New skills, new era

Tim at Cutting Through reads the same newspaper as me. He, too, was struck by an article in today’s Guardian about the changes in media habits of the current generation of 14-21-year-olds: a third of all young people online have launched their own blog or website.

As Tim points out, this generation of the ‘ultrawired’ will be joining the nation’s workforce in the next few years, bringing new expectations and technological capabilities. Not only does this threaten the future of the corporate IT function, I think it may also bring radical changes to the devices and software routinely employed. It may also change the nature of organisations.

I point out in my book that mobile telephones are no longer solely used for voice communications, but have evolved into more sophisticated devices that offer personal organisers, text messaging, web-browsing, email, cameras, video and music playback, and games. … And the computer in the living room might at different times be used additionally as a television, digital radio, music player, video recorder, digital editing suite, games console and – with VOIP – even a telephone.

Moreover, the emergence of reliable, always-on wireless technologies could mark the end of the proliferation of separate devices with built-in processors. We may find ourselves using one central unit to connect to the internet, combining the roles of firewall, router, switch, wireless access point and computer, and capable of managing data, voice and other audio, and images and videos. Depending on our different needs, we could then use a variety of simple interface devices that send and receive data from this central unit for telephony, audio and video entertainment, office communications, etc.

Combine these developments one stage further and we may find ourselves using mobile devices that act as conduits to applications and data – for both work and leisure – remotely hosted in a variety of secure repositories somewhere out on the internet.

Looking for a life-style that takes advantage of the mobile working opportunities offered by such new technologies, some individuals may opt to work as freelances, undertaking a succession of contracts of their own choice instead of working for an employer. Just as small firms might combine with others with complementary skills and/or resources, so individual professionals could combine with other independent practitioners to compete for work and then form part of the multi-disciplinary team appointed to undertake projects.

Being formed of a group of independent ‘e-lances’ or ‘tech-nomads’, the operational overheads of such a multi-disciplinary consortium are also likely to be lower, making their services more cost-effective – an advantage likely to be underlined if the team also uses low-cost collaboration technology to manage and share its data. The increasing ease-of-use and growing reliability of IT, the growing use of ‘Software as a Service’ or ASP solutions, and the (slowly) growing numbers of mobile, home-based workers may also accelerate organisational changes. Corporate IT departments may reduce in size or even become unnecessary.

Taken further (and probably stretching the blue skies stuff too far!), the organisations themselves might also become smaller or even break up altogether. Could we see loose ‘federations’ of self-employed individuals each recruited to undertake particular roles (from senior management down to the workface)? Such individuals might also – as far as IT is concerned – be self-servicing, taking out contracts with hardware and service providers to obtain and use the mobile devices they need to interface with the software and data repositories they routinely use for their work and play.

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