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Gustin Partners | April 08, 2016 |

We Are Entering An Era Where Infrastructure Matters

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

I recently asked a group of senior executives, “When you think of Paris, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Architecture figured prominently in many of the responses. Some said “the Eiffel tower.” Others suggested “the Louvre” or “Notre Dame Cathedral”. No one mentioned the Centre Georges Pompidou completed in 1977 by architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano under budget at $100,000,000.

I believe the Centre Pompidou [originally known as Centre Beaubourg] is a symbol of things to come. In the middle industrial age, architects generally attempted to hide the operational aspects of buildings. Ducts, pipes and bracings were covered over, buried and concealed. Architects Rogers and Piano reversed this trend glamorizing the working bits of the structure. Escalators, plumbing, wiring and ductwork are on the outside of the Pompidou Center for all to see. Infrastructure became part of the broader architectural discussion. I believe infrastructure - digital infrastructure - has to become part of the broader strategic discussions taking place in organizations today. Most organizations still operate on principles created during the heyday of a rapidly disappearing print-based industrial economy.

A Larchmont, New York reader of the New York Times “Book Review” talked about his great-grandmother, “who was born when Ulysses Grant was president and lived to see a man walk on the moon. In her lifetime, she experienced the invention of the automobile, telephone, radio, movies, phonographs, airplane, refrigerator, television, computer and many more advances that fundamentally changed the way we live our lives.” The reader went on to opine, “Nothing invented in my lifetime (since 1955) has come remotely close to having the same impact. The change that has occurred has almost all been about making existing technologies better, faster, cheaper. Nothing has made a fundamental difference….technological advances during my great-grandmother’s lifetime were revolutionary. Technological changes during mine have been “merely” evolutionary.”

I am not certain I agree. “Digital” has changed us. More students sign up for Harvard’s on-line courses in a single year than have attended the actual university throughout its entire 380-year history. More patients visit in a month than visit ALL the doctors working in the United States during a year.

The combinatorial impact of technology developments since 2010 mandate revisiting our assumptions about the technology infrastructures upon which our businesses operate. We need to re-platform to protect against emerging security threats and exploit emerging data, AI, and VR/AR opportunities.

The near-term future will look nothing like the recent past.  Adding an “app” or a new feature/function is no longer sufficient. We are emerging from the dusk before the dawn of an era when digital infrastructure really matters.


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