Has Technology Improved the Quality of Life?

I’ve been having a number of conversations lately with various folks about whether technology has improved the quality of our daily lives. While we all agree that technology has enabled us to gain access to more data and information, we generally haven’t experienced an overall improvement to our quality of life—just more coming at us faster.  In fact, if we were to compare life in the 70’s and 80s with now, the negative aspects of technology have overshadowed the benefits. Things are much more complex, we’re working harder, faster, and putting in longer hours than ever before. From an ecological viewpoint, because we’re printing more than ever, paper consumption is higher than ever (thankfully many are recycling).

Nonetheless, I believe that we’re on the threshold of a new era of technology, where quality of our lives will be improved—and the driver won’t be the tech companies, it will be you and me. To some degree, we could attribute blame to Google and Apple for this trend with their easy to use interfaces and seamless integration. But in the end, they merely exposed the fact that simplicity was possible. And isn’t this what we, IT people, have wanted all along? Steve Jobs was quoted to say that he wanted to develop an inexpensive computer that was like an appliance and was “as easy to use as a toaster.” While we’re not quite at that point (there are computer controlled toasters and other appliances now), we’re close. Folks can now find easy to use technology solutions from Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and other cloud providers that can provide services from complex data processing to something as simple as storing data or providing email. The need for the “expert” IT guy” to implement the big technology is diminishing—at least in the eyes of the consumer. The challenge for IT leaders is how are we going to respond as this? It will no doubt put pressure on our organizations to provide simpler and more seamless access to enterprise systems and data, which is typically been big and bulky.

One key is to identify ways to integrate these systems into a more holistic user experience, which can be very difficult, expensive, and time consuming. It is NOT by seeking to control or deliver more silo’d technology. It is my belief that the simpler it is on the outside (user experience), the more complex it is on the inside (technical experience). Another key to our overall success is process change; in order for us to see the improvements that we’ve seeking after, we need to embrace the transformative properties of good technology. This means that we need work with our constituents on better process and encourage them stop doing things the old way and to be willing to fully subscribe to new procedures and methodologies.

None of this will be easy; as I’ve tweeted in the past, the next 3-5 years, IT organizations will probably be the busiest we’ve ever experienced. This trend will introduce disruptions into our organizations. New skill sets will need to be developed—more sophisticated skills in business process and data analysis, project management, system and data integration, and design. We’ll need to continue to assess our operations to ensure that we are providing direct support to our core business (the business that differentiates us) and find ways to offload commodity operations that don’t differentiate us (i.e. email, consumer storage, disaster recovery, etc), We should be more apt to contract out development projects and continue to engage with and accelerate our movement toward cloud services like Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
We, IT leaders, can either embrace the changes coming to IT or resist them. If we embrace them, we stand to continue to provide value to our—in fact more value than ever before because of the evident productivity and efficiency improvements. If we resist or lag back, we’ll find ourselves marginalized. The future is bright and it’s a good time to be in IT. The paradox that we will face (or are facing) is that we’ve been saying for years that technology is not the driver. But in truth, it is all about the technology, how it’s implemented, and how it’s used. With that said, our focus should continue to be on outcomes, productivity improvement, and increasing the bottom line. Now, we need to add one more criteria, we need to ensure that what we do improves the quality of our professional, personal, and social lives in the process—simple, integrated, and robust.

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