20 Apr Visions with Dan Burrus: Weathering technology's perfect storm
Milwaukee, Wis. – As a technology futurist, Dan Burrus has some dead-on forecasts under his belt, and he has more predictions to offer.
In 1992, Burrus predicted the future emergence of a novel concept – the online bookstore (by 1995). Admittedly, it wasn’t necessarily a bold prediction because pieces like bandwidth and browsers already were in place, and he could not foretell the name of the company, Amazon.com, that would make his online prophesy come true.
It was, however, an example of the kind of hard (and permanent) trend that manufacturers and others can deduce to drive future business growth.
Burrus, founder and CEO of Burrus Research of Hartland, will be a keynote speaker this week at the annual Manufacturing Matters Conference in Milwaukee. Before a group of manufacturers who are trying to gain or maintain any edge they can against global competitors, he will explain the difference between hard and soft technology trends, and between hard trends that are permanent (optimal for driving revenue) and those that are only cyclical.
The author of six books, including the best-selling Techno Trends, Burrus believes it’s possible to uncover those trends before they materialize, and he notes that of all the hard-trend generators – demographics, government regulation, and technology – the most powerful of all is technology.
Perfect techno storm
The beauty of hard trends, he asserts, is the degree of certitude associated with them – certitude upon which a low risk, high-reward business strategy can be based. At the moment, there is enough uncertainty – the next president, the duration of economic doldrums, and the lasting impact of the housing crisis – that organizations are wise to focus on the tangible and measurable things they should know.
When it comes to technology, they should know plenty, Burrus said. Primarily, they should know that the hard technology trends of tomorrow will be driven by a perfect storm of ramped up processing power, bandwidth, and storage that will cause market disruption and opportunity for those who see it coming.
Moore’s law, which states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months as the price drops in half, has been going on for decades. The graph, however, is not even – it resembles a hockey stick, starting out slow and quickly sweeping up (its current path). “That means that automation systems, our robotics, our computer systems, and our cell phones in the next couple of years are going to become far more powerful and have far more capabilities than in past,” Burrus said.
The graph of bandwidth, Burrus said, is even steeper and faster than processing power. He called bandwidth “unbelievably important” in today’s world for mobile workers and wireless communications.
Meanwhile, the storage graph for devices like the iPod is even steeper than bandwidth, which is steeper than the curve of processing power.
“These three things influence everything,” Burrus said. “They influence healthcare, the curing of disease, R&D, the web experience, buying, and selling. Those three things will cause a transformation in how we sell, market, communicate, and collaborate.”
Within a few years, thanks to the three elements of the perfect storm, streaming video on cell phones soon will be provided with higher bandwidth, more storage, and probably high-definition screens, Burrus said.
“The reality is, without question, that we will have phones like that with high-definition and streaming, so that is a hard trend,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves: what do we know about technologically driven change? And the answer is that we know a lot – with time frames.”
There also is money to be made by hard demographic trends. The 78 million American Baby Boomers, not to mention Boomers in the other industrial democracies, offer something tangible, measurable, and predictable. In the U.S., the oldest Baby Boomer just turned 61, most are in their 50s, and some are in their late 40s. Ten years from now, the oldest Boomer will be 71, most will be in their 60s, and some will be in their late 50s. Not only will they have roughly 80 percent of the nation’s wealth, they will be shifting that money into more conservative retirement funds, which will have a profound impact on the stock market.
This represents a hard trend with some staying power (it won’t last forever) and something measurable. “If you know about a hard trend before it happens, you can start asking yourself what kinds of investments retirees would want to get into because those are the ones that are going to go up,” Burrus noted. “Seventy-eight million people in this country are going to want to do it. They have 80 percent of the money.”
Anticipating hard trends
For those who wonder how entrepreneurial underdogs can continually challenge established businesses, Burrus cites the disruptive examples of hard trends like digital photography and digital phones. Old-line companies like Kodak and Polaroid were caught flat-footed by digital photography, and lost market share because they were slow to make the switch. Likewise, the switch from analog to digital disrupted the cellular-phone industry, and Motorola lost market share for 10 years because it was slow to make the transition.
As Burrus notes, the change just keeps coming, which is illustrated by the transformation of the music industry. Sales of CDs and even DVDs are starting to diminish thanks to technology innovations like the MP3 player and digital downloads. These changes were entirely predictable, he added, if people knew what to look for.
“If we’re not changing as fast as our customers, if we’re not learning as fast as our customers, we’re going to be in trouble,” Burrus said. “What I want is for us to get in front of that and see the visible future.”
• Manufacturing assistance generated $137 million in economic impact
• Visions: Innovating like Madonna and Willie Nelson (and Steve Jobs)
• Manufacturing partnership will move into biotech and biomedical spaces
• WMEP wins top economic development award
• Manufacturing Matters starts with innovation
Recent Visions interviews
• Visions with Bill Petasnick: Froedtert chief puts onus on health consumers
• Visions with Frank Byrne, Part II: Late to the process party, healthcare plays catch up with technology
• Visions with Frank Byrne, Part I: Hospital exec says culture devours strategy
• Visions with TDS’ David Witter: Video competition will benefit Wisconsin
• Jeff Wacker, Part II: Automation to replace IT labor
• Jeff Wacker: Forecasting the technology future