April 3, 2018
I joined what was then Andersen Consulting in October 1991. It was a competitive market with management consultancies starting to seriously expand into IT delivery and support. But there was also strong growth as companies realised the savings and benefits they could get from IT. At the time, the industry was starting to move away from mainframe computers and PCs were becoming ubiquitous. Mobile phones (the size of house bricks) were just appearing, and I had to carry a pager in case people needed to contact me. Smart phones were confined to science fiction. Government departments were striving to move from ‘green on black’ screens, which mostly replicated paper forms, to more intuitive and powerful systems. Paper was everywhere, and the internet was for academics and geeks.
The technology sector has transformed beyond all recognition, and in turn is disrupting every other industry. Seismic changes brought about by mobile computing, cloud, data analytics and the decreasing cost of computing power and storage are enabling ever more innovative IT applications. What was previously cutting edge is now a commodity, and businesses want IT to enable improved business performance. While there is always a need for deep specialists, different technology disciplines are converging, and individuals who can assemble solutions from disparate jigsaw pieces are in high demand. As an example, look at the family car. In addition to being a transport vehicle it is now a phone relay, an internet hotspot, an entertainment centre, a self-diagnosing maintenance computer and a navigation device. That is why the industry needs digital natives, who can piece these design puzzles together.
Technology trends are notoriously difficult to predict, but the pace of change will no doubt continue to be breakneck. Robotics and automation will reduce repetitive and predictive tasks, with a key challenge being how this automation can assist employees rather than replace them. Different skills and talent will be needed as technology branches into new areas, and this will require a more diverse workforce. Companies will continue to broaden their talent pipeline and apprenticeships will become increasingly popular. Partnerships between industry and schools and universities will be key, and if we are to tackle the technology skills gap then the number of girls pursuing STEM subjects and taking up tech careers will need to increase.
The insight derived from the massive volume of data being captured has huge potential societal value. But control around what data is captured, and how it can be used, requires careful consideration. Amidst the challenges and uncertainty, I am fascinated and excited about what the next 25 years will bring.