Charles VIII and the Emerging Modern IT Force

I am careful with the use of the term revolution.  This discipline comes from my academic studies and too many years studying actual revolutions and revolutionaries.  We can debate the impact of technological advances on the field of battle, but these advances would be limited if they were not organized, trained and led with purpose.  I understand the impact of the percussion cap and rifled barrel, but it is the adoption and use of the technological that is important — not the invention of the technology in isolation.

In 1496 there was a military revolution in Europe. This date is not of significance to most as we have greater familiarity with 1066, 1789, 1805, 1914 and 1939; the later being Hastings, French Revolution, Trafalgar and Austerlitz, and the years that the First and Second World Wars began in ernest.  1496 was the year that Charles VIII invaded Italy.  The army that Charles led into Italy was the first modern military force.  It was organized in a manner to be used to prosecute state policy as well as exploit the power of the state.  Clausewitz would write in 1832 that “war is a continuation of politics by other means” and in this single line we have the formality of the concept modern military force.  The armies of Napoleon three hundred years after Charles VIII as well as the armies of Moltke, Joffre, Samsonov and Haig four hundred and sixteen years later where similarly composed.  Prior to the formation of the modern army by Charles VIII, Europe had endured a long, dark period of military stagnation.

From the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to the formation of the modern army under Charles VIII, European military history was composed of static warfare almost entirely based on sieges.  Entire military campaigns evolved around the silo nature of the siege with commanders forgoing combat in the open field of battle.  The art of siege dominated European warfare for centuries as the art of war “…stiffened into immobility with…[a] total lack of abstract conception of strategy as a way of looking at a military enterprise.” [Roberts, Essays in Swedish History, 59-60]

By far the largest enabler of this form of warfare was the social composition and characteristic of the armies in the field, which are a reflection of the structure of the state.  For more than four hundred years the armies of Europe retained the use of medieval institutions intermixed with specialized practitioners of skills, land owners who funding campaigns and engineers in the high art of castle construction and siege.  Armies of mercenary soldiers roamed Europe for hire, who were competent in battle, but unreliable to their employers and dangerous, if not promptly paid and supplied.  “Altogether the ascendancy of the tactical defense, the strength of the new fortifications and the mercenary character of the troops explain why warfare in Europe had become so drawn out and indecisive.” [Paret, Makers in Modern Strategy, 33]

It is clear that I am writing about an obscure component of modern military strategy in which there was an evolution or revolution in which the army in the field became a reliable instrument of state policy — it is not possible that I am describing the modern IT landscape; or is it?  This is the point at which Florentine writers and scholars such as Machiavelli begin to exert an influence.  It would take many more decades for the true power of the modern state sponsored army that had nascent beginnings under Charels VIII to emerge with great power under Napoleon.  It would take a real revolution in America and the creation of the French Republic, but the process of change (i.e. revolution) had begun in which warfare evolved from isolated silos, practiced by specialists with unique training, lacking an abstraction mechanism that linked the power, purpose and goals of the state with the instruments and organizations of the state.

I see the same revolution occurring in the IT landscape and it has less to do with applications, SDN, Open Source, Virtualization, Cloud, Big Data, BYOD, etc.  These are the tools, the weapons of IT and each are more or less important to one another.  The true IT revolution arrives when the power of the modern IT force is organized to be exploited with purpose as an instrument of the enterprise; which is the emerging the modern state and better addressed in separate post.  As with the army of Charles VIII, this will require a new IT organization.  I am not sure we can identify the new organization presently, but I think we will know it when we see it and I think we are in the composition process which will result in the creation of this modern IT force.  I have drawn this supposition from observing.  Observing the conversations, the discussions and engaging with the practitioners and leaders in the field.


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