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The Janus Model on Stage – Highlights of our UK Executive Forum

For many years, we have used our Janus model to describe the situation faced by Enterprise IT today. Janus was a mythical Roman God believed to be able to see equally clearly into the past and future. We believe the ability to sustain a balanced view of both where you have been and where you are going is at the heart of effective IT management today. While we observe the Janus challenge every day within our client base, it has rarely been on sharper display than during the opening and closing sessions of our recent Executive Forum in London.

Janus Model

Every time we say “Computers may be good at that, but they will never be able to do …” we are soon proven wrong.

The day began with MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who gave us a powerful vision of the future. His main message was that every time we say “Computers may be good at that, but they will never be able to do …” we are soon proven wrong. During his talk, Andrew provided one example after another of how impressive technological progress has been in areas such as playing Jeopardy, driving cars, flying planes, translating documents, diagnosing diseases, predicting political races, and even rating wines – all previously thought to depend on human sensibilities and intellect.

We agree entirely with this sense of rapid technological progress. However, Andrew takes his thinking a big step further. He believes that computers are getting so good at so many things so quickly that they are eliminating the need for human involvement in many fields and are thus already a major factor in today’s global unemployment problem, affecting both low- and high-skilled workers alike. Clearly, this view is much more contentious, but as stock markets boom while wages and employment stagnate, it is gaining traction. We’ll have to see what happens if/when we enjoy economic recovery.

Taking care of the past

While it isn’t surprising that a talented speaker such as Andrew can conjure up a compelling vision of the future, delivering a riveting talk about the past is typically much less common. This is why we were particularly delighted to have Liam Maxwell, CTO of the UK government, close our event by describing the UK government’s efforts to clean up its IT legacy and build a simpler, less expensive and more agile platform for the future. It was one of the highlights of the day.

Liam’s main message was that UK public sector IT had become bloated, rigid and inefficient. Contracts had become too large and complex; departments had too many custom systems, and too many services had become dependent upon the same set of big professional service firms. As a result the taxpayer wasn’t getting good value for money, and since the need for digital government services would surely increase, these problems would only compound themselves unless something was done.

The key elements of the government’s response have included: unbundled and smaller contracts that enable competitive bidding on each service component; using agile and more iterative development processes; the rationalization of systems, contracts and web sites; increased reliance upon open source and open data; and much greater overall transparency of process and results. The goal is to cut costs and while delivering truly citizen-centric services. Governments around the world are watching, and from the audience’s reaction, it was clear that Liam’s messages resonate with commercial firms as well.

Being ready for the future

An emerging theme of the day was that clients must keep abreast of new methods and capabilities, lest they miss opportunities and become too dependent upon suppliers.

From an LEF perspective, these two talks have more in common than might be initially apparent. Both rest upon the belief that, in the right hands, modern technology tools and processes offer dramatic improvements, not just incremental efficiencies. An emerging theme of the day was that clients must keep abreast of new methods and capabilities, lest they miss opportunities and become too dependent upon suppliers. The theme of our conference was being ready for an uncertain future. Increasingly, this will require firms to be as close to the cutting edge of change as possible, on both sides of the Janus.


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Research Commentary

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David Moschella
Research Fellow
David Moschella, based in the United States, is a Research Fellow for Leading Edge Forum.  David's focus is on industry disruptions, machine intelligence and related business model strategies.  David was previously Global Research Director of the programme. David’s key areas of expertise include globalization, industry restructuring, disruptive technologies, and the co-evolution of business and IT.  He is the author of multiple research reports, including Disrupting the Professions through Machine Learning and Digital Trust, 2016 Study Tour Report: Applying Machine Intelligence, There is Now a Formula for Machine Intelligence Innovation,  Embracing 'the Matrix' and the Machine Intelligence Era and The Myths and Realities of Digital Disruption. An author and columnist, David’s second book, Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth, was published in 2003 by Harvard Business School Press.  The book predicted the shift from a supplier-driven to today’s customer-led IT environment.  His 1997 book, Waves of Power, assessed global competition within the IT supplier community.  He has written some 200 columns for Computerworld, the IT Industry’s leading publication on Enterprise IT, and has presented at countless industry events all around the world. David previously spent 15 years with International Data Corporation, where he was IDC’s main spokesperson on global IT industry trends and was responsible for its worldwide technology, industry and market forecasts.    


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