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Is the world smart enough for Uber?

June 2, 2015, 9:00 AM UTC
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Uber is the world’s largest taxi company – yet it owns no vehicles; Facebook (FB) is the world’s most popular media company – yet it creates no content of its own; Airbnb is the world’s largest lodging company – yet it owns no real estate.

And who would have thought that the mobile phone you carry in your pocket has more computing power than the technology that landed astronauts on the moon 40 years ago—in fact, even more than what was onboard the space shuttle. But as much fun as it can be to post pictures on Instagram and listen to Spotify on our phones, the reality is that we spend the vast majority of our time at work. And that’s where the deepest, most meaningful change is taking place.

As CEO of a $5.3 billion company that lives and breathes technology across various industries and organizations – businesses, schools, hospitals and more – it’s clear to me that the nature of our jobs and economy is being dramatically altered. The world is shifting from “information technology” or “IT” as we know it (a term born in the 60s) – to “intelligent technology,” where tech plays a much wider and more pronounced role in every element of the workplace.

This shift has ramifications for policymakers, business leaders, and everyday workers alike. But we aren’t thinking seriously enough about it because intelligent technology operates largely behind the scenes. We need to find creative new ways to make the most of this fundamental shift – and here are five key areas where the opportunities are greatest.

Everyone needs to be an IT person – Remember Nick Burns, Jimmy Fallon’s clueless “IT guy” character from Saturday Night Live? Those days are long gone. Not only is intelligent technology core to every company’s business processes – IT itself is no longer relegated to a back office somewhere. In today’s intelligent technology workplace, everyone needs to be an IT person. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to know how to set up a networked office – but it does mean that you’ll need to understand how to keep information secure, manage your passwords, and be responsible with your smartphones and tablets as more and more employers move to a “bring your own device” or “choose your own device” model. Even more important: it means you must know how to use intelligent technology to perform your job more effectively and navigate the new digital marketing age.

Schools must put computer science front and center – Technology can help level the playing field for all students, giving everyone the opportunities they deserve. Now is the ideal time for schools to put computer science and other types of technology education front and center in the classroom. Today, our students use technology all the time – but don’t fully appreciate its potential or impact on their lives. But by reaching students with curriculum geared toward understanding and working with intelligent technology, we can inspire and cultivate the brilliant minds that will create the next great innovations.

Investors must watch out for “shiny object syndrome” — There is no shortage of venture capital and private equity money available today – but is it going to the right investments? While apps and social media ventures get lots of public attention, intelligent technology is going to be propelled by smart investments in unflashy – but incredibly important – innovations in areas like supply chain, security, data storage, cloud computing, big data analysis and much more. The investment community has a great opportunity to rise to the challenge and identify funding targets that will influence our economy’s productivity and robustness for decades to come.

Public policy can be innovative, too — Many headlines have been devoted to the displacement caused by technology. Entire job categories, cities, and industries have been permanently upended by the impact of tech innovation. Disruptive technologies can come from anywhere in the world – they know no boundaries and protectionism is futile. Companies and industries that use technology to deliver better value at lower costs will win, and others will be left behind. In response, policymakers must be bold and innovative, taking a fresh look at existing legislation and regulation and updating policies in order to help businesses and individuals thrive. They must engage in meaningful conversation about how we invest in job re-training programs, workforce skills development and lifelong learning. New jobs are going to be created in a vibrant innovation economy, but they won’t always be an immediate match for those in legacy industries and careers. This issue must be addressed by smart legislation and public investment.

Employers must become “intelligent technology literate” — Any employer who continues to think about IT as a walled off “support function” is missing a great opportunity. The most competitive players in every industry are integrating technology into every facet of their operations. They are “intelligent technology literate” – they understand that greater productivity, better customer relationships and higher value products are all grounded in technology. And they are blazing the path forward for new jobs, products and services in the future.

The arrival of intelligent technology is not going to be a singular moment in time. It’s not a phone, tablet or watch launch. Instead, it’s an ongoing evolution that’s already underway. For example, consider the “Internet of things” – a movement that’s only just under way and holds real promise for transforming business and everyday life.

Just like Uber and AirBNB have turned their respective sectors upside down, intelligent technology is going to drive deep, lasting changes in how we work every day. IT is ready for us – the question is: are we ready for IT?

Ken Lamneck is CEO of Insight Enterprises.