Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Do new advances in technology mean IT managers will soon be fired?

June 16, 2009
By Dick Morley


Dick MorleyNothing lasts forever. For example, we no longer have a vice president of electric power in our factories. My dad remembers when, in Philadelphia, businesses had to have six phones on the desk – one for each of the telephone companies. None would connect to another; much like today’s cell service companies. We deal with the communication services, and they choose the phone we must use.

This is like having plumbers choose your faucets; all we care is that we get water out of those designer faucets.

The modern cell phone (faucet) changed all that. The iPhone dictates the plumbing (AT&T) and the Jitterbug phone says "we do them all." The personal device is now untethered from the plumbing manufacturer and can seamlessly deal with the network fog.

What does this mean to the IT manager?


He is out of a job. The average teenager does his own IT. Games, homework, updates, service choices and maintenance are all the province of the user. Personal computer and personal IT services? What will the future communication services for industry look like?

Tablet PCs and iPhones are the sparrows of spring. With these devices, we can connect to the Internet cloud with a handheld device. The trends: laptops are expected to outsell desk units in coming year. These portable units are as powerful as last year’s hot desktop. Applications and updates become a Google service. We become attached to the net, not to our desk. There are several missing elements. We need access to a large screen, solid power point and a projector. These enhancements are in the works somewhere today. Memory sticks have adequate memory, and backup is over the www. Costs are sharply reduced. A single iPhone is a camera, telephone and a browser – with more to come. And we users like it.

The negatives: applications will take several years to reach maturity. Different training and maintenance techniques will emerge. Anyone for the book IT for Morons? To the suits, the devices look like toys and, as one comb-over said, "It looks expensive." Technology mavens lose control, and Google and the iPhone supply the tech. The culture of persistence fights back and will delay acceptance. The user will be caught between the religion of the past and the promise of the future.

My dad remembers the beginning of the telephone for business. I remember my time on my uncle’s farm. From grade one to grade three, I lived on his farm – a real farm, no day job. I helped drive his Fordson tractor with a three-point hitch and was paid three cents an hour. In addition to the tractor, we had an old roadster for utility transportation. I drove a car that had a manual spark advance, manual transmission with no synchromesh and a manual choke. This roadster had a manual backup crank to start the engine. And it was the latest thing. Generally, chauffeurs had to drive the cars, the elevators and the kitchen. The modern car has ABS, automatic transmissions, satellite communications, computer control and automatic navigation aids. ‘Tis about time our computer industry did what Ford did – IT for the masses. The user is in charge, and we must recognize this.

We do live in exciting times. Handheld units and ultra mobile computers are coming – and many are already here in the consumer market. Apple’s Air laptop is not only thin; it personifies the network service concept. The CES show reinforced this idea. We are entering the era of the:

• Appliance
• Community defined by the net, not geography
• Office in your pocket
• Memory in the network
• Entertainment in your hand
• Synching of all data (watch out for the security 800 pound gorilla)
• Corporate village
• Happy user – turn on and go

These changes will disrupt conventional thinking. Basing systems design upon customer utility, not carrier needs, changes the landscape. Look behind thyself; the kids are gaining on you.

Dick Morley is the inventor of the PLC, an author, speaker, automation industry maverick and a self-proclaimed ubergeek. E-mail him at

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