IT’s Facets: How Bitcoin, 5G and Other Innovations Challenge our View of Stacks
Editor’s note: The following is sneak peak from CompTIA‘s forthcoming IT Industry Outlook 2018 report.
As technology extends its reach to companies of all sizes, industries with changing technical demands, and nearly every aspect of modern society, conversations around technology are also expanding.
It has always been the case that technology solutions are built from a stack of different components. Technical professionals often focus on a subset of this stack rather than developing deep expertise across the entire array. With interest and proficiency growing across the wide population, though, some classification of the technology landscape gives structure to discussions around strategies and expectations.
At the bottom of the tech pyramid, there are enabling technologies. These building blocks are often off the radar screen of most people, but sometimes a leap forward in capabilities will bring an enabling technology to the forefront. A good example of an enabling technology such as this is the TCP/IP protocol—a standard that powers the entire Internet but not a piece that is wildly evolving on its own.
Some topics in the spotlight today appear to be areas where companies need to build competency, but are in fact enabling technologies that will eventually live in the background of innovative applications. 5G is the next-gen standard for wireless networking, promising lower latency, higher bandwidth, and stronger security. But beyond any infrastructure upgrades, most businesses will focus on new possibilities in workflow rather than specifics of the 5G standard. Similarly, blockchain has been a huge topic as Bitcoin’s value has skyrocketed. But this technology will ultimately be used to fuel a new wave of transactions rather than become a core skill that every company must adopt.
The bulk of the tech ecosystem is comprised of established technologies. These solutions, built with enabling technologies, have proven their worth in the market and are productive tools used by a wide range of businesses. The most well-established examples are so commonplace that they generate few headlines and little hype. Servers, firewalls, virtualization, PCs, and SQL are all widely adopted, and IT pros continue to build their skills in these areas, but they rarely make any top 10 lists or keynote addresses. Cloud computing, smartphones, and social media are newcomers to this space, so interest is still high. But these have clearly become accepted as standard pieces of a modern architecture.
The final category is the one that receives the most attention as consumers and businesses try to stay ahead of the curve and build competitive advantage. Emerging technologies are on the horizon, holding the potential for disruption but still fighting hurdles to adoption before their full potential can be realized. Given the growing importance of technology (and the general belief that the rate of tech progress is accelerating), there is a recent tendency to approach emerging technology as a single topic. In reality, this space can be broken into three separate components, each of which are useful to businesses going through digital transformation.
The most common perception of emerging technology is a collection of different trends, any of which could eventually migrate into the bucket of established technologies. Some of these trends (like blockchain) may actually be enabling technologies, driving some confusion around how broadly skills will be needed or where the technology will appear in a solution stack. Other trends—like virtual reality, drones, or autonomous vehicles—clearly represent the type of endpoint tool that would be purchased by a consumer or business. The challenge in dealing with such a wide range of topics lies in developing the expertise to understand the pros and cons of each one. Limited resources further complicate this task.
A second way to approach emerging technology is to determine the desired objective that can be achieved using one or more different tools. For example, the complexity of IT infrastructure and demands for timely results drive a need for automation. Automation is not something that is purchased as a standalone item; instead, a company might employ IoT devices, artificial intelligence, and data analysis to automate certain functions. By focusing on the end goal rather than the discrete technologies, it can be easier to determine which pieces provide the most value.
Finally, companies can consider their internal structure and processes, making adjustments as necessary that will help with internal evaluation and adoption. This approach is closely tied to digital transformation efforts, where the real change occurs not from installing new tools but from changing the mindset and behavior of the organization. Larger companies might build internal innovation labs or cross-function teams that evaluate options and drive cultural change. Smaller companies might reconsider their use of technology partners in order to build a team with the right skill set.
At the end of the day, businesses need to find some way to cut through the noise around technology and organize their priorities so that they can invest in the correct tools and skills to remain competitive in the digital economy.