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Cloud, Other Mega-Trends Driving IT Innovation

Panel discussion looks to future of industry, highlights challenges that come with keeping up.

As its name perhaps suggests, the concept of the cloud remains somewhat nebulous years after it became part of the popular lexicon and a critical part of today’s business world.

In a panel discussion that looked at mega-trends in today’s IT integration business during the recent 1NService Interchange conference in Atlanta, Curt Frierson, CIO of Safe Systems, says, “It’s tough to provide all these services and manage them all. There are so many services and each one has its own username and password.”

John Stewart, general manager at ITS InfoCom, sees cloud “as an enabler of other trends,” citing a Gartner report that the chief marketing officer will be spending more IT dollars than the CIO by 2017.

Cloud was one of four so-called mega-trends discussed by Chris Poe, chief innovation officer of Warwick, R.I.-based integrator Atrion, during his keynote. The other three, says Poe, are social, mobile and data. Poe pointed to cloud and mobile together as a “mega-mega-trend,” saying there could be about 77 million apps downloaded in 2014. “Cloud and mobile together break down barriers,” says Poe.

“These mega-trends are producing so much information,” says Greg Smith, senior engineering manager at Cisco. “This data is very complex and managing that data is tough. We have to make it simple. If we can connect things to people and processes to improve innovation, the checkbook is open.”

Change Comes Faster Than Ever

“The cloud is going to be the biggest enabler of mega-trends we don’t even see right now,” says Frierson.

Smith sees young people as a critical piece of adjusting to the rapidly changing world.

“Young people are fueling the change,” he says. “The change is speeding up and we have to help our customers embrace that change.”

The trouble is it’s tough to convince many people it’s time to make a change, even when you know it’s true.

“In hindsight, it’s obvious which companies are at risk, but when you’re in the moment, you don’t know,” says Stewart. “Disruptive technologies are things you don’t see coming, and that’s why they’re called disruptive. You have to open your mind and think about where things can go. The five-year plan became the two-year-plan, then the one-year plan, then the quarterly plan, then the monthly plan.”

That rapid evolution “makes it more difficult to make decisions,” says Frierson.

The biggest mistake any company can make, says Atrion CEO Tim Hebert, is doing nothing. That’s where integrators come in. They have to communicate the urgency of keeping up with the constant changes.

“You have to be selective about where to invest, but you have to do something,” he says.

Opportunities Aplenty

Smith sees sensors becoming smaller, cheaper and more powerful. That creates another avenue for integrators.

“That data has to be used somehow and we have to figure out how to best lead our customers to all these things that are connected and help them understand how to use those things,” he says. “The innovation that can happen in the variety of businesses is really exciting.”

It goes deeper than just having new technology at your fingertips, says Stewart.

“Technology by itself won’t make you successful,” he says. “To survive, we have to understand our company’s business better than they understand it themselves.”

Frierson agrees, saying, “You have to have a much deeper understanding of the power of these solutions and how the customers can use them.”

Changes are evident in who integrators are looking to hire.

“We’re looking for a sales guy who knows technology, can talk to the CIO and has financial knowledge. That person doesn’t exist. You have to train them,” says Stewart.

Smith agrees, saying, “We have to change how we’re developing our people and how we’re finding them. We have to change to adapt to the workforce. Their big ideas can be very transformational.”

As Hebert put it, “You don’t want to be in a position where you’re hiring the tallest pygmy or the so-called ‘cream of the crap.'”