Monday, June 23, 2014

Beyond Hype - Internet of Things to Enhance our World

My friend and colleague, Steve Lewis, posted a thoughtful piece on LinkedIn.  As I'm not yet able to post as lengthy a comment as I wrote, I thought I'd blog about it here...and steal Steve's title... :-)

Steve, great set of thoughts!  I think you're spot on in your observations, but I might offer that you're overlooking a much more foundational truth, which underlies both consumerism and the implementation and regeneration of strategic infrastructure.  In fact, I'd argue that both of these are examples, and only just two examples, of what results from this foundational truth.  I don't know if I can do it justice, but here goes.  The mass consumerization of IT, brought to life by the stunning proliferation of mobility (devices, as well as networks), has changed forever the relationship between technology and business (wrought in the broadest possible sense).  I've become a big fan of Mary Meeker's (Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers) annual presentation on Internet Trends (worth an investment of a couple of hours to read through it here: 

For most of our careers (mine, yours, and others our age), technology has been a supporter of business imperatives.  What I mean by that is we've always taken a business-driven approach, and then endeavored to figure out new and innovative ways to leverage available technology to support what we were trying to accomplish in whatever business we were in.  Some have lived on the bleeding edge of technology, and so have been more innovative than those who've not lived there.  But the fundamental calculus has always been "how do I leverage technology to support business objectives."  What this mass consumerization of IT has done is to flip that on its ear, I'd argue outstripping our ability to be hyperbolic about it.  For the first time in my lifetime, technology is actually driving business strategy and imperatives, rather than the other way around.

If you put together the advances in cloud-based infrastructure, with the explosion in mobile and social computing (any teenager can build more sophisticated applications on an iPhone more quickly and elegantly than people like us used to do with mainframes or servers or desktops or all three just a scant decade ago), and a shift in focus from IT to platforms (enabled more than anything else I've seen by APIs and how they're being used to expose, externalize, and combine in heretofore unthought of and unheard of ways information that used to remain jealously guarded within the walls of individual businesses), what we have today that we never had before is both a world of data, and the technology that makes it possible to combine and recombine data from myriad sources into applications that were never possible before.  And, equally, if not more importantly, the explosive growth and ubiquity of that data just begs for analysis and insight, of which your example is but one of countless possibilities. 

True, many of the stories that make people froth at the mouth about this shift tend to be consumer-focused, and I might argue that that is true because those kinds of innovative applications of technology are the low-hanging, supremely easy to conceptualize, fruit, whereas examples like yours are a bit more esoteric, and maybe need some deeper thought, as you've obviously done.  But the basic point remains:  the number of possibilities is virtually limitless, and hyperbolic as it may sound, it also has the virtue of being true, which is something new in the world of technology, at least the one in which you and I cut our teeth. 

Two things, I think, are true, and make this the most exciting time in my career:  As we begin to wrap our brains around this massive proliferation and ubiquity and approachability of technology, more and more smart people will come up with more and more ways of leveraging all of it in ways that we don't dream of today, and the curve from early adoption to mainstream adoption will flatten and compress far more quickly than at any time in the past.  And those two things will feed on each other, further flattening and compressing the curve.  As a behavioral scientist, among other things, I'm intensely curious about where the point is where that cycle reaches maximum velocity, that is, how quickly do we get to the point where change happens far more quickly than our ability to absorb it, and what happens then?  Thirty years ago, I could hardly imagine that world, much less believe that I'd live long enough to observe it.  Today, I'm positively giddy about being a part of it, and observing it firsthand!

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