As technology professionals, you are unlikely to need convincing that IT matters, but I am a strong proponent of the belief that, right now, IT has never mattered more, writes Ken Deeks.
In simple terms, IT is, quite literally, everywhere. It is pervasive through our work and home life; a ubiquitous communications channel; a super-fast route to information and resources; a provider of insight into the infinite possibilities open to a company or an individual. Most of us could not imagine a life without technology: whether we are at home or in the office, out with friends or travelling on business, it has become a habitual part of our existence.
Perhaps most significantly though, IT has become an enabler for societal change. Look at the way Twitter and YouTube were used during the recent uprisings in the Middle East, or the way in which Twitter is used as the driving force behind campaigns, demonstrations and petitions. These incidents show how technology can empower individuals to make a difference.
IT professionals and Byte Night
And nowhere is that more true than in the way in which IT professionals are making a difference to the lives of vulnerable young people in the UK through Byte Night. For those not familiar with the campaign, Byte Night is the IT industry's annual "sleep out" event which raises money for Action for Children, a charity that works with the UK's most vulnerable children and young people.
Now in its 14th year, Byte Night has raised in excess of £3m to help provide a better future for those at risk of homelessness and social deprivation. Through the money donated by the IT industry and the awareness raised, the technology sector has changed the course of many young people's lives.
Technology leaders show they care
But what sets this event apart from other fundraisers is the way in which Byte Night goes far beyond corporate social responsibility. It is not just about throwing money at a cause or providing money for advertising, while basking in the glory. Nor is it just about taking advantage of bonuses and passing the collection box around. With Byte Night, the relationship between the technology community and the charity itself is deeply entrenched and there is a genuine appetite among Byte Night supporters for active participation. It is clear that those who take part genuinely care about the people they are helping.
There is also a great sense of poignancy in the way the event's supporters are IT innovators helping people who have no access to the everyday technologies we take for granted. As leaders of innovation, these people are likely to have an impact on young people anyway - whether that is because they supply IT services and software to industry, deliver a consumer IT experience, or manage IT systems within a business. But with Byte Night, the connection is much more profound. When CIOs and CEOs of well-known technology brands are personally fighting for the futures of young people who don't even own a mobile phone or a Facebook account, you know it is because they genuinely care for the cause and believe these youngsters deserve a better life.
With technology playing an increasing role in shaping the lives of young people, I believe 2011 is the tipping point for the Byte Night message. Every single person involved in Byte Night makes a difference, but with the senior IT influencer or CIO becoming increasingly powerful in today's society, it is up to us to lead the charge in fighting for fundamental societal change.
Ken Deeks is the founder of Byte Night. For further information about Byte Night or to register a team to sleep out this year, please visit www.bytenight.org.uk.