As part of my job I give quite a number of talks. Some are relatively formal, e.g., keynotes at conferences, such as the one I gave last month at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco. Most are less formal, delivered to small audiences in meetings at IBM, universities or client locations.
These talks -- which have recently focused around the theme of innovation -- bring me in front of many different kinds of audiences: not just technology-focused, but people concerned with business, government, education and health care, and a variety of societal issues such as diversity. I am struck by how the topic of innovation seems to resonate with all of these groups and communities. And I'm intrigued as to why innovation has all of a sudden become such a hot subject, why we've become so self-conscious about it -- with magazine issues, books and TV series devoted to the subject, as well as major innovation initiatives in several countries, such as the NII in the US.
I have come to the conclusion that the reason there is so much activity around innovation out there is because of the major changes taking place across technology, business and society. In fact, I have begun organizing my talks around these three areas, trying to articulate what are some of the key changes in each area that I find particularly compelling. Let me just say a few words about each in this blog, and I will come back to these themes in the future.
Technology innovations are the easiest to appreciate. Computing is becoming embedded into the physical world all around us, from entertainment devices, to RFID tags, to automobiles, all made possible by the constantly increasing power and affordability of IT. Advances in supercomputing are bringing tremendous promise to Health Care and Life Sciences. When you add the Internet, WWW, Grids and other major open standards initiatives to the mix, what you get is a truly pervasive information infrastructure and the processing power and storage to make it valuable.
These advances in technology and open standards are making it possible to integrate IT much deeper into individual business processes, as well as enabling the integration of those processes into sophisticated business solutions. While still in the very early stages, I am convinced that we are at the threshold of a business process revolution that promises to restructure businesses, industries, perhaps even economies over time.
The key phrase here is "over time." As often happens, our technologies are way ahead of our ability to apply them. For such a business process revolution to become a reality, we need major advances in how such processes are designed, built, deployed and supported. In particular, we need to evolve from today's rather labor-intensive and one-of-a-kind approaches to the use of sophisticated tools, disciplined methodologies and standard business components. This will require significant innovation in both the worlds of IT and business.
Finally, as has been true throughout history, major changes in technology and business will lead to major changes in society. For example, the kinds of problems we are talking about tackling, and hopefully solving, are of such a complexity that they cannot be solved one company at a time, one university at a time, even one country at a time. Collaborative innovation is badly needed to help us come to grips with these technology, business and societal problems. The Internet itself has emerged as a major platform to facilitate such worldwide collaborative innovation. In fact, initiatives like Linux -- or other user-driven platforms like eBay -- would not have been possible without it.
But we all know that this shift, as wonderful as it is, is also disruptive. Just to pick one area: It is clear that our current intellectual property laws and practices need to evolve to facilitate, rather than impede collaborative innovation.
Let me stop here. I will come back to these topics in future postings.