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Managing the information revolution

The information revolution will not be televised. That's because there might not even be one, claims Mark Samuels...

Mark Samuels

The Doctor's Surgery: Dr Mark Samuels, editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect, examines the future role of the IT leader in this new monthly column.

Here is a simple statement for CIOs attempting to understand the affect of technology on modern society we are not living through an information revolution. Well, we might be, but it is far too early to say whether the current age will be defined by digital upheaval.

Such caution contradicts the position taken by many commentators, with many believing we are in the midst of a life-changing information age. Some experts actually believe the information revolution is already having a bigger impact than its older industrial sibling. I beg to differ.

For a start, there would be no digital technology without a previous period of industrialisation. Innovations, after all, are built on innovations.  It also takes a while to fully comprehend change. People talked of the revolutionary impact of new manufacturing processes in the late 1700s and 1800s, but the term "industrial revolution" was not popularised until the late nineteenth century.

Jump forward to the present day and similar issues pervade. The 33-year gap between now and 1980 is the same as between 1947 and 1980. Think of the cultural, social and economic changes during the immediate post-War era and then consider the impact of digital transformation. We can tweet, yippee! We can play Angry Birds while we commute, double yippee!

Forgive me for being flippant. More seriously though, huge change is being enabled by digital technology, such as flexible working, information democratisation and instantaneous communication. Yet some elements of that always-on lifestyle might be positive and others less so. And it will take decades, not months, before we can fully appreciate the scale of any information revolution.

So, what can a CIO do to ensure digital technology provides business benefits? Most crucially, they can't afford to sit back and wait. The hype surrounding the information revolution might be worth avoiding, but the reality is that workers across the organisation want to use digital technology to work differently.

CIOs rightly get annoyed when their expertise is questioned. Suggesting organisations no longer need a dedicated technology leader in a so-called information age seems, on the face of it, bizarre. However, the increased technology spending power of the CMO and other line-of-business employees means CIOs will be irrelevant if they do not looks outwards.

The exact nature of the information revolution might be up for debate but the impact of digital technology on the workplace is clear. CIOs must engage with users and suppliers, define the rules of technology implementation, and prove their value to the rest of the business. If they fail, CIOs will be the first high-profile casualties of any information revolution.

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