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Emerging Technology Evaluation and Planning

by Jim Rinaldi - 3GC Board Advisor: Former CIO of JPL, IRS, FDA, and Marriott

The rate of change in information technology continues to magnify. So much so, that keeping up becomes a challenge to any IT organization. Often your internal, functional organizations may be better informed than your own IT organization. While that may happen, this does not bode well for IT in the long run.

New or emerging technologies create an exciting opportunity if you can explore them and see if there are benefits to your company. It is also wise to know which technologies to avoid. The ones that don’t offer any value and will waste your time and cost money in the long run.

Back in the day, my team was eager to be an early adopter for smartphones and cloud computing. Turns out, we were able to prototype both and work with our internal customers. This exercise gave both my team and the customers an opportunity to find real applications. Both technologies benefitted productivity and provided a win for IT.

With our introduction and experimentation with cloud computing, we learned what our customers needed. We also used our experience to give feedback to the cloud providers. For example, we were fortunate to meet with the AWS CEO (at that time Andy Jassy) and share our needs and concerns. This was insightful to Andy as well. Thanks to AWS working with us, we were able to influence new cloud services as in a dot Gov cloud environment and cybersecurity controls that met the compliance needs required for working with the government.

While the above example worked for us, it was not unique to our inclusion of several other vendors in our requirements. Microsoft, Oracle, Google and many others were willing to meet and understand our needs, while in the process we got an understanding of their capabilities and plans.

I’ve always felt an IT organization should be on top of technology changes and emerging technologies. I felt my customers should come to IT to understand our position on emerging technologies. I considered it a better alternative than customers finding out on their own and wondering why IT was so behind.

So, I asked the CTO to focus on emerging technology. He would stay current through publications, vendors, and external networks. The CTO and I would go to trade shows, such as CES, to see what the newest consumer-based technologies looked like. This was valuable for many reasons.

We also had executive briefings with key technology vendors like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and AWS among others. I enjoyed these efforts to visit their locations and really understand how their future plans would work for us.

Of course, not every technology was a good fit or wasn’t quite ready yet. So, we would track those that had potential but needed time to mature. Database technologies and data analytics visualization products often fell into this category. Today, Quantum computing would be an example to track for the future. Metaverse is an obvious other one.

Some of the generative AI technologies are in the forefront today and it would be a huge mistake to ignore them. These sets of technologies grab executive suite and board attention. It is wise to have an AI strategy in mind not just for IT but also for application to the business side.

I recommend starting with an AI strategy to improve your customer-facing experience, enhancing your data analytics capabilities and operations. Cybersecurity is an obvious starting point given the speed and complexities of technologies and human behavior.

Through my own mistakes, I learned to listen to the hype around technology, but do your homework and develop a position. People in your company may have questions. New employees also may want to know their new company looks to stay feasibly current.

I realize not every organization can spend resources to track emerging technologies. My recommendation is to at least understand what your customers may be reading or seeing in the press. ChatGPT is a great example of technology hype (with huge potential). Find the one or two you can track and then develop your position. Your network, computing, development teams usually know what upgrades to follow. Those teams can stay current enough to make prudent decisions. Use those decisions to keep informed. There are many free publications that can give you technology trends for free. Use those to educate yourself but also communicate the potential to your business.

Finally, as businesses are more dependent on IT services, stay current, track what emerging technologies are potentials for your business, and communicate clearly and often!

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