handling media and travel interests, manufacturers offering financial services and energy companies moving into retail? Or does convergence focus on the merger of technologies such as wired and wireline, voice and data?

Could convergence be the coming together of technology and consumer products? Does the term refer to convergence of economies and globalization of markets?

Although various participants used different definitions, the answer that came through from the CIO presentations was a definite everything!

Following are some of the highlights of the conference, hosted by the University of California, Los Angeles, Engineering School's Wireless Internet for Mobile Enterprise Consortium (Winmec) in partnership with the Anderson School of Management's Business and Information Technologies Program.

According to Vaho Rebassoo, chief technology officer at The Boeing Co., convergence is multidimensional, with the dimensions of voice and data, multiple wireless technologies, wired and wireless, and applications. His vision of convergence is wired, wireless and mobile coming together to allow access to any allowed data over any network on any device -- seamlessly.

The platform that will create value for companies will include a ubiquitous network with broadband and support for rich media, predicts Mike Cook, senior vice president and general manager of Hughes Network Systems Inc. It will be heterogeneously integrated with technologies and providers. It will be enterprise-grade with service level agreements and security, end-to-end manageability and ease of operation. And all of this will be provided at a low cost, he says.

New technologies, competition with new players, new ways of offering services and regulations are the key factors driving convergence, according to Ray Gilbert, CIO of Lucent Technologies Inc. Our various lifestyles (work and home) are blending into one "cellular DSL" experience, where all communications and entertainment will become accessible in voice format from all devices, he said.

Governance and management need to be done differently in the converged world, where collaboration across real and virtual boundaries is feasible. Telework is expected to increase as a greater number of employees are able to work away from the branch office. Developing industry standards and interoperability are becoming critical. Managing customer expectations is an important task the CIO is required to handle.

Even though better technology is becoming available at lower costs, the job of the CIO is actually becoming harder, according to UCLA professor Rajit Gadh. Due to the rate of innovation being greater than the rate of assimilation today and the rapid rate of infrastructure and application obsolescence, a high level of complexity has been added to the job of the CIO, he said.

CIOs now have the "headlight" function, according to Uday Karmarkar, professor and research director at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

The "Dell model" is what would be required for businesses to succeed in this converging world, said Alfred Osborne, senior associate dean at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Challenges facing CIOs vary by sector. Keith Glennan, chief technology officer at Northrop Grumman Corp., cited the convergence of identities as his major concern. The ability to identify an employee's external entity with his work entity was the primary concern in his organization, Glennan said.

In the entertainment sector, a primary challenge facing Jeffrey Mirich, CIO at Walt Disney Studios, is piracy. New technologies and regulations have the power to make or break a business in this sector. Rapid mobilization to protect content and to monetize it while keeping the globalization of the industry in perspective is required, he said. New distribution technologies and channels need to be used, and new consumer expectations need to be understood. All this must be accomplished while keeping costs low.

Verizon Communications Inc. provided demonstrations of the converged world, making people wonder if this was the world of the future or a world that was in reality not too far away. Verizon CIO Shaygan Kheradpir called it the world of the "always-on" consumer who would get a continuous experience as he moves from one device to the other.

The future is expected to have one converged device, which will be a cell phone, according to Qualcomm Inc. CIO Norm Fjeldheim. This device will be used as a work and personal entity and will provide the same experience anywhere, anytime seamlessly. It will be used to view all content including voice and data and will be used for work and entertainment.

Applications will range from the mundane, such as e-mails, to videoconferencing and streaming. Collaborations will include various methods of communication and networks, and the workerforce will include teleworkers, mobile workers and branch-office workers, according to Hughes' Cook. And this is being driven by the consumer rather than the enterprise, he said.

Next year's CIO Perspectives Forum will build upon the findings of this year's forum by delving on the technological and business issues facing CIOs.

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