“But it could never happen to us.”
This sentiment has been echoed throughout conference rooms in traditional businesses across the globe for the last two decades. And each time it is said, it represents a profound misunderstanding of the technological revolution and disruption that is redefining our society, our economy, and our very values. Each time, the incumbent company has been so secure in their leadership position for so long, that they have come to believe that their value is a direct function of their expertise.
But there are forces at work that are beyond the expertise, or brand, or customer loyalty, or intellectual property of many traditionally successful businesses. And these forces are constantly growing more powerful:
- the digitization of information
- ubiquitous connectivity
- mobile computing
- processing power
More and more information is being digitized. It’s being done with higher fidelity, greater speed, and greater accuracy all the time. Furthermore, so much information being created today is already natively digital requiring no conversion at all. The information that’s important today is born in the digital space.
Everyone is connected all the time. Those of us that functioned as adults before the time of cell phones, can’t really remember what it was like to be out of touch with everyone all the time. It seems not just quaint, but downright alien.
Computing is not just mobile, it’s becoming nearly invisible. Portability of computing means we have processing power, output mechanisms, and input devices basically everywhere and anywhere. Computing is everywhere we are, and it always will be.
Reports of the demise of Moore’s Law’ have been greatly exaggerated. Computing power is constantly increasing. If video game consoles are any indication, our worries about capacity are less relevant than our inability to take advantage of it. But the processing power in our pockets dwarfs the processing power that sat on our desktop just a few years ago.
And in truth, the horse has left the barn. This shift is happening. It’s been happening. And it’s not going to stop. For many this is old news. Or at least it should be. But awareness of the factors that are bound to disrupt your business is a far cry from knowing what to do about it.
Take a moment to survey the scene in front of you:
- Years ago your company realized it was in mortal danger from the disruption of technology. Those that fought the coming tide either converted or got off the train. In fact, one of the reasons you’re at the company is because you are deeply committed to helping it transition to the new digital world.
- And yet, revenue from your old business is still the vast majority of revenue even though in total dollars that number is declining.
- You are convinced that there is money to be made in adapting to the new digital world. And in fact, the initiatives that have seen the light of day are showing some positive signs. But there are far too few of them and they are woefully behind schedule.
- Your CIO is in charge of the software creation/maintenance infrastructure of your new initiatives. Everything takes longer than it should. And when it does arrive it’s a fraction of what you expected. Your CIO is so busy maintaining all the internal legacy software your company relies on that your digital initiatives are getting short shrift.
- Or perhaps you’ve crossed that bridge and you’ve got a dedicated CTO, perhaps someone plucked from Silicon Valley to run a shiny new organization dedicated to digital initiatives. They’ve even got fancy open office space that cost a small fortune. But the cost of that organization is significant especially relative to the thin stream of revenue it brings in. And even worse, getting that group to work well with your legacy organization has been difficult at best.
- Every day, your inbox fills with news of new companies, and new technologies. The companies are gunning for your business. And the new technologies are making your head spin. Smaller devices, more powerful devices, natural language interfaces, gestural interfaces, machine learning and more. It’s almost impossible to know what is important and what to ignore.
It is tempting to look at the digitization of our economy as just another business challenge. But it isn’t. It’s a monumental shift. And the primary tool used to ride the waves of that tectonic shift is a state-of-the-art software engineering organization. But here’s something you may not know: some of the biggest and most successful tech companies struggle to have competent state-of-the-art software engineering organizations. The amount of waste in tech companies, the amount of inefficiency is shocking. The successful businesses hide the incompetence with their enormous profit margins. The unsuccessful tech companies kiss their investors’ money goodbye and move on to the next thing.
Just as the technology disruption of our economy is still in its earlier stages, the tools we use to navigate that economy are in their infancy. Talent and leadership are rare commodities. This book will attempt to lay bare the subtle powers of observation, tradeoff/decision-making skills, professional and cultural qualities your business needs to internalize in order to make digital not a last ditch attempt on the way to bankruptcy, but a core part of your identity, your skill set, and ultimately an asset.
Photo Credit: Orange County Archives