45 years of creative evolution in the IT industry and beyond

As Computerworld celebrates its 45th anniversary, pundits and IT executives look back over decades of change that brought stunning technological advancements -- and put more power in users' hands.

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Interfaces Get Personal

Retailers and other companies might also be able to know what you're looking for based on patterns you display when shopping and searching. Scottrade is working on developing algorithms that will help it create the same conversational service environment for online customers that exists in its retail operations.

Right now, Patterson says, Scottrade doesn't have a way to find out if people visiting its website want information on opening an account because they want to save money for retirement or for their kids to go to college. A salesperson could get that information in person by simply asking a question, and Scottrade's website will be able to do that in the future, he says.

And one day, computers might literally ask us such questions -- by speaking to us and expecting a spoken response, not by having us type words on a screen. We don't use punch cards anymore, and we might be seeing the end of the keyboard era as well.

Today, "kids go to their computer and put their hand on the screen and try to move stuff around," Laube says, noting that he thinks voice will soon be the primary interface. "That's what Nuance just announced, building Siri into corporate apps. How cool is that?"

But voice interfaces may not work so well, says Ingo Elfering, vice president of business transformation for GlaxoSmithKline's Core Business Services unit. A native of Germany, Elfering finds that voice interfaces struggle with European accents and also fail to recognize some U.S. accents. He thinks the keyboard will remain a dominant interface, as it was with the Commodore VC 20 he purchased in 1980.

However, Elfering thinks the success of the iPad spells the end of paper. Companies will "try to get much more digital and take out the paper. We'll replace paper with computers that manage processes."

And in a few years, those computers will manage processes via 3D displays, says Allstate's Gupta, which means yet another technology for CIOs to manage.

Next-Gen CIOs

The CIOs of tomorrow will resemble today's CIOs about as much as current CIOs resemble the old heads of MIS departments. That's due in part to the fact that technology is now an everyday commodity -- a development that has led to the consumerization of IT in the enterprise.

Elfering says that when people have more powerful computing setups at home than they do at work, IT must confront this fundamental question: "If more and more of what you do as an IT department becomes commodity, what does technology enable you to do that's unique to your business?"

He says the answer varies by industry and even by company, but one thing holds true everywhere: "IT is much, much more complex and much harder to manage."

Some of that difficulty is due to the fact that users know a lot more about IT than they once did, and they expect more from their systems. But it's also because "nowadays, you have all these complicated layers -- everything from SAP to Hadoop clusters to virtualized desktops to Windows and Office, to complex clusters and Web-based systems," Elfering says.

Such a maelstrom of expectations and technology makes for turbulent times for CIOs. May puts it bluntly: CIOs need to become creative artists. Today's Fortune 500 CIOs represent the last survivors "of the ERP death march," he says.

While an ERP deployment is "an amazing feat of character and stamina," it isn't an act of creativity, May notes, suggesting that people who can build ERP systems have the wrong skills for a world where IT means the cloud, big data, social networks and mobile.

That's probably true, says State Street's Perretta. "When I started, you would steal stuff from work to play with at home, and now you steal it from home to play with at work," he says. Working in IT used to be about understanding technology. Now, he says, "it's more about what problem you're going to solve."

Given this shift, Perretta sees another trend that IT leaders might find hard to accept: "I suspect the tenure of CIOs will continue to decrease."

Next: Top 10 products of the past 45 years

Fitzgerald is a freelance writer based outside of Boston.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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