Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt said technology is at a crossroads and the next game changing shift will comprise mobile, local and social technologies and will create an environment that unfolds in true real-time.
In an interview keynote session at Dreamforce 2011, Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff asked Schmidt to detail the industry's past, where it is now, and where it will be in the future, and according to Schmidt, one thing is clear: Standing still just won't cut it.
Schmidt recalled his days at Sun when nearly two decades ago young innovators were developing systems that would now be called cloud computing.
"We were right 15 years ago, we just had to wait for the technology to catch up," he said, reflecting back on the network computer of yesteryear.
Now light, less complicated systems are creating environments where enterprises no longer have to spend millions of dollars and wait several years of development cycles for innovation to take hold. New cloud and mobile technologies, he said, have "wiped out" that idea.
Schmidt said technology evolved in four phases. First was basic connectivity, followed by connection and publishing. Later, the application phase took hold, and now the industry is entrenched in the social and personal phase of technology.
During his time heading Google, Schmidt said the enthusiasm and youthfulness was contagious and led to swift innovation.
"What I liked about Google, there was a sense that everything was possible," he said.
And now systems have become so flexible, changes can be made daily with little headaches, a dramatic change from years past. And the enterprise is picking up on consumer-driven models and running with it, despite pushback.
"Many people doubted that the cloud computing/apps model would work," he said, recalling them being called "toy systems." But innovative companies took the ball and ran with it, creating systems and applications that can wrap in location and intelligence and being to influence decisions.
"We can predict when you're going to have a traffic jam …," he said. "You talk about real time. Now, it's really going to be real time."
And with Google Android growing to 550,000 Android phones activated per day, the hunger for the new model grows, Schmidt said. Add to that Google's recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which is expected to close in coming months, Google is adding a hardware component to give the company an end-to-end mobile story and a vast number of patents to continue its mobile charge.
The mobile revolution, coupled with other massive shifts created by innovators like Steve Jobs, who resigned as Apple CEO last month, stepped up and shook the foundation of the industry to show that new models are possible. Schmidt called Jobs' performance as CEO at Apple the most significant CEO performance of the past 50 years, and Jobs did it twice.
"It's the rare company that can move to the new platform and get it right," he said. And when asked why Microsoft under Steve Ballmer can't capture lightning in a bottle like Apple, Schmidt simply quipped "differences in ability" before noting that Microsoft was built around the model of control and licensing and did not start targeting the consumer, while Apple went the consumer route and enterprise users followed.
Now, innovators like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are leading the charge and paving the way for a new breed of innovators. And for each great leader now, a new one is sure to crop up.
"They will change the world," he said, later adding "I'm most excited about is what the next generation of entrepreneurs can do on top of these platforms."