Because We Can – Don’t Predict The Future, Adapt To It

In the late 1800’s the U.S. government set aside $10,000 for the national improvement of roads and paths – such that bicycles, carriages, and buggies could get to more places, ideally without puncturing a spleen along the way.

In 1908 Henry Ford created the Model T – a technological advancement enabling long distance travel in a motorized vehicle, which in turn enabled more people to go further distances in greater comfort.

Ford invented the technological enabler for a new use case.  Roads were the infrastructure catalyst that created the opportunity.

The road pre-dated the automobile.  The road was a means to connect people – at first simply locally, eventually extending between communities, and ultimately across the land.  Inventing the car with trees every 2 feet would have been silly – there would be no need.

When the automobile was invented, the first questions asked were along the lines of “why do we need that?”  Travel was not a problem – you simply needed a way to get from point A to point B – and those points were really close together.  People couldn’t envision the need to go to point F.  So why invent the car?  Because he could.  And because he knew that people wanted to go to point F, even if they didn’t know it.

People became addicted to the automobile and suddenly found that what it enabled was valuable.  Once that occurred, they had to have it  They pushed the technology – and the subsequent infrastructure to the limits.  New use cases set us on a path of never-ending growth in the world of transportation – none of which could have possibly been foreseen.

Each enabling advancement – each technological advancement – often begins as a “because I can”.  Once it proves valid, adoption takes off, and it goes from a “nice to have” to a “need to have” to a “must have.”   You can still ride a horse to work if you like, but no one does – it’s impractical in today’s reality.  It doesn’t mean horses are any less great than they originally were, it simply means their original mission is no longer valid.  Time moves forward, like it or not.

You can’t predict what the new use case of technology will bring; so trying is a fool’s game.  You can only adapt to the new realities as best you can.

The Internet is the modern equivalent of the highway.  It was invented to connect the government to academia, and served its purpose well.  No one in the DARPA project could have envisioned that their highway system would support the level of traffic or have enabled the advancements in function – technological or human – that it does today.  No one can predict what the next great explosive trend will be tomorrow.

The Internet enabled connectivity.  Connectivity enabled communication, perhaps the most ubiquitous human need.  E-mail effectively revolutionized a century of communication function – both technically and human.  Improvements and upgrades were required to keep up, Internet potholes were repaired, and new roads were built.  Repetition led to standards.  TCP/IP was born of necessity.  Standards enabled faster development, enabling even more new use cases.   Web sites and E-Commerce lit the world on fire.  More people connected to more places.  Today the net reaches from Huts in Namibia to restaurants in Siberia.  Everyone – almost – is connected.  The net is the central nervous system of the planet today.

In business computing, each enabling step forward has created problems looking backwards.  Business can’t start over every time some new gizmo comes along.  Who predicted that banks would have to transact business via text messages?  No one.  Who predicted that having every customer connected to us would require us to fundamentally change our philosophies?  Few if any.  And who could have ever predicted the intimacy and value we could have gained by all of this enablement the net has brought us?  Only Nostradamus.   Social networking is just for my kids, right?

Economics are the initial problematic output of technology advancements and the new use cases it enables.  Keeping up costs money, creates risk, and perhaps most difficult – it makes us rethink.  Humans like to make a decision once, and stay with it forever.  The net enables change at the speed of light – and change that fast simply can’t be contained (physically or intellectually) inside the same set of boxed assumptions.  Thinking outside the box isn’t a marketing term any longer – it’s a survival technique. The treadmill never slows down, it only gets faster.  The good news is that the economic issues you face are also accelerated – the speed of cost decline with technology advancements today is orders of magnitude faster than even 20 years ago – and it will only continue.

So what happens next?  I can probably shine the light on a few things over the next year, but the fact is no one knows much beyond that.  We simply can’t predict what craziness will appear, only that it will be crazier than we could have imagined.

What does it mean for professional IT organizations?  It means it’s no longer ok to sit and wait for this thing to shake out – you have to move.  You need to put yourself into position to ride the wave.  You live on a farm and still ride horses to work while an 8-lane highway is running through your front yard.  Not owning a car isn’t really an option unless being disconnected from the rest of world is your intent.  In business, that doesn’t seem realistic.  You don’t have to throw everything away – mainly just your assumptions.  You can re-architect without causing upheaval.  You can become “fluid” versus fixed.  You can become a positive (re: Yes!) service organization inside your business versus one the business is busy trying to bypass. (You do know that the number one commercial user on Amazon’s S3 and EC2 are folks on your own internal development teams, don’t you?).

At the end of the day, why should you move IT into the 21st century?  Because you can.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 3:30 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Lessons for us all here, I think. Change doesn’t have to be negative and viewed with suspicion and mistrust. It can bring exciting new developments and make our lives easier and more productive if we embrace it with open arms and see it as an opportunity and not a threat. 🙂

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