The Internet of Things and the Cloud CIO of the Future

The ease of cloud computing and the explosion of computing devices means that the nature of IT and the role of CIO is going to change dramatically.

Forbes this week published an interesting article written by Ed Sperling titled "CIOs: Be Careful What You Wish For." In it, Sperling posits that virtualization will cause a shift for IT leadership from technology to data. He writes:

"The virtualization being implemented everywhere will give way to cloud computing, and cloud computing will unclutter technology to the point where the focus will migrate from technology to data."

He goes on to say:

"IT is still a facilitator of the business, but increasingly the CIO will be responsible for generating ideas by understanding the value of the data and how it can be used to boost revenue."

I think Sperling is right on the trend, but underestimates its effect — though the underestimation is completely understandable. The fact is that two trends are converging to create a deluge of data well beyond what most observers can comprehend, and that these trends will shape a very different CIO of the future.

The first trend is, as Sperling notes, cloud computing itself. One dimension of cloud computing is the abstraction of computing service from underlying hardware — the uncluttering of technology. Just the reduced friction of obtaining computing resources will increase the use of computing technology — enormously. Most of the current discussion about cloud computing fails to understand the gigantic deluge of computing demand that will be unleashed when the convenience factor of this computing mode begins to be comprehended.

Today's backlog is but a fraction of the true unmet desire for computing. Given the hassle and expense of getting an application implemented, only the most attractive opportunities even get into the discussion and competition for IT resources. In the near future, much — much — more demand for applications will surface, made overt by the recognition of the reduced barriers to IT resources made possible by cloud computing. One might say that our understanding of the likely size of computing, based on today's practices, is the tip of the iceberg. In the next few years, we will see the current unseen remainder of the iceberg.

It goes without saying that every one of the those applications will generate and consume data.

The second factor that will cause IT organizations to be inundated by data is the growth of the "Internet of Things." This catchphrase describes the fact that computing, based on the exponential dropping in the cost of computing, is increasingly being moved into non-traditional devices. The most obvious is the rise of smartphones — though a better way to describe them would be as voice-enabled computers. But smartphones — as powerful and widespread as they are — are only the latest beachhead for computing. And, as the saying goes, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The fact is, the history of computing has inexorably been in one direction — the movement of processing power into smaller devices. Every generation of computing has represented the then-current best balance of small practical form factor and economic viability. The rise of minicomputers came because the cost of processing dropped to the point that it could be economically delivered in standalone cabinets that didn't require raised flooring. Personal computers took advantage of the reduced cost of processors and peripherals to create a package that could be easily carried in two hands. Later, the notebook form factor extended the computing framework of the PC to a highly portable device. Tablets, are, of course, the latest development in this trend. Today, we have the smartphone. A commonality among all of this type of computing device is they are designed for human interaction.

Tomorrow, however, computing will move into devices that no human interacts with — and, increasingly, the devices will interact with one another. One category of these devices will be sensors — devices that monitor and report on a process or state. Another category will be actuators — devices that operate on something, based on inputs (think drapes that automatically are raised and lowered in response to the sun's movement through the skies. Unlike the general purpose, human-focused computing devices described above, these will be specialized devices, designed to implement a single purpose.

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