On May 17, I gave a talk at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London around the theme of "Enabling a Business Process Revolution." I was really looking forward to giving this talk. It was sort of special because, here I was at very the cradle of the Industrial Revolution to discuss with this very smart and accomplished audience the idea that we might be at the onset of a profound revolution in business processes, one with the potential to alter the shape of companies, industries, perhaps even economies, and which could have the kind of impact on us in the 21st century that the Industrial Revolution had on previous generations. Let me summarize what I said.
If we look at history, we will see that every technology-based revolution in the past eventually reached an inflection point when its underlying components became ubiquitous, inexpensive, reliable and standardized. In IT, we have made huge progress in making computing inexpensive and reliable, and with the advent of the Internet, we have started along the road toward standards, although we still have a long way to go. But continuing the push toward standard interfaces and components still requires much work and attention. Likewise, with the IT infrastructure growing at such a prodigious rate and pace, managing this growing complexity is one of the grandest challenges we face as an industry. To help address this challenge, several years ago we at IBM launched the Autonomic Computing initiative aimed at creating self-managing computer systems at all levels. Despite the fact that much remains to be done, IT is on its way to becoming ubiquitous.
Going forward, though, I feel that the major opportunities for innovation in IT will be less in the technology itself, and more "up the stack," that is, in how the technology is applied to solve problems in business and other institutions. Once again, this has been the case with just about every other technology-based revolution, once its particular technology became ubiquitous and standardized. The reason is that while in principle, IT is now letting us do just about anything, in practice we need more than ever to understand what problem we are solving and how we are solving it in order to make progress. That means that we must now have a much deeper understanding of the business processes we want to improve and transform.
Another grand challenge is the urgent need to evolve from today's rather labor-intensive and one-of-a-kind approaches to the building of business solutions toward an engineering methodology that relies on sophisticated tools, disciplined processes, and standard components. Otherwise, the complexity and costs of designing, building and deploying the kinds of end-to-end business solutions we are after will be a major impediment to progress.
To address these kinds of grand challenges, we must evolve from our present proprietary approach to innovation towards one based much more on collaborative innovation, in which businesses increasingly balance their proprietary and open IP, and actively work with open communities. In my own company, while we continue to lead the industry in patents, we are working more and more closely with key open communities like Linux, Grid and Apache. Recently we also made a patent pledge to help such open communities.
These are very exciting times. We have much, much work to do but, if we do the right things, future historians will be searching for a name that identifies the revolution that we are helping create, just as "Industrial Revolution" captures the essence of the economy and society that had its genesis in 18th century England.