The Next Big Thing

Computerworld contributing writer Kathleen Melymuka recently asked six IT luminaries—Paul A. Strassmann, acting CIO at NASA; Michael Hammer, president of Hammer & Co.; Jim Champy, chairman of consulting at Perot Systems Corp.; Ralph Szygenda, CIO of General Motors Corp.; Howard Rubin, executive vice president of Meta Group Inc.; and Charlie Feld, president of The Feld Group—to prognosticate about the future.

Here's what they had to say:

What is the next technological advance that will radically change the business landscape?

Paul A. Strassmann, acting CIO at NASA
Paul A. Strassmann, acting CIO at NASA

"Portals is the technology I'm betting on in the next five years. Human beings have great difficulty dealing with the increasing complexity of the cyberenvironment. Although we hop from one Web page to another, from a corporate standpoint, there's no way knowledge that resides in information assets really gets transmitted. Mental processes are a web allowing new things to be wedged into the brain—a process by which you connect new stuff to that which you already know. Now, I need some kind of artifact which will endow my brain with the ability to connect with the extended electronic brain. Pieces of it already exist. I'm putting one in for NASA." — Paul A. Strassmann, acting CIO, NASA, Washington

Michael Hammer, president of Hammer & Co.
Michael Hammer, president of Hammer & Co.

"It's already begun. I think it's process interface standards. Now we have communication-level standards that allow companies to send packets or files to each other. Process interface standards allow companies to talk system to system over the Internet, and that will revolutionize the way companies operate." — Michael Hammer, president, Hammer & Co., Cambridge, Mass.

Jim Champy, chairman of consulting at Perot Systems Corp.
Jim Champy, chairman of consulting at Perot Systems Corp.

"I think forms of voice activation. The human interfaces with technology are still too clumsy and complex for the broad adoption that will come. Once we get voice recognition, we can see a whole, massive process change occurring in places where it does not happen now. Take health care in doctors' offices. Most physicians see IT as an intrusion, but once we have voice recognition, it will be an aid to [their] practice. Same with nurses. They're burdened by forms, but once we have voice activation, all those things will change." — Jim Champy, chairman of consulting, Perot Systems Corp., Cambridge, Mass.

Ralph Szygenda, CIO of General Motors Corp.
Ralph Szygenda, CIO of General Motors Corp.

"It's really wrapped around two things. Ubiquitous access: Wherever you are you can do anything from an IT perspective—home office, car, mobile. And effectively you can implement killer apps to link all those. And it's about leveraging the Internet. Over the next five years we will finally build the infrastructure, and marketing and sales will figure out how to leverage it, and appliances will be linked in, and we'll start to see significant bottom-line results to the company." — Ralph Szygenda, CIO, General Motors Corp.

Howard Rubin, executive vice president of Meta Group Inc.
Howard Rubin, executive vice president of Meta Group Inc.

"I think the next thing is technology that allows a total sense-and-respond system in the marketplace that will be able to monitor global information. Sensors around the world will instantaneously pick up market trends, and trends that defy structure. They will look at unstructured information globally and add structure so that a company can more effectively compete at levels never before possible.

For example, a record company will monitor all music activity in the world from a coffeehouse to chat rooms and sign a new artist really early. It's not a search engine; it's a patterning engine. It looks at everything and filters patterns according to your interest. That will change companies' ability to compete." — Howard Rubin, executive vice president, Meta Group Inc., Stamford, Conn.

Charlie Feld, president of The Feld Group
Charlie Feld, president of The Feld Group

"I'm not sure it's technology. I think it's much more leadership-driven. All the ingredients are there. There's a huge gap in language and understanding between the CXOs and the CIO right now. There are handles around which you can have a financial conversation without knowing all the intricacies of finance. It's driven off a set of principles: return on investment, return on assets, earnings per share.

The same with personnel, manufacturing, distribution, sales—everyone has a language that every other person can engage—except the CIO. Principles and dialogues and ways of measuring have not become part of our profession yet; and they will, as they did in finance, manufacturing, marketing, sales and every other function. The big breakthrough will not be technology; there's more than enough out there. It can improve tenfold, and the results will still be below average until we address this. We're going to figure out how to talk about this." — Charlie Feld, president, The Feld Group, Irving, Texas

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