26 Oct The end of technology history
I guess everything worthwhile technology-wise has already been invented. I’ve been known to crawl up on a soapbox at times over the last 15 years about technology innovation, and then the next 15 years about cultural assimilation of all that innovation. From a quick look into the industry buzz, it seems like the top of that particular soapbox is getting crowded. Pick up any industry publication and you’re likely to find discussions about process, best practices, business alignment, and innovative contributions to the bottom line.
What happened to the new technology? Oh sure, Microsoft’s latest in OS offerings has created the requisite swell of “Will we all bow down to Vista?” articles, but even those articles have more than a little ROI chat peppered through them. It’s gotten bad enough that even that temple of nerdom, www.slashdot.org is showing signs of infections. Yeah, the first four postings today were about new versions of software, but lurking down the list was a bit on IP rights.
I didn’t think I’d ever find myself advocating for a little more focus on the technology, but here we go. Face it. If we ask the same questions under the same constraints, the likelihood that we will get bright new answers is pretty low. New technology poses new questions for a little while, but once it’s out there in the market place, on every desktop, and fashionably displayed in every stark white wire snaking from pocket to ear it’s just as likely to be a source of inertia as innovation.
Users will invent uses we never imagined or intended for our technology creations. In all of that creativity, however, who’s posing the questions and who’s responding gets turned on its head. When the palm handheld first gained wide acceptance, it did so by asking the oh-so-compelling questions about why you should have one calendar, contacts list, and set of notes in the office and another when you were away and off the network. Once the question was asked, the answer was obvious, and we were happy to learn somewhat less than intuitive forms of graffiti if that was the price for this new simplicity.
Then those pesky users started up with their questions in return. Why limit it to just calendars, contacts and notes? Why can’t I do e-mail? Why do I have to wait to get back to the office to get everything synched up? Why do I have a phone that holds contacts and a handheld that holds contacts? Why do I have to have a phone in one pocket and a MP3 player in the other? Why do I have to carry an MP3 player, a phone, a hand held, a smart key for my car, a fob for my VPN code, a dingle for buying gas at the pump, a supermarket discount card and three credit cards? Why can’t one device know who I am, what my preferences are, and use all that wireless mumbo-jumbo to communicate to other devices where I work, play, and shop?
Well, why not?
Yeah, I know. There’s security, privacy, and the unwillingness of retailers to invest in new devices, and ambiguous business models, and cost, and everything else. But we’re not talking about technology anymore, are we? Funny thing about technology assimilation. It almost never occurs prior to the actual rollout of new technology. As a corollary, technology almost never arrives in its final form. Assimilation of technology always drives refinements and sometimes whole new capabilities. Have we discovered the perpetual motion machine of technological innovation?
Well, not really. Chemists would recognize a catalytic reaction in which the introduction of a substance causes a reaction without that substance actually being consumed. But any chemist can tell you that ratios and timing are important. Like the chemist, that exec passing judgment on the latest IT budget request is going to want to know what to expect in terms of impact and payback before she throws the next catalyst into her mix of limited budget and organizational attention span. She also knows that today’s answers are tomorrow’s problems.
A chemist will also tell you that the more efficient a reaction, the better. Improving the catalytic reaction between innovation and assimilation means getting those two activities in closer proximity to each other. Breaking down the barriers between IS and the business, making IT part of the business instead of some black box off in the corner are the minimum requirements. Then you get to start forging new ways of thinking and acting on good ideas all up and down the org chart. The good news is that technology can help and the more your organization can assimilate new technology, the more innovative it can be.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.