Charles Feld on 20 Years of IT Change

The "always on," global-information-at-your-fingertips-with-Bluetooth-in-your-car world that doesn't go away when you leave work has flipped the paradigm.

Charles Feld, former CIO of Burlington Northern and Frito-Lay, was the founder and president of the Feld Group, which was bought by EDS in 2004. He is currently senior executive vice president of Applications Services and a member of the EDS Executive Committee. Feld was inducted into the CIO Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2007, we asked Feld what have been the biggest changes and advances in IT—the technology, the discipline and the CIO role—over the past 20 years.

It's probably pretty obvious but the biggest change is the pervasiveness of technology. IT used to be locked up in one room in one building. There was one terminal in a department that everyone shared. You'd sign up and wait your turn. Then it started to get out into the business departments. Next was the PC era; everybody had one. Then it was the mobility era, where everybody had two or three. Now it's gotten to be the "always on," global-information-at-your-fingertips-with-Bluetooth-in-your-car world. It doesn't go away when you leave work. You're still connected. That's flipped the paradigm.

All this has been accelerated by the continuous miniaturization and pervasiveness at the edge—modern networks and the Internet. There's a continuous flow of information—structured and unstructured. In the beginning, we used to have what we called the glass house where the mainframes lived and you had to have a badge to get in there. Now anyone, anywhere, anytime around the globe has access to anything.

This has created phenomenal opportunities. It enables so many new things that are both positive and negative. The positive is that you're always connected. The negative is you're always connected. One has the ability to do work and be entertained anywhere around the globe at any time. You can be on the streets of India, talking on your cell phone to somebody back home. This has created a knowledge sharing that is beginning to remove many barriers.

The negatives are that we know more about things than we need to know. There's a minute-to-minute, constant drumbeat of information. There's no time for peace. It's hard to tell what's real and what's not real. Anyone with a blog can put out anything. It's difficult to balance the notion of making things inviting for people to use with the need to make them secure and private.

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