Guest column: Bill's new law: Broadband changes the rules

In a column a decade ago, I promulgated Bill's Law: nothing in the IT world changes as fast as people and pundits think it will change. The law applied aptly to the proliferation of client/server computing, the death of the mainframe and so on.

Then came the Internet, and Bill's Law was history. No one foresaw the intensity and totality with which it would transform information technology, not to mention the businesses and organisations IT supports.

As suddenly as the Internet has changed the rules, a related phenomenon is looming that will make all Internet-enabled change appear like child's play.

I'm talking about delivering to consumers cheap broadband Internet access that's several orders of magnitude faster than what's available today. Whether that access is given via Digital Subscriber Line, broadband wireless or cable modem, phenomenally fast, ubiquitous connections will be the norm within three years.

And if you think the Internet has changed your work life, just wait until you see the disruptions broadband will bring.

Consider that Forrester Research predicts that the volume of business-to-business Internet commerce will swell from $US48 billion last year to an astonishing $1.3 trillion in 2003. Now imagine what will happen in the business-to-consumer segments once broadband connectivity is universal. You can imagine the possibilities, but you can't predict the most notable ones because the applications that will leverage the bandwidth explosion haven't even been developed yet.

The situation is much like the state of the Web in 1992. Back then, the Web was just a thought. If someone had written then about the impact of global connectivity, browsers and the Web programming language HTML, no one would have listened anyway. None of what the Web has created could have been fully comprehended.

My point is simply this: try as we may, no one can predict the applications that will be made possible by the major shift taking place in the underlying infrastructure that drives IT.

We can with some confidence make sweeping predictions of what the broadband era will demand of you and your staff. For one thing, you'll need to ensure that your systems, particularly your network, are almost infinitely scalable. As an exercise, imagine what it would take to, say, triple network or system capacity in a year. Then multiply that by two or three.

Additionally, your systems will need to support a virtual workforce. Remote workers, be they on the road or in some remote or home office, will demand services and secure data access identical to what you provide on campus. No compromises will be tolerated.

Finally, the proliferation of telecommunications companies and services -- such as virtual private networks -- will make it increasingly desirable, if not a requirement, for IT to aggressively seek outsourcing options.

That's plenty to work on. Don't worry yet about those killer apps -- no one can predict them. But they're out there, probably locked in the cranium of a twentysomething MIT student, waiting to be sprung by the broadband revolution.

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