I, User

Often as CIOs it is very easy to get caught up in the present; data centre 'fires', talent outages and so on. If you manage to book some time with your thoughts you might even reflect on social media, analytics and mobility. These are important but if we want a guiding star to provide us with an overall sense of direction I suggest we reflect on the user of the future.

Looking back the internet revolutionised the world of work and workers, particularly its capability as a tool for collaboration. Retrospectively we might think of this as the Internet of People. Today the Internet of Things is fast approaching. It's too early to say whether there will be a Facebook equivalent for household appliances. Nonetheless the potential impact of breathing intelligence into otherwise dumb devices, at home and at work, is huge.

Imagine shopping trolleys that can engage with check-out counters to ensure that the highest value shoppers receive the fastest checkout service rather than the current approach of providing a fast track for those who have only a basket worth of goods.

The use of devices to augment our human capability is nothing new. The spear was the first example of BYOD in the workplace. Many of us feel sub-functional if we leave home without our smartphone. Wearable technology is growing in popularity as people become interested in their self-generated data. Wearables from a human augmentation perspective is not a new phenomenon. Clothes were the first such technology and one could argue that cars similarly meet this criteria though they might be considered more (ill fitting) exoskeleton than clothing.

Google Glasses are augmenting our access to information as are the emergence of smart watches (for those too lazy to take their phone out of their pocket). But Google Glasses will no doubt become Google contact lenses. Further down the line Google eyes (or the equivalent) will no doubt turn 'wearables' into 'embedables'. Prosthetic body parts are not a new phenomenon. Like the tech vendors migrating from products to services so will the prosthetic vendors. To offer a complete maintenance package they will need to have internet connectivity to your new forearm. The Internet of People is, via the Internet of Things, fast becoming the Internet of Things in People.

There comes a point when the ratio (by volume or processing power) of technology to organic matter moves the human race from homo sapiens to cyborg. I prefer the phrase homo extensis or augmented man. In my mind (at least) it implies I have made an anthropological discovery rather than just engaged in a bit of science fiction.

The bottom line is that if you think users are pressurising you today in terms of their personal technology demands, you need to be aware that what you are experiencing is in fact the pre-storm calm.

To hark back to my reference to science fiction, the notion of the rise of the robots is of serious concern to government ministers torn between the productivity benefits robotics will deliver and the unemployment it will cause. I am less concerned about this because the likely longer term reality is that we will be the robots.

More to the point. Your highly augmented users will be looking to you for support. This will throw up a number of issues, including:

  • HR's insistence that wearable devices become mandatory in order to monitor the productivity of the staff. The question arises as to who actually owns this data.
  • As technology and organic tissue become more entwined the ability to provide staff with direct neural contact to the corporate data throws up some interesting security challenges. Today we are only a few key presses from the world's knowledge, tomorrow we are just a thought away.

These are just a few of the issues that will be upon us sooner than we think. My advice is to get out of technology management. Do you really want to be in the business of presiding over a help desk focused on body-part/consciousness upgrades?

No. I suggest you turn your IT function into a business service brokerage and stand aside as the next generation of bio-tech providers attempt to pass the blame on to the traditional tech players and vice versa. Your supplier relationships are with business service providers. It's their headache to resolve these dystopian contract disputes.

As a CIO you are in the insight delivery business. For one reason or another many CIOs have been sucked into technology management. It doesn't take a neocortex upgrade to realise that as challenging as users are today, their descendants are going to be a whole new breed of animal.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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