About three weeks ago I found myself submerged in thought after a casual, out-of-the-blue question from my ten-year old son, just as we were about to leave our house in my 1999 car.
“If smartphones were invented in 2007 when I was born, how did car company engineers know to make charging ports for smartphones in 1999?”
The cigarette lighter. I suddenly realized he had never seen how the original design for the in-dash 12-volt powered cylindrical hole worked. I rummaged through the glove box—another repurposed automotive anachronism that is at least a century old—and found the lighter unit. After I delivered a brief safety lecture, he inserted the device, pressed, pulled it out after the “pop,” and saw the orange glow. It was an odd moment of awe followed by some additional parental chat.
The experience highlighted cloud trends we sometimes ignore, or maybe just take for granted. Adaptation of skills and tools is an important part of the process of moving from last century needs to 21st century requirements. The history of what was once a ubiquitous system for lighting cigarettes in moving vehicles is by itself an interesting story of adaptation.
The automotive lighter has origins that can be traced to the beginning of the automotive age in the late 1890s. While the historical record is a bit vague, it appears these devices originated in Germany, when Karl Benz patented the first gasoline powered production “motorwagen” in 1886.
By the 1890s, lighters were first marketed in Germany as an after-market accessory for automobiles (it’s also remarkable how an automotive after-market evolved so rapidly). When first invented, larger diameter cigars were more popular than their smaller and less expensive cousins, cigarettes, and preferred among individuals who could afford to buy and maintain early automobiles. This established the diameter used today for the electrical converters we plug into our cars to power smartphones and other electronic devices: the diameter of a typical cigar in 1890.
For me, the story is a remarkable tale of adaptation and resilience. Considering the size of today’s automotive marketplace and all the change that has occurred since Benz made his first vehicle, and all the items drivers have added to and modified on cars, it is interesting how one of the earliest accessories for cars survived and evolved. Add in the overall global decline in cigarette and cigar consumption, and the survival of the cylindrical opening on the dashboard is truly hard to believe.
It reminds me of successful IT organizations. I live in a part of Colorado that is home to many IT professionals who work all along the spectrum, from applications developers and network engineers to project managers and business analysts. I sometimes think that I could form an IT firm in my neighborhood. When we talk shop at our pool or park, I am often asked if the cloud will displace their careers.
My unequivocal answer is always no. The cloud is not just the future of IT for applications delivery, it is also the future of IT careers and organizations. And that future is here today.
Just like the simple cigarette lighter has adapted within its defined envelope, IT organizations are making similar adjustments by leveraging their current capabilities, knowledge and experiences to embrace the cloud as the next generation of technology.
Looking back over the last 50 years or so, one quickly sees the other changes IT professionals have encountered with success. In the 1970s, IT organizations were predominately focused on centralized in-house or time-shared systems living in raised-floor data centers. The personal computing revolution of the 1980s turned that platform upside down, and PCs themselves endured radical evolution when the internet rolled into our lives in the 1990s. This century has already brought us wireless and mobile connectivity—all driven by smaller devices that in some cases are threatening the existence of desktop PCs. New challenges and opportunities are always appearing, coupled with IT organizations that are constantly evolving, quickly adapting—and often growing.
Now, more companies are using cloud applications and displacing their last-century software. Coupled with the Internet of Things, chatbots, robotics, and other new technologies, the opportunities for IT professionals are more numerous than ever. The future with cloud applications is something to embrace, not fear—especially since, with the cloud, mundane and often dreaded IT tasks of patching, upgrades, maintaining custom code, and writing user-requested reports, are gone.
In fact, the higher-end skills in IT organizations—business analysts, data scientists, project managers—are in demand for cloud driven organizations; our recent research with AICPA has shown that, even among line-of-business functions like finance, these skills are in high demand. The digital economy is driving organizations to be more agile, necessitating the search for data analysts and others who can interpret data and help guide the business.
The digital world is changing faster than most of us ever imagined—but IT teams can adapt, if they apply their existing skills to new uses. After all, when is the last time you put a pair of gloves into the “glove box” in front of your car’s passenger seat, turned a crank to open the driver’s window, or reached out of that open window to adjust the left side mirror?
I can’t remember. But I can adapt. And one very cold winter day in the future, I will probably trade in my 1999 car so that I can have a seat warmer. After all, this is Colorado—and even though it’s almost June, you never know when there will be a change in the weather.