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IT-driven 'renaissance' opens doors to green tech, medical advances, more

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The multidisciplinary jack of all trades is in vogue again. Here's how information technology is laying the foundation of the next 'Renaissance' era.

If Leonardo da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin were alive today, they may have started out as IT pros, then applied their systematic knowledge and innovation spirit to new ventures advancing sustainability, cleantech, nanotech, medicine, and science.

With the multi-disciplinary talents they possessed, visionaries such as da Vinci, Franklin, and others reshaped the world.

Now, the world demands new versatility. This versatility will not only come from inspired individuals, but entire companies as well, writes Vinnie Mirchandani in his new book.

Today's IT shop, for one, is at the cutting edge of a revolution reshaping business to the very core. IT managers and professionals are being called upon to be leaders, evangelists, and guides pointing business to the new way of competing in today's crazy global economy -- digitally, virtually, and analytically.

And we are seeing IT innovators spread out to new realms to change the world -- from low-cost global communications to solar-powered bus stops.

That thinking forms the core of Vinnie's book, The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations, suggests that professions such as information technology are expanding beyond the bounds of managing operating and storage systems. (Polymath is a Greek word for one who excels in many disciplines.) In fact, IT lays at the very core of many of the important changes now reshaping business and society.

For example, Vinnie takes a look at GE's approach to corporate IT -- not as a cost center, but as a profit center -- which makes the business even more innovative. The company "is innovating based on savvy understanding of global technology economics and the astute leveraging of licensing and intellectual property rights."

For example, GE maintains a "professional networking platform" called SupportCentral that "has more than 50,000 communities with over 10,000 experts across almost 20,000 business process flows." With 25 million hits a day in 20 languages from GE employees around the globe, SupportCentral, as Vinnie describes it, is "the biggest business-focused social network you have never heard of."

The IT culture GE supports helps it to maintain its lead as one of the most innovative companies in the world.

As Vinnie describes it:

In a world focused on light innovation around social networks and mobile devices, GE is making industrial innovation fashionable again.... Its internal IT innovates on its own and coaches its business unit on intellectual property and technology contracting issues as the businesses increasingly embed technology into their products.

Vinnie also discusses the growing role of analytics in helping guide corporate decisions, but cautions that it takes knowledgeable humans to make the most of the capabilities the technology unleashes.

He writes: "A wide range of analytical tools and technologies is available to enterprises today. Particularly encouraging is the progress around unstructured analytics, predictive analytics, and data visualization. Of course, recent misses in economic forecasting have reemphasized the need for 'human intelligence.' For that reason, it is nice to see a new generation of analytical 'artists' like Paul Kredrosky (author of the 'Infectious Greed' blog) emerge and the move to a decision-, not data-centric, analytical framework."

Taking a cue from the Renaissance nature of the today's technology, Vinnie distills much of his thinking into a RENAISSANCE Framework, which encompasses the following:

  • Residence: "Homes better technologically equipped than the office."
  • Exotics: "Innovation from left field."
  • Networks: "Bluetooth to Broadband."
  • "Arsonists" and Other Disruptors.
  • Interfaces: "For all our services."
  • Sustainability.
  • Singularity.
  • Analytics.
  • Networks.
  • Clouds.
  • Ethics.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure