By Bo Begole
Date: Apr 7, 2011
The history of failed business projections and predictions of disruptive technologies makes the business strategist's job seem impossible. We cannot expect to see exactly what the changes will be, but we can at least see the general trends and estimate some prospective impacts both horizontally across and vertically within industrial sectors, as Bo Begole explains in this introduction to his book.
It's often hard to notice a sea change until it washes over you. You know one is coming—it's happened before—but it creeps up slowly and is hard to pay attention to. We see this effect often in information technologies: the web, personal computers, three-dimensional graphics, digital media, virtual worlds, smartphones, social computing, and more. We call such technologies "disruptive" because they seem to come from nowhere to wash over the established leaders.
For the most part, though, we could have seen any of them coming. Each had made a preceding beachhead: hypertext, workstations, animated sprites, cassette tape recorders, text-based multiuser domains, citizens' band (CB) radio, bulletin board services, and other forgotten predecessors of today's rich electronic media environment. At the time, those capabilities were mere novelties, prominent enough to take notice of but only actively used by devotees and geeks. In fact, the "flash in the pan" effect seen in the media causes us to sometimes dismiss later versions that actually do cause the sweeping changes prematurely predicted previously. Think back to when you first heard of hypertext; we had grand visions of universally interconnected information but dismissed Xanadu as providing marginal value,1 unable to foresee the tremendous value of today's World Wide Web. Similarly, workstations preceded personal computers, bulletin board systems demonstrated community-generated content before Wikipedia, multi-user domains (MUDs) anticipated SecondLife and other virtual reality systems, and CB radio foreshadowed mobile phones. The rudimentary capabilities of the early versions of such technologies are easy to dismiss, making it difficult to imagine their ultimate success.
A sea change is hard to see—so many swells rising, merging, and dipping. It's the same with technologies. Gartner research uses the notion of a "hype curve" to describe the pattern in which a new idea creates inflated expectations that cannot be realized, leading to a crashing wave of disappointment and dismissal of the idea, which eventually does bring some measure of its initial promise to market. Gartner plots each idea at a point on the "hype curve," as an estimate of each idea's position in the rising and falling cycle. But the notion of just one "hype curve" along which all technologies rise and fall is misleading. In fact, each idea has its own swell and surge, and they all mix together to cancel or reinforce each other—like waves. This convergence of reinforcing concepts actually generates the enormous effects that overwhelm markets.
A champion surfer can "read the waves" to anticipate which rhythms of rips and sweeps will create that "fat wave" that comes once a day. But even champions know that the waves are not entirely predictable and that the big ones are very hard to see. The history of failed business projections and predictions of disruptive technologies makes the business strategist's job seem impossible. We cannot expect to see exactly what the changes will be, but we can at least see the general trends and estimate some prospective impacts both horizontally across and vertically within industrial sectors.
Who This Book Is For
This book aims to help business strategists, chief technology officers (CTOs), futurists, innovators, and entrepreneurs understand the mix of technologies that form the field of Ubiquitous Computing and to understand the opportunities and threats these imply. The business strategist's role is to foresee oncoming sea changes, to anticipate the ebbs and swells that will affect the ways in which they conduct their business, and to find the best ways of exploiting the positive while mitigating the negative effects. The aim of this book is to provide a map of the capabilities and benefits of Ubiquitous Computing technologies, not a map of the technologies themselves, and to help you identify which ones are reinforced or diminished by other trends in our society.
What This Book Is About
This book describes a long-coming trend in information technologies called Ubiquitous Computing ("Ubicomp," for short), first described in the early 1990s by Mark Weiser of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) as a research agenda for innovation. It's now seeing substantial commercial impact. I'll provide a more thorough description in Chapter 2, but the short description of Ubicomp is the use of technologies to bridge physical and electronic information spaces to increase efficiencies in our personal, school, and work lives. Ubicomp goes beyond simple mechanical automation, such as antilock brakes and automatic doors, by using sophisticated processes to proactively predict future needs, accurately target information to personal needs, help people reach one another at convenient times, conserve energy resources, remember meetings and encounters in our lives, provide personalized service, and coach us about healthy life choices.
Questions This Book Answers
Dozens of books cover the technologies and research in this area by addressing the question "How does it work?" but no one is answering the hard question of "How valuable is it?" The aim of this book is to describe the value of interweaving computing throughout our everyday activities across work, life, and education to create new business opportunities.
A term such as Ubiquitous Computing obviously covers a lot of ground, so it's important to identify the segments and technologies that can generate breakout value, as opposed to those that will simply grow as part of the natural progression of technology and business process refinement. Conversely, which technologies are not likely to live up to their hype, and why? Which technologies will reinforce each other, and which will cancel each other out? What steps should you consider to position your business for these transformations? What should you build, partner with, or buy? What barriers will your business need to overcome in adopting Ubicomp-based business models?
What if during the course of reading this book it seems that your business is likely to be on the losing side of coming transformations? In addition to taking comfort from the notion that a rising tide raises all ships, you'll also see points of weakness that you can leverage to slow or redirect the change elsewhere. Yes, I'm a proponent of Ubiquitous Computing, but we all need to protect our business position at least long enough to find a value position in the new order. What barriers can you erect against the competition? Can you erect impediments anywhere to cause the surges to expend energy prematurely?
How This Book Is Organized
The book consists of two parts. Chapters 2–5 provide background knowledge to identify technologies, general business opportunities, and threats related to Ubiquitous Computing. This part begins with some history, current trends, and future potentials.
Chapters 6–11 provide methods to exploit business opportunities or counter threats. Included are case studies of recent examples of business germination in this field. The book concludes with Chapter 12, "Ubiquitous Business," which includes an action plan to help you sketch out an approach for your business.