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Your marching orders for the next 10 years

By Thornton May
September 13, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The first decade of the 21st century is drawing to a close. It started with the frenzy that was Y2K and concludes with the sizzle that is cloud. In between there were disasters -- 9/11, Katrina, Enron -- and victories. And ERP deployments, so many ERP deployments.

Just about every IT leader still standing in 2011 will agree that the first decade of the new millennium was tough, characterized by doing more with less, cage matches with software companies, and games of contract-chicken with outsourcers.

The good news is that if you survived, Decade 2 will be much more interesting and a bit less toxically underfunded. Leaders who emerge victorious need to excel at the four M's: mapping the future, mastering the "info-cosm," mobilizing the masses, and modernizing marketing.

Mapping the future: Everyone knows that the world five years from now is going to be very different from the world we live in today. Change is constant. Change is accelerating. Whining about the cold didn't help the dinosaurs. Complaining about change won't help you.

Christopher Columbus was successful because he had a map and was scary good at convincing people that the endpoint on that map was worth going to. If you are going to be successful in the next decade, you are going to have to "map up."

Mastering the "info-cosm." The future will be awash with information -- 35 trillion gigabytes by 2020, if analyst estimates are to be believed. Former HP CEO Mark Hurd delightedly and repeatedly told senior executives that "in the next four years, there will be twice as much data as we have on the planet today."

PBS talk show host Charlie Rose recently interviewed Intel CEO Paul Otellini and asked, almost as an afterthought, what he thought would "go obsolete next." Without hesitation, Otellini responded, "Ignorance." In Decade 2, there is nothing we can't know.

IT leaders are perfectly situated to capitalize on the huge opportunity of converting those gigabytes of data (structured and unstructured) into actionable insights that propel the enterprise.

Mobilizing the masses: Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University, has coined one of the most important phrases for the decade to come: "cognitive surplus." Shirky contends that the world will be fundamentally changed by the constructive and coordinated reapplication of the leisure-time activities of the now-connected global population. In other words, Shirky wants to repurpose the 200 billion hours Americans spend watching TV.

This is crowdsourcing writ large -- IT leaders need to figure out how to enable people outside their organizations to actively help them meet organizational objectives.

Modernizing marketing: Kaiser Permanente has personalized patient health reports to such a degree that doctors and patients can forecast the outcomes of therapies and choose accordingly.

Most high-end automobiles now feature climate controls that enable passengers and drivers to travel at different temperatures. Colleagues at the Stockholm School of Economics tell me that the most important "ism" in the world today is individualism.

The only way to delight the customer of the future is with world-class IT systems that enable us to manage markets of one.

If we map, master, mobilize and modernize, Decade 2 of Millennium 3 is going to be much better than the one we just finished.

Thornton A. May is the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can contact him at thorntonamay@aol.com.

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