Is the information revolution having its Thermidor? (Thermidor was a month in the French revolutionary calendar; in Thermidor of the Year II—July 1794 for the reactionaries—the fever of the Reign of Terror broke and the revolution began to settle down.) There are times when it seems so; social media seems to be hogging all the attention, but while Facebook and Twitter have their uses, they are hardly on a par with, say, the railroad or the car as world-changing technologies. Yet even as Facebook and other social media sites deal with the fallout from poor IPOs, behind the scenes there are more interesting changes are happening that will have far-reaching effects that will be felt far outside the tech world.A piece in the Financial Times spotlights one of the most important of these changes: the growth of cloud computing. Disproving the naysayers who claim that tech innovation is dead, programs like Dropbox, ServiceNow, and Splunk that take advantage of the cloud to share files and data remotely are making waves both in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, where stocks are rising and sales are up.If anything, the impact of technological innovation on workplaces seems to be growing. The cloud isn’t just adding a few features and conveniences that help businesses here and there. It is changing the way organizations work:
Two interdependent forces have served to open up the market that Mr Ellison declared to be closed a decade ago. One is the cloud. Accessing a service online, rather than having to install software on a company’s own computer, not only changes the economics of owning software, it also opens a new route to customers.The resistance of many in the corporate world to entrusting their data to cloud services is fast eroding. One sign of how much attitudes have already changed among traditionally conversative chief information officers: the person representing General Atlantic on its Box investment is Gary Reiner, a former chief investment officer at General Electric.The second force is consumerisation. Individual workers are choosing what to use rather than taking what their IT departments decide to give them. This is doing to the enterprise software business what smartphones and tablets are doing to hardware: Box, Dropbox and Yammer are all companies that have bypassed the IT department to reach workers directly.
Technological innovation seems to be alive and well—at least in one sector of the IT industry.Don’t misunderstand: We think social media are fun. But innovation that changes the way business works is far more important. Better use of the cloud offers both big business and small business new opportunities, and now new multibillion dollar companies are rising up to capitalize on this fact.Another important aspect of this new information revolution will be in the expansion of bandwidth. The Wall Street Journal discusses the rise of new projects like Google Fiber that aim to radically increase the amount of bandwidth available to regular consumers—which in turn should make bandwidth-heavy operations more feasible for businesses of all sizes.This program still has a long way to go before it becomes the new national standard for connectivity, but already it is clear that there are all kinds of products and services that would be available online if only we had the bandwidth for it. Programs that involve massive transfers of data or frequent two-way video communications would be two obvious examples.What’s interesting is how many of these new products and services involve healthcare:
But that isn’t deterring the entrepreneurs from hatching plans. Jeff Pfaff of Overland Park, Kan., says he hopes to use the service to “push the limits” of a health-monitoring system he’s building. It would enable at-home patients to teleconference with doctors and family members via a camera hooked up to a TV set and a remote control.The business, Caregiv, is based on the premise that some elderly patients aren’t facile with computers and a TV set is thus a better way to monitor them at home.With a Google Fiber connection, Mr. Pfaff believes he will be able to stream multiple high-definition videos to provide nutrition training and therapy sessions in online groups.The monitoring system would also collect information, such as picking up tremors or patient coughing patterns, he says. The plan is to provide two remotes, one for the living room and one for the bedroom. Mr. Pfaff expects to start testing the products in residences hooked up to Fiber later this fall.
Using IT to improve productivity and lower costs for services like healthcare and education remains the frontier for economic progress today. The use of information to raise the productivity of service industries is the most important single avenue toward a significantly more prosperous future. The bandwidth explosion will have other important consequences beyond that, too—reducing the need for physical proximity in business, for example—that will save time and resources and make the world both richer and greener.The information revolution really is as important as the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. And we are not even to the halfway point.