Have you mastered the many worlds of technology?

The Cold War brought us the First, Second and Third Worlds. There is now a fourth -- the virtual world

Our world has changed. On second thought, make that "worlds." The things technology executives are supposed to handle have expanded exponentially. Virtualization, innovation, globalization and collaboration now require mastery of multiple worlds.

Here's a rundown on some of the worlds you may now find yourself in.

The Cold War brought us the First, Second and Third Worlds. There is now a fourth -- the virtual world. Not so long ago, IT leaders really only had to understand the First World. This was where technology came from and where it was deployed. This is no longer the case. IT leaders need to understand all four worlds so that they can source talent and deliver IT services in them.

As for those physical worlds, geography still matters -- at least as far as IT spending patterns are concerned. IT spending in the Asia-Pacific region, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa is forecast to run three to four times higher than in the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe over the next 18 months.

Innovation has fundamentally transformed and expanded IT's world of devices. There are a lot more things that we have to examine, cost-justify, deploy, manage, maintain and, eventually, retire. Someday soon, vendors assure us, their impressively imagined product road maps will lead us to a world where a single management framework can manage all of our IT infrastructure. We're waiting.

Perhaps the most challenging world facing today's IT leader is the world of work. An IT professional of 20 years ago would find today's IT work and IT workers virtually unrecognizable. Where they work is constantly changing.

Look at how much has happened with the home office. Dieringer Research Group estimates that more than 28 million Americans work from home at least part of the time. According to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, seven in 10 Americans now have designated workstations in their homes. The National Association of Home Builders says home offices rank as the fourth most important feature for buyers of upscale houses.

The relationship between the people doing the work and the entities for whom they do it has changed as well. Daniel H. Pink, author of Free Agent Nation (Business Plus, 2002), estimates that one-fifth of the people in the US workforce are self-employed. The typical IT workforce has full-time, part-time, contract and outsourced resources.

But these free agents still must be managed and led. You will have to bring a variety of formal and informal performance feedback tools to bear in the modern IT workplace. Determining salary and benefit levels and managing advancement opportunities are much more complicated for a hybrid labor pool.

You will have to be a "multivational" leader -- one who uses multiple motivational techniques. Multivational leaders realize that each situation requires a calibrated persuasion technique. The multivational leader must master and manipulate different and overlapping incentive systems, drawing on promotional, intellectual, social and financial motivators.

Unlike in Earth's solar system, the number of worlds in the IT solar system keeps expanding, not contracting (goodbye, planet Pluto). How many of your worlds have you mastered?

Thornton A. May is a longtime industry observer, management consultant and commentator. You can contact him at thorntonamay@aol.com

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