Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 15 – making novelty a disruptive technology advance.

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on November 30, 2009

In part 14 of this series, The Economics of the Disruptive App in a Ubiquitous Computing and Communications Environment I said that I have a specific area in mind where I see potential for developing a truly disruptive application of emerging ubiquitous computing and communications technologies. I am going to go into what that application is and why I see it as potentially disruptive in this posting, but I am going to have to set up some more background first and here it is.

The first point I want to raise actually stems from an earlier, supplemental posting to this series: Monetizing and setting valuations on information – the crucial question. If and a wide range of other leading edge information management businesses can find ways to raise revenue and develop profits without a new information economy-based valuation for information per se, why is one needed? My answer is that Google, to site perhaps the biggest new technology example readily available, did not begin to bring in revenue or profits until it found ways to repackage at least some of its information offerings into a more standard products/services model, and that largely with pay per click and sales of ad space. They converted information as a nonrivalrous commodity into a more traditional rivalrous one. Twitter has yet to find a way to do that for tweets, for all its impact and significance and to so many and it does not appear to be near that point yet. And I take it as a fundamental economics underpinning requirement that true emergence of these new technologies as fundamental societal change makers, is going to have to include dispensing with this need to translate value into a “best fit” older economics model to create valuation and value and to make the providing businesses sustainable. That has to happen before a true disruptive game changer can come along, as such, for ubiquitous computing and communications. Until then, innovation will primarily occur as evolutionary change rather than emerge as revolutionary change and as a series of add-ons to the supply and demand, rivalrous products and services economy.

The next point I want to make is only apparently a core requirement and is in fact probably a piece of received wisdom that we take for granted, that will be called into question. I present it here in three bullet-pointed parts.

• Legacy systems and the requirements for maintaining them connecting to them, and supporting of them serve as significant breaks to adaptation of new and potentially disruptive technologies and their applications. That is why families (and their children) often have more powerful game computers in their living rooms than businesses (and their CIO’s) have as office productivity computers in their offices.
• An effective disruptive technology and its application can more easily arise and spread in early adaptors populations that are not burdened by legacy system barriers, where that includes both hardware and software in place, and its need to align with and support business process and other context requirements.
• This type of adaptation comes easiest in the non-business context, as is the capability for technology leapfrogging where it is not necessary to have or even know about earlier technology-based alternatives or have any buy-in for their conceptual models to move into the next new thing. Adapting end effectively using disruptive technology is easier where you can skip technologies and technology stages that would not apply to you.

Together these three points make a lot of sense and they do help explain why larger organizations tend to hold onto and be limited by older technologies and information technologies in particular. And they explain a lot about underlying population demographics as they correlate with the innovator and early adaptor to late adaptor and lagging adaptor models for technology acceptance and adaptation too

A truly disruptive innovation disrupts, and the more profoundly and automatically assumed the details it calls into question and the more basic the “rules” it breaks the better. The potential disruptor I have in mind here raises questions about the general applicability of these bullet point basics. It is a business-oriented application of this new all the time and everywhere ubiquitous computing and communications paradigm. And it picks up on a theme I have written about a number of times – the need to move beyond a static, centrally published Web 1.0 Intranet to develop an interactive, Web 2.0 enabled Information Infrastructure.

I would begin discussing that by raising the specter of a commonly held, pervasive problem and it is one that for an entirely new set of emerging reasons is gaining public visibility and concern. Too many large organizations, and that includes a lot more than just auto makers and banks and other financial institutions are too big – or at least they act dinosaurian and as if they were too big and clumsy. Survival for them and genuine long term success is going to require new levels of agility and the capacity to identify and respond to both new challenges and new opportunities. It is also going to require a new level of due diligence and accountability and for regulatory requirements new levels of securely managed transparency. Big businesses and other organizations have to be able to decide and strategize, and plan and execute like smaller, more agile firms and a key to that has to be in how crucial information is developed, distributed and used. The emerging ubiquitous computing and communications environment I have been touching on in this series both makes this possible and by the market pressures it is already beginning to exert it will make this inevitable.

I see the interactive Intranet version 2.0 that I write of with its everywhere and all the time accessibility as a crucial game changer that will redefine the competitive field, and both within the organization and across its supply chains and value chains with other organizations it deals with and yes, with its end user customers too. The customers will and are already starting to demand this. Businesses will be forced to adapt and incorporate variations on this new capability to remain competitive.

This brings me to what I see as the great question mark, and I will propose a name for that with a new and emerging startup called Asana that is beginning to grab attention for promising a web-based approach for information transparency and management. What they are preparing to do is still held as a closely guarded proprietary secret but the fact that they are seeing to address business information management in a new way is enough to catch attention. That detail is telling in and of itself.

If their proposed product is simply a Mashup or aggregator technology or a 2.0 generation task manager, or some combination thereof, they may have a significant evolutionary advance in the planning and they might offer real value to the marketplace but they will not be offering that disruptive revolutionary next step that would force businesses into adapting an active, dynamic interactive infrastructure to survive and grow.

• A disruptive advance here will require both a new technology application and a fundamentally new and innovative underlying business model to support it.
• This business model is going to have to include at least an effective first draft approach for monetizing information per se so the businesses that adapt it can realistically set their goals and priorities with it, and even for their business functions and services that cannot readily translate their metrics into revenue and profit terms.
• It is this ability to clearly articulate and convey value and both for initial adaptation and ongoing use by customer businesses that would drive this market and make this type of innovation a successful disruptive influence.

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