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How the next, hot new technology era offers opportunities for IT

The age of fabrication provides lessons for IT departments to create innovative products to drive business and make their department stand out.

Thought leaders and media influencers always seem to be hunting for trends that will define the new technology era. Four years ago, that trend was SoLoMo, the catchy phrase coined by John Doerr of venture capital darling Kleiner Perkins. Doerr predicted that the "third wave" in IT would come from social media, location tracking and mobile technology. This trinity was going to revolutionize the way people interact with business and each other. Macbeth's three witches couldn't have done better.

There are also those less splashy, yearly market predictions from Gartner. In its forecast for 2014, for example, the consultancy states, in part: "Pressures of consumerization continue to disrupt many enterprises, forcing them to change their traditional business processes and operational models." Gartner positions this transformation as a response to increasing demands for technology solutions that are flexible and nimble. But the changes seem more like an uprising against enterprise IT, a civil war against an aristocracy that has siphoned money from budgets without accountability.

Changing how IT interacts with the business that employs it

Traditionally, IT has interacted in one of two ways with the rest of the business. Either it behaves like another part of facilities, its staff acting as glorified janitors, keeping their heads down, passive-aggressively turning water into wine even as they sulk and undermines progress in the background. Or it holds the business hostage with inefficient systems, countless failed projects and outdated hardware for its users, always demanding more resources like a workhouse orphan from Oliver Twist. Is it any wonder that senior leadership looks toward outsourcing infrastructure management?

Yet an Age of Technology Enlightenment is around the corner. Neal Gershenfeld, a pioneer in the fabrication movement with MIT's Fab Lab, believes the digital revolution is over. So, what's next? "Computing as raw material," he says. Compute, not as an end into itself, but as a tool to create or solve problems. And fabrication, through three-dimensional printing, has done just that. As the name implies, 3-D printing involves the creation of 3-D objects from a digital model. With the advent of affordable 3-D printers for home use, fabrication has become accessible to the masses.

By positioning itself as a partner and providing tools to the business, IT departments become something more than barbarians trying to build kingdoms.

Becoming a partner of what works and is transformative

While tools like laser cutters and 3-D printers are mainstays in Makerspaces -- local meeting spaces where people can collaborate on creating things -- they're also being used to make inexpensive prosthetic limbs, or irrigation equipment in poorer countries. Lives are being improved through affordable technology. Changes, some previously thought to be out of reach, can happen immediately.

Clearly, beleaguered IT departments could learn much from the fabrication movement.

By positioning itself as a partner and providing tools to the business, IT departments become something more than barbarians trying to build kingdoms. By using innovative methods for generating revenue and introducing better solutions, technology groups become startups within the enterprise, not just glorified administrative staff. Suddenly they're essential because they're moving the business forward, not dragging it down in stale tech.

In stepping out of their fear of being outsourced and by embracing the revolution, IT departments can become stakeholders in a creative solution. Think of it this way: Why would the business want to outsource anything that adds value to the bottom line?

This was last published in April 2014

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