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Roadmap to the E-Revolution

A Strategic Guide to the Business Opportunities and Discontinuities 
Fueled by Advancing Information Technologies




Roadmap to the e-Revolution

By Paul Kampas 

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Engineering Management Review  (First Quarter 2001)
Information Systems Management  (Winter 1999-2000

Information technology is advancing in a predictable sequence of five “megawaves.” We are nearing the end of the third megawave, with the fourth megawave building rapidly (Note: Since publication in 1999, we are now fully in the fourth megawave). Visionary leaders carry an implicit mental map of this pattern deep in their minds. Because the five megawaves follow similar patterns of development, important lessons from past waves can be used for anticipating and exploiting future waves. This article provides an explicit and thought-provoking “roadmap” of  this pattern for both technical and business leaders to see, debate, and use as they reinvent their enterprises in the e-revolution.


In prehistory, humans gained advantage over other species through our superior intellect and use of language. In more recent millennia, we have augmented this natural advantage with a steady stream of information technologies (IT). In fact, the ascent of civilization and commerce is inextricably tied to the ascent of IT. Today’s leg of this ascent is referred to in this article as the e-Revolution, where “e” stands for electronic.

IT enables advances in civilization by providing a form of external nervous system that links the ideas and actions of individuals and organizations into an increasingly informed, coordinated, and connected whole. To gain a perspective on the power of this external nervous system, it is valuable to observe the striking lockstep between advances in IT and advances in civilization throughout the ages:

  • 3,500 BC:  Written language fueled the rise of commerce and government.
  • Early 1500s:  Movable metal type and the printing press fueled the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe. 
  • Late 1800s:  The telegraph and the telephone (along with the railroad) fueled the rise of the large American corporation and national brands. 
  • Late 1990s:  Digital communications is fueling the rise of horizontal, real-time extended enterprises, where companies are linking customers, themselves, and suppliers in increasingly rapid and responsive ways. 
  • Early 2000s:  Electronic commerce, distance learning, telework, and new media are poised to fuel the transformation of many industries and institutions that have had long and often glorious histories.

How can leaders of today better navigate their organizations through these increasingly frequent and disruptive “megawaves” of IT-fueled change? In my experience, the most successful leaders do this by building a mental roadmap of how IT is creating opportunities and discontinuities , and they use that roadmap constantly in developing strategy and making decisions. By making this roadmap explicit and shared, leaders can include a diversity of senior managers and thought leaders in this critical activity. The intent of this article is to help readers and their organizations develop and apply such an explicit and shared roadmap via a three-step process:

Step 1 – Framing the Functionality:  A simple but powerful five-level framework, the information system function chain, is introduced as the conceptual foundation to mapping the e-revolution.

Step 2 – Mapping the Megawaves: Information technologies evolve up the information system function chain in a highly predictable pattern, enabling the visualization and mapping of five predictable megawaves of IT-fueled change (we are currently in the third megawave).

Step 3 – Envisioning and Engaging: Opportunities and discontinuities created by the third and fourth megawaves are envisioned and then applied to the challenging process of discarding old business definitions and strategies and engaging new ones that embrace the major shifts taking place.

Before moving onto the first step, it is important to note that we live in a period where historic changes are underway. Five hundred years from now our descendents will look back and marvel at how much was accomplished. Such changes are turbulent and challenging en route, and succeeding in them requires us to both plan methodically (the focus of this article) as well as to adapt in the moment. Doing both of these at the same time is difficult, but nothing short will likely work in these transformative times.

See more in Envisioning Business.



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