24 Mar Dateline 2010: The decade in review
We all know how good 20/20 hindsight is. By using a little “pro-active” hindsight, we can imagine what this decade will look like from the vantage point of 2010. Like any other predictions, these forecasts are probably more useful for the thought they stimulate than for their absolute accuracy.
The first decade of the 21st century started with a thud and lots of whimpering. To paraphrase a bumper sticker popular at the turn of the century, “Reality bats lasts.” We spent the first part of the new millennium figuring out what was real in the technology boom and what was just irrational exuberance. By 2005 we were focused on putting the technology that survived the bust to practical uses. By 2010, we still weren’t sure whether technology itself was a strategic advantage, but all the survivors of the past decade had unique and innovative approaches to how they used technology.
Among the winning technologies at the decade’s start, some actually emerged as strong performers. Wireless, for example, is such a large part of our daily technology experience that it’s becoming, appropriately enough, almost invisible. Web services re-circulated and supercharged stagnant distributed application thinking in the early 2000s, and the availability and inter-connection of network nano-applications brought new a new level of payoff for technology investments. New media tools – whether digital imaging, video, or audio – changed the way we thought about art, intellectual property and privacy.
But none of these contenders had the kind of revolutionary impact of the commercial Internet or even the PC. In one sense they were all just logical evolutions of what came before. Companies didn’t win with new technologies, but rather with new ways of embedding technology in their companies. This past decade saw many technology-related processes, like project management, architecture, and IT planning, come into their own. The winners didn’t bet millions on every big-bang project, they found ways to make small bets through pilots and field tests. Then they turned the things that worked into the next round of bigger bets. Essentially, the IT market matured and stopped chasing the latest new gadget or “solution.” (Remember solutions?) In the last decade we spent our time and energy figuring out how to use the capabilities we already had within a rapidly changing set of legal and cultural rules.
From the list of 2000’s successful technologies, noticeable non-finishers at the end of decade include customer relationship management, Web-enabled anything and device convergence. It’s not that these ideas lacked impact; they just fell short of the hype. Eventually people figured out that CRM wasn’t a trump card for all the basics of customer care, but for the companies that had those basics nailed, the technology was really helpful. However, for the companies that didn’t have them down, the technology just helped them do a bad job more quickly and efficiently. In a strange “Back to the Future” twist, Web-enabled ran into a wall when we rediscovered that we can’t reduce all our processing to one-to-one, stateless transactions. Seems like batch processing, is still the right answer for a surprising number of situations, whereas other situations require more traditional analysis and off-line interaction. Web-enabled is a good idea and part of the picture, but not the whole pie.
Device convergence rolled along until we realized not all devices are information rich or all information easily integrated. Maybe it made sense to converge the phone, the palm, the digital camera and even the PC and the mp3 player into one technology. Tangling those up with the stereo and home entertainment center was a little less rewarding. When my InfoPod 2010 melted all my ice cream by playing Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the national anthem on the freezer’s condenser, I knew I had too many functions wedged into a single device.
In many senses, the first decade of the millennium was one of consolidation, of fitting all that amazing technological promise into our organizations, our society and even our personal lives. It may be the late 1990s will be seen as the golden age of information technology, as nothing in the following years has achieved the same level of buzz and visibility. It also seemed as if everything would be digital sooner or later, and we never got quite that far, thank goodness. But as alternative energy becomes mainstream and fossil fuel becomes the alternative, technology will be there. As medicine pushes the alliance between biology and machine, technology will be there. We’ve gotten used to using technology as part of almost every innovation. It may be less visible than it was in the 1990s, but that’s probably a good thing.
Byron Glick is a principal at Coherent Partners, LLC, a technology management-consulting firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He can be contacted via the web at www.coherentpartners.com or via telephone at 608/442-0120.
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