7. Information Technology
The Information Technology department manages the firm’s internal and external hardware and software, and its supplier relationships. It has no primary foresight responsibility in a typical firm, but it does have a need to look ahead, like every department. It has responsibility for the following foresight subspecialty:
1. IT Management (a Management & Leadership subspecialty).
All IT leaders must be aware of, and manage predictable exponential improvements in price-performance in computing, and take advantage of network effects from growing connectivity, IT hardware, software and services are impacting management in every function of the firm. Ideally, this department works closely with Metrics & Planning to do technical intelligence on the best acquisition strategies, and it also can greatly improve knowledge management by creating powerful and user-friendly digital environments.
Changes are constantly occurring in metrics, decision support, ERP, product management, design, procurement, sales, marketing, CRM, HR, knowledge management, learning and development, and ideation, to name a few business tasks impacted by IT. The CTO, CIO, and CSO (chief security officer) are strategic leaders in most companies today, which means they are more in top management than in the IT department itself.
In most firms, IT is a major component of product and service delivery, and for many digital, large, or global firms it can be the key component of product and service management. Since the rise of the Web and embedded and mobile computing, IT is increasingly a key tool of Top Management (think Databases, Business Intelligence, ERP, SCM, etc.) and of Marketing (CRM, etc.) in many firms.
Given what we’ve seen with information technology’s performance curves (Moore’s law, etc.) over the last sixty years, the IT department’s impact will continue to become exponentially more powerful every year, unlike just about any other department in this list. IT experiences constant waves of change, each of which introduces new efficiencies and/or capabilities. IT innovations are usually overhyped and oversold at first, but some are eventually widely adopted and required by the firm in order to compete effectively. Today, cloud computing is rapidly displacing company hosted and downloadable software, which in turn displaced packaged software, and a wealth of new cloud apps offer substantial gains in ease of use, scale, or efficiency for the firm.
Smartphones are also seeing rapid (25%) annual global growth. Just one-quarter of the world’s population (1.76 billion) used smartphones by the end of 2014, and wearable smartphones are just now emerging, so we can expect continued rapid growth in mobile products and services, and service to the bottom three billion as companies like Xiaomi drive costs to new lows.
In the US, difficulties getting sufficient H-1B visas for immigrant IT talent is leading IT-immigration friendly neighboring countries (Canada, Mexico) to court US companies to do “nearshoring” of their IT work, an interesting new opportunity for CTOs and CIOs contemplating establishing offshore divisions, but wishing to avoid time zone and culture conflicts and save on travel costs for local managers.
IT is also enabling increasingly powerful knowledge management, collaboration and prediction platforms, including corporate wikis, CMS’s and social networks. Predictive analytics, data mining to find hidden predictive relationships, is now being applied in many marketing, strategy, security, human resources, education, health care, and other business domains. Eric Siegel’s Predictive Analytics (2013) offers a great survey of this latest example of IT-driven foresight in the firm.
Modern IT can thus strongly aid all twenty foresight specialties in the firm. As we look ahead twenty years, to a future of increasingly powerful machine learning and AI-human hybrid systems, IT could be a great place for any foresight professional looking to have a broad and ever-growing set of career options and responsibilities across all the foresight functions discussed in this Guide.