Scott Charbo, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

February 2006
By Scott Charbo, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

There are two certainties in life that we all know: death and taxes. I submit that we add a third: Technology is ever-changing and evolving. If you don’t believe this, check your graveyard of cell phones and chargers.

When I was recently asked what technology will most impact the future of information technology, I paused. My concern is not having the foresight to predict based on the visible or known, but the foresight to predict based on what we don’t see. You don’t know what you don’t know. Who wants to be sucker-punched by the future? While it is painful, you can argue that this is where the great fortunes are, and will be, made.

The most impact on all of the architectures and enterprises will come from the disruptive platform that we don’t see. Success will be based on how well we are able to accommodate a disruptive change. While I cannot predict who will be the bearer or what exactly the product will be—if I could, I would not be writing this—I can be sure that there will be a disruptive technology that will change how we view some aspect of life or business. It is our jobs as leaders to prepare for these shifts in how we operate.

The entrepreneur in me sees the 12-year-old in some class just now learning about the physics of sound or about algebra. Or, it may be someone else who is just now getting his or her first Internet connection in some remote corner of the world. These are the places and times that allow people to think outside of the box and apply a different thought process to the simple routines that most of us are locked into. Suddenly, someone shows us another, easier, process for the same task we have been doing over and over. A disruptive technology that changes lives is born. We have all read the great stories of garage-inventions and how they came to be.

I may have side-stepped the real question, but it is more fun to think like this. It is like trying to think about infinity or how large the universe is—but back to the question.

The easy answer to the question would be to say some wireless, mobile, radio frequency identification or optical-sensory device is the next new technology. All of these technologies are important and will allow different ways to collect data or to distribute information. In some cases, they offer a cheaper way of doing things, certainly faster in a lot of cases. However, the problem created is usually data overload. How do I manage 25 hours of data in a 24-hour day? Now there is disruption. This question leads to my real passion—data.

I think the next great disruptive force will be an absolutely different way to manage and distribute data as information. Notice I did not say store and distribute data. Maybe we don’t need to store data at all. Maybe we only need to collect data at the time we need information and then we can dispose of the data. After all, we only want the information. Doesn’t this change the landscape of an information technology architecture? I know it will send the database administrators and those who build and sell storage area networks screaming. Remember, technology is ever-changing.

The greatest portions of information technology cost are in the management of the data behind the scenes and with the end user needing to complete tasks that make information technology important. A secondary cost item often overlooked is the need to distribute masses of data rather than just the information that is needed. A different approach or view of data management certainly will change these costs—and all aspects of information technology. Once again, disruptive and unpredictable.

“Easy” usually wins every time. An approach to data management that would change software licensing, hardware configurations and network capacity issues is surely a technology that impacts the very heart and soul of any architecture. “Easy” wins again.

So, this brings me back to the third certainty in life. The future will tell, and won’t it be fun to find out.