- By Matt McInnes
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Recently, I attended a CIO conference along with hundreds of other senior IT leaders. In filling the whitespace between presentations, the MC posed a question to the room “Who founded the World Wide Web (www)?”. Much to my surprise one of the attendees responded with an answer which pointed to some confusion regarding the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW). While this may appear to be splitting hairs, I believe the deeper implications can negatively impact an organisation’s capacity innovate and disrupt, which ultimately impacts their capacity to compete.
There is no question that for the masses of users, the Internet and the WWW are essentially the same thing. From the perspective of a business information systems manager, the devil is in the detail, and the difference is critically important to appreciate. In summary, the Internet is the network of connected computing devices, and the WWW is a distributed application that runs primarily across the Internet which allows content to be presented and connected (hyperlinked). When the WWW application is made available within a corporate network, it is referred to as an Intranet.
Coming back to our confused friend at the CIO conference, they were adamant and emotionally connected to the idea that the US Government created the WWW and Tim Berners-Lee simply made their technology more user friendly.
Understanding the difference between the Internet and the WWW makes it easier to explain that the US Government are attributed with creating the first distributed network (ARPANET) which became the Internet, and Tim Berners-Lee created an application running across this network to collect and connect content (the WWW). For reference, some other examples of applications that run over the Internet are e-mail and more recently VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
While I absolutely believe it’s important for business managers to understand observations from the past (Vilfredo Pareto, Henry Ford, Frederick Taylor, Michael Porter and Peter Drucker as a few examples), I also believe information systems managers need to understand the fundamentals of computing theory and the observations of leaders that have come before us. Gordon Moore and Bob Metcalf in particular documented observations that have held true since the 1960’s, and continue to impact the sheer existence and behaviour of organisations today and in some cases the existence of entire industries.
To remain competitive (Michael Porter), you have to analyse and consider market forces on your business. Rest assured, competitors are looking to rapidly disrupt your industry. Today, this disruption is becoming more available as networks become more available and accessible (Bob Metcalf) and the cost of computing capacity reduces (Gordon Moore).
In the same way that sound business fundamentals provide the foundation to establish, maintain and grow a business, I believe that as we continue into the future, sound information systems foundations can provide a platform for business innovation and disruption.
Don’t become our confused conference friend. Understand the fundamentals of both business and information systems, and use these as a foundation for innovation and disruption.