There is a Danish saying you may have heard that “it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”. That’s never been truer than in today’s challenging business landscape. The rate of change is increasing exponentially. New technologies, new ways of working and new business models are emerging. How do you make sense of it all and set your strategy? This is the first of a sequence of posts to help you reframe how you think about what’s next in enterprise technology, and how it can create value for your business.
Back to the Future
Let’s start by going back to a simpler time and reference the iconic 1985 science fiction movie “Back to the Future”. You’ll remember (or have been told by your parents) that the movie’s time machine is made from a converted De Lorean car that needs to get up to 88 mph to jump in time. For most of the story they jump back 30 years to 1955. Then, in the coda to the movie Doc Brown comes back to take Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jenifer 30 years in to the future to 2015. When Marty says they haven’t got room to get to 88, Doc says “where we’re going, we don’t need roads” and the De Lorean promptly takes off and flies to get up to speed. That phrase was even good enough for President Ronald Reagan to use it about the future in his 1986 State of the Union address. We’ve decided to use it for our collection of articles offering you a map of where you should be heading. We’ll even be using the hashtag #dontneedroads when we share them on social media.
Now that movie demonstrates part of the problem with trying to be a futurist. Some things develop much slower than you might expect, but others start to happen much faster. We don’t have many flying cars on our roads in 2019, but they do exist. You just have to look at the several different makes of autonomous drone copter taxis being tested in Dubai to see that they might finally happen soon. What has happened faster is the explosion of global connectivity, data and very personal computing in the palms of our hands, that hardly anyone was predicting from the vantage of 1985, except on Star Trek and then centuries in the future. With today’s rate of change making predictions even 5 years out is incredibly difficult, but the planners, strategists and every level in our organisations need to be thinking in terms of rapid change and continuous improvement to survive.
Learn from the past
To think about the future, it’s always valuable to look back at what has worked in the past and why. We’d like to pick out a couple of scenarios. First, the expansion and consolidation of the Roman Empire. The cornerstone of the expansion, from about 300 BC onwards was their road system, remnants of which we still see today thousands of years later. They applied new technology to create a network of high quality, long distance highways and local roads that were vital for communication, for the movement and resupply of their armies as they expanded their territories, and then to support the populations they had conquered with trade routes. It was so successful that it supported the growing empire for the next 800 years.
The next is Genghis Khan, founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire in the 12th and 13th century, who Dave Metcalfe has written about before. He was known for his brutality, but also practiced meritocracy and encouraged religious tolerance. One of the fundamental tools he put in place for managing the empire was the Yam riders and their way stations. They created a chain of relay stations, usually around 20 miles to 40 miles apart. A messenger would arrive at a station and give his information to another messenger, and meanwhile they and their horse would rest and let the other messenger go on to the next station. A communication system that both underpinned the empire, and incidentally brought the Silk Road under one cohesive political environment.
The common threads here are the importance of networks and connectivity to moving information, and that intelligence is what supports the expansion of power, trade and globalisation. In today’s environment instead of roads and horses and the written word, it’s silicon, optical fibre, radio waves, and bits and bytes of data supporting our new expansion. It’s exciting! In the 21st century the fabric of computing has never been more distributed and more ubiquitous.
Where we’re going, we don’t need roads
The challenge for our organisations is that they don’t have to have been around for very long before they’ve become quite complex and grown a collection of applications and systems sitting on a multitude of technologies from the edge to the cloud to the data centre. We’ll be talking more about the Edge very soon. But even for a mid-sized business, and certainly for a larger Enterprise, the transformation they need to face is like trying to reimagine the London Underground at the same time as keeping the trains running.
That conundrum is what we’ll be talking about in the “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” series. With computing becoming ubiquitous, it means that every business (and individual) is generating large amounts of data. To make sense of that data you need a different approach than the business intelligence and processes of the past. That’s where Artificial Intelligence comes in. With access to processing power in the right place, and data stored in the right way, we can apply AIs and Robotic Process Automation and machine learning, and all of the other techniques and algorithms in to an app that can give you the predictive and analytic power to automate things. In this next phase every business needs to think about AI and automation.
In our posts we will be talking about enterprise cloud technology and managing multiple clouds. We’ll explain our framework approach to managing technology summarised as discover, transform and operate. We’ll bring in more military thinking and talk about the breakdown of command and control to asymmetric warfare and how that applies to business. We’ll tell more stories about the rate of change of technology, and the need to think in terms of permanent reinvention of your business, but at its heart our job as technologists is to help you get more out of your data.
The “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” series of posts to help reframe how you think about what’s next in enterprise technology is co-authored by Dave Metcalfe of IBM and David Terrar of Agile Elephant.
(Cross-posted @ Agile Elephant)