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The Significance of Technology Change and IT Innovation

This week, I am continuing this series on important ideas that have helped to shape IT in the modern era. Technology change, that force that moves technology forward, is one of those very powerful momentums in IT. However, IT innovation is its own specific kind of technology change that nevertheless has a significant effect on society. What is driving IT innovation and, more broadly, change today, and why is it so much more urgent than even a decade ago? Let me discuss this.

Planned and Unplanned IT Innovation  

If you start the clock 54 years ago, there has been an abundance of planned innovation over the last five-plus decades. It’s everywhere in IT and it’s underestimated and likely underappreciated. IBM has deepened the instruction set and most aspects of the z/Architecture and keeps changing and growing it. This architecture is the bedrock of the mainframe, providing awesome capabilities. The power is nothing short of breathtaking.
Every release of software delivered by IBM, like CICS, IMS, COBOL and Java and the many products from other major software companies, is full of carefully planned enhancements and innovations. With each new release and product, millions of dollars are spent and major new functionality is delivered and deployed by customers.
It has been my observation that you can heighten your reputation and become an agent for innovative change in your company by thoughtfully implementing this new functionality. Why not champion this kind of transformation and make use of another company’s investment to your advantage? Embracing this kind of change can matter enormously to companies who are striving to provide continuous availability of systems while artfully handling every technology that arrives on the scene—think smartphones and tablets. It’s interesting that somebody else’s planned change could be your challenge, unplanned change or disruption in just a few years.

Accommodation and Disruption

A lot of the innovation and change that happen are accommodations and adaptations to address the wants and needs of IT customers. For example, rapid application innovation with minimum disturbance is needed so software companies make it possible to refresh programs or operational characteristics without pausing the system or application. These accommodations are a bridge to continuous integration processes in use today.
Disruption is something that happens. For example, more people using email means fewer letters need to be handled by the post office. Electronic transfers of money mean fewer checks being written and handled. This kind of disruption hurts some companies but helps others with sometimes-unexpected additional benefits. For example, when you handle credit cards and cash with an application like Square  you get built-in reporting so submitting retail taxes is as simple as running a monthly or quarterly report, then using that information to submit your retail taxes from the web with no need to write a check or mail it. This can be a huge savings in time and other costs. The built-in comprehensive reporting is the unexpected but very useful part.

Simplicity and Complexity

Things in IT were simpler back then (but I don’t long for the simpler days). There were fewer systems, layers of software and fewer programs needed to do our daily job. Today, we are anesthetized in a lot of ways to current IT complexity. Today’s mainframe programmers need to know a lot just to operate in the enterprise environment—even something like terminal emulation can be challenging. You realize this when you go from customer to customer to perform projects and you recognize that each environment has its own formidable set of conventions and obstacles. The people who work there are numb to it as they do it every day.
You also see the complexity when you look at job posting for mainframe application and system programmers. There is a seemingly endless list of tools, processes and standards that are desired, and at the end of the job posting, the employer is looking for five years of experience. How does somebody with five years of experience amass all these skills? Is it possible?
Complexity is a problem looking for a solution and IT companies are addressing it. When you consider the number of systems in simultaneous use by companies and the fact that just about every program that runs produces a log, what do I do with all those logs? How do I know how to notice the log messages that matter? This IT challenge can be addressed and today there are useful software products to simplify the necessary but challenging task.

Change Factors

There are many other factors driving change like competition, legislation, the economy, globalization and regulation. These powerful forces are in addition to customer needs that often focus on the desire for high availability, the speed of development and deployment and other application-oriented factors. This combination of change drivers helps to explain the many innovations we see from IT today. Are you doing your best to embrace change and innovation?