Currently there is a lot of talk about “innovation”, and to be honest, I’ve seen this word around technology for decades. The notion of the next new thing, the next killer app, the next break through that will take us to the next level,… It built us to a crescendo at the start of this century with the buildup and over hyping of the dotcom era, only to have the bubble burst and the technology sector has been trying to fight our way back to those heady days for a decade and half now, when investment dollars flowed like water. Surprisingly it’s been a global challenge not just a condition of technologically savvy counties, so the question is, why has the growth and wealth once generated by this sector been such a struggle to revive? Why don’t we seem to be able to be able to get and sustain more traction to rebuild the past prosperity?
Yes, there have been some amazing advancements in technology, new directions in mobile and cloud technologies, big data and analytics, a few giant online business, but it seems as though we are just holding our own, if you measure it by the economy and jobs growth. The recent story of Netflix recently is not uncommon. It has a huge number of customers but is raising rates, partly because it’s carrying sixty billion dollars of debt. Size in online businesses doesn’t mean you’re actually making profits, even though your share price puts near the top of the capitalization heap. In Canada, governments and organizations have made many pronouncements about turning Canada into “an innovation nation”, promoting the expectations and need for stimulus and growth in the information technology and communications sector, so there’s clear belief that we need to re-start the “furnaces” of this sector. What are we missing?
My sense is it’s beyond just innovation, we have to get past the marketing and spin doctors with some back to basics fundamentals. If we’re going to have to real sustainable growth, we have to look beyond “innovation” to seek out those ideas that add real, long term value to their consumers, and not just based on today’s shiny object, that fades quickly with tomorrow’s new bobble.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t make money by selling the next best thing – Apple is a perfect example of that, but very few companies can keep pace with a market that that seems to expect a constant supply of shiny objects. Even Apple gets questioned on speculation that their next version of an iPhone isn’t “innovative” enough or development is moving fast enough. So “innovation” may get you in the game, but history shows that the products you develop aren’t going to sustain you for very long, and not meeting expectations can be punishing. So what do I think might be a way forward?
As I said above, I think delivering value, not just innovation, is the foundation of sustainable growth and prosperity. Although people like to imply innovation is delivering value, the reality tends to be more marketing over substance. I’ve often used the example, that people buy phones, but what they really want is dial tone. If their phone didn’t connect to anything it would be as valuable as a pretty rock –just a good paperweight. Value generally comes through solving a particular problem, making some improvement to an existing thig or process, or sometimes exposing and solving a problem that people didn’t know they had, but it became obvious when presented with the solution.
When it comes to information technology, we have no shortage of problems to solve –or as we more gently say, “challenges”. There is a plethora of products and services that address these challenges, and a lot of the time they themselves create new ones to be addressed and along the way we create nice names or labels to collect a whole class of matters under one umbrella – one the latest of these is the “digital transformation” –a catchy marketing phrase for a very complex application of IT.
I’m going to be writing a series of posts that’ll examine the current state of IT, its challenges, and how a change of perspective may provide a different vision for the future of IT, along with delivering a new value generating paradigm. It starts from a pure data-centric core and enables a new data infrastructure, to support digital transformation, along with every other IT challenge.
That vision starts with my next post!