Earlier this year, I got to experience my first hurricane (Irma).
As someone that grew up in California, it was a stark difference compared to the hundreds of drills I had to do as a child to prepare for an earthquake. With an earthquake, there was no warning – the best you could do was hope that you were in a decent place when it happened and that you knew how to respond appropriately.
But with a Hurricane – you experience this great sense of foreboding as you watched it develop day by day. Some days you thought it might miss you entirely, and the next you’d see it’s direction change to bring a dire forecast to your area.
Talking to my neighbors, some acknowledged that there was a very real danger and were making preparations for the storm, while others put their heads in their sand and listed all the reasons why our area was safe from any impact.
Technological change is fast and disruptive
Sometimes technological disruption hits us out of nowhere like an earthquake. It can happen when a startup launches out of stealth into an established market with a dramatically improved customer experience and better technology (Uber vs. Taxis). Or there’s a sudden breakthrough in technology or algorithms that opens the floodgates of innovation by empowering new patterns of development (cloud).
But most come like the hurricane. We can see the signs that they’re coming.
Some people will recognize the signs and prepare while others will cling to a false sense of security and wait until it’s too late to respond. Once the storm arrives, they’ll scramble and try to react but find that the resources they need to prosper in the storm are already gone.
As someone that’s been consulting to fortune 100 clients for the last decade, I can say that most enterprise companies are entirely unprepared to weather this storm.
Consumer expectations are changing
If we are honest with ourselves, each of us has many such moments, when we realize that the world has moved on and we are stuck in the past – Tim O’Reilly
Revolutions in computers have historically been driven by a change in how users interact with the systems.
In the 80’s and 90’s, we saw the mouse enhance the accessibility of computers to the average consumer. Now you could just point to what you wanted, and suddenly everyone could interact with graphical interfaces more intuitively.
Multitouch interfaces took it the next logical level by eliminating the abstraction of pointing. Suddenly you were able to touch the interface directly. Popularized by smartphones these interfaces created a new world of applications that made it easy enough for toddlers (or even cats) to interact with.
In each case – as the barriers between the human and the computer were removed – we saw an explosion in consumer adoption and subsequently consumer expectations of how they want to interact with companies.
Four trends about to devastate most enterprises
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him — Bible
Today we have four trends that we can see coming that are going to further. We know they’re coming, we just don’t what the full extent of their impact will be yet
- Enhanced Reality:
This category includes technologies that will free us from the constraints of a flat screen as our primary interface. Virtual Reality is still in its early stages, but we already see great success in applicaitons such as training and remote collaboration. We expect that Augmented Reality will be huge, but we’re still waiting for an affordable, yet powerful form factor for this to be released. In the interim, the recent release of more advanced mobile AR using newer smartphones will continue to push the envelope.
- Natural Human-Computer Interfaces:
These trends include technologies that eliminate the need for a separate interface outside of our bodies. New smartphones are already beginning to integrate facial recognition. And many consumers already have one (or many) smart devices in their homes with voice capabilities. We still have some work to do to make these more natural and powerful, but we’re going to see these interfaces continue to explode into more devices and use cases.
This group includes technologies that essentially make themselves invisible to the user. Wearables started this trend – but we’re pretty far past those now. Our current goal is for ambient computing that can follow and respond to physical actions without the need to explicitly interact with a computer. Even though it (still) hasn’t successfully launched yet – Amazon Go is a fascinating example of what is possible in this area today.
Finally, we have the category whereby we continue to remove humans from tedious and repetitive tasks – Augmenting our abilities to maximize our productivity. There is undoubtedly a lot of hype about AI, but that’s because it does have the most potential. From optimizing internal processes, to powering improved customer service – there is a vast amount of potential benefits for companies that can apply AI correctly
Individually, each of these technologies has the potential to dramatically change how we create, consume and interact with digital information – but the real power comes when we combine them to create truly magical implementations. Imagine what we sort of experiences we can create when we combine Augmented reality with computer vision and location tracking or how about connecting Voice interfaces with NLP/NLU and AI.
The Enterprise dilemma
The most important and visible outcropping of the action bias in the excellent companies is their willingness to try things out, to experiment. There is absolutely no magic in the experiment… But our experience has been that most big institutions have forgotten how to test and learn. They seem to prefer analysis and debate to trying something out, and they are paralyzed by fear of failure, however small.— Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence
By all accounts – enterprise companies should have the most substantial advantage at getting ahead of these technology trends. Unfortunately too many of them get in their own way and end up turning their advantages into disadvantages. Here are a few examples:
They don’t know how to experiment. While many have budgets to spend on innovation, they cannot do meaningful experiments at a reasonable cost. I had one client a few years ago that “joked” about the fact that their experiment checkbook can only write checks that round to the closest million. Compare that to the attitude from Amazon chief Jeff Bezos who has said, “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”. The time is now to begin exploring how these technologies could benefit your company. Any company that waits until these technologies truly hit mainstream adoption is going to be too far behind. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
They’re prioritizing the wrong things. Instead of responding to change or focusing on initiatives to improve the customer experience. I’ve seen too many IT departments at enterprises are focused solely on large multi-year infrastructure upgrades or even worse being driven by their developers to spend years re-writing their systems in the framework of language du-jour. Rather than moving the company forward, these initiatives block all innovation and result in (if they’re lucky) creating an experience on par with the current one once they’re done. I’ll be bold and say that if your company isn’t exploring these technologies in 2018 – you might as well get your resume updated.
High levels of staff, yet unable to deliver an appropriate level of value. Many enterprise companies have IT staff in the hundreds (if not thousands). Yet look at the value that the company is getting for that investment. Sometimes this is due to poor employees – but more often than not it’s due to poor management, processes and a lack of a technology enablement cultures. Too many of these enterprises have beaten their employees into being worker drones rather than empowered technologists working to help the company meet it’s business goals.
They don’t know how to use the data they have. One of the most significant benefits that enterprise companies have are the enormous stores of customer, product and sales data that they have captured over years of being in business. Sadly, they’ve become optimized for capturing data, not for analyzing it. They’ve got data lakes and data warehouses galore, but they have yet to harvest the subsequent value from this data adequately.
They don’t know how to expose their data. Going hand-in-hand with the previous example, too many enterprises are still lacking in platform and API strategies – making it difficult (if not impossible) for their teams to utilize their own data to build compelling user features and experiences. The technology trends above aren’t going to be won by companies that deploy gimmicks but by companies that know how to use these technologies to solve real problems.
They lack the courageous executive. Everything up to this point is fixable with the proper help. However, the absence of the courageous executive to sponsor this work internally is not. We define a courageous executive as someone in an enterprise with the position and influence to create change and who:
- Puts technology at the core of business to provide innovative customer experiences
- Who sees the big picture beyond challenges and opportunities
- Believes innovation can, and should, come from anyone.
- Who proactively seeks to create change.
- Who values fast, frequent experimentation to mitigate risk.
- Who stays committed and supportive through uncomfortable change, risk, and failure.
- Who focuses on outcomes (results) versus outputs (project completion).
- Who values open, lightweight architecture to bring ideas to market quickly.
It is important to note that Courageous Executives aren’t taking risks alone or unadvised. Almost 40% have built a network of external advisors and just as many have hired an external resource to augment existing technology capabilities.
Want to go deeper?
The best way to predict the future is to create it. -Peter Drucker
If you’re a courageous executive or you’re trying to help create one above you – I want to help.
If you want more information on how to explore and apply these technologies, then you should sign up to get a free copy of a short eBook that I’m wrapping up. In this book, I’m going deeper into the specific trends – talking about which technologies are the most actionable today and sharing many of the same best practices that I give to clients.
In addition to getting a free copy of my book (once it’s ready), you’ll also get my occasional newsletter with links to the most interesting stories and links I’m tracking, as well as why they mattered.