A fundamental point about decision-making is that it is done best when it is based on structured information. That said, important business decisions often need to be made in situations where information is scarce and that which is at hand is filled with uncertainty and ambiguity; more on that in the “adapt” section.
Anyway, let us start with the first part of the Analyze – Assess – Adapt process: technology information data gathering and analysis. With today’s constant flow of information, it is of course difficult to set aside time to inform yourself of the potential “next big thing” when you have more pressing matters to deal with in running your daily business. But staying on top of current and future technology trends does not have to be complicated nor time consuming. The challenge is to create a new mindset for how to relate to the constant flow of information. Do not for a second believe that it is possible to cover everything; instead be content with the fact that something is a lot better than nothing, and make it a part of your daily routine to follow a number of technology news sources. Scan articles, do not read everything from start to finish or cover to cover. For this exercise, it is often enough to aim for a good overview, before going deeper into a few specific areas. Use fresh perspectives, start using sources that are not necessarily aligned with your world view, ignore trigger warnings and try to move outside of your comfort zone. For example, if you are in favor of genetically modified foods, find a news source that takes a more skeptical view of the area.
So, where do I find this information? Much depends on your interest in technology and your other daily sources of information. The process should be ongoing rather than extremely thorough. Therefore, turning it into a natural part of your daily media consumption is probably the best way to go. That said, it is, of course, important to extend your search beyond your normal routine, meaning going beyond major news channels and industry press to find the stuff that your competitors do not see.
Use fresh perspectives, start using sources that are not necessarily aligned with your world view, ignore trigger warnings and try to move outside of your comfort zone.
With all this information piling up, be sure to get help from useful software such as RSS feeds and readers as well as social networks; Twitter and LinkedIn are two of the most helpful. Here, it is usually sensible to limit the daily feeds to a few entry points, for example, one RSS-reader and a social network of your choice. Try to avoid overlap, meaning do not subscribe to a RSS-feed and follow the same source on Twitter. Generally it is often a worthwhile following news media through an RSS-reader and individual writers through Twitter or another social media channel.
Finally, be careful to save everything that is even remotely interesting and potentially useful to a device agnostic, online service with good search capabilities. (There is naturally an app for that.)
Once an information gathering system is in place, it is time to start making sense of this inflow. There are a number of ways to structure this information about new technologies.
The first thing is to put together a simple list of the 10 most interesting and relevant technologies that will affect the future of your organization. Do not think too much at this stage, just gather information and get it down on paper.
Which ones do you believe are the most urgent for your industry? Which ones do you believe will change the playing field the most?
After you have done this and compiled a list of the most interesting emerging technologies, take some time and try to prioritize among them. Which ones do you believe are the most urgent for your industry? Which ones do you believe will change the playing field the most? Which ones will create new customer demand, and which ones will be the most transformative from an internal process perspective?
For this stage, you could hire expensive consultants, but that takes away one of the main reasons for doing this – you becoming acquainted with technological progress and where these technologies are taking us. It will help you make better strategic decisions in and about the future of your company or organization, limit the negative impact and reap the benefits of staying ahead of the competition.
When you have gathered interesting, important and essential information on a technology that could be an opportunity and/or a threat, it is time to be a bit more specific about each of your top 10 technologies. To be able to use this information as a strategic tool, it is necessary to try to set two timeframes: for when the technology has passed the peak of hype and survived the walk through the desert; and when a technology has entered the growth phase (we will soon describe these phases). To get some help in this process it is valuable to use a couple of existing models for technology adoption and transformation.
The three phases of a technology wave introduced earlier is a good starting point. Thinking in terms of experimentation, expansion and transformation makes it quite simple, at least in hindsight, to see how far a technology has come. One interesting thing about using the S-curve is also that it can be seen as a market penetration yardstick where 100% equals the total available market (TAM).
So, the first step is to try to place the emerging technology on the S-curve, most easily done using the experiment, expand, transform analogy. Do not overdo it at the start, the reason for this first exercise is to get everything down on paper and into the graph, not to be totally right. Although, if you want to delve into the S-curve some more, follow the more thorough approach.
In-depth S-curve analysis:76
When using the S-curve as a tool for technology analysis, the goal is not to provide precise predictions or present exact conclusions. The focus should instead be on the exploration and learning experience. An extended S-curve technology analysis should include the following steps:
First, you need a defined set of parameters that can describe the advance of the technology as simply as possible. Examples of this can be the storage capacity of solid-state drives (SSDs) or memory cards, the data transmission speed of a cellular network or the cost of sequencing a DNA base pair.
Second, gather data on these specific parameters, but be sure not to complicate matters by mixing different technological measures. For example, do not include hard drives in your data on SSD development or Wi-Fi speed when researching a cellular network capacity.
Third, you have to have a decent understanding of where the technology you are researching is on the S-curve. Since there are always some practical and physical limitations to the performance of all technologies, you have to understand whether the technology itself is on its way to becoming obsolete. If this is the case, you will urgently need to see which technology (or combination of technologies) will be the new standard.
Finally, if a technology substitution seems imminent, do remember that most technology transformations often take longer than initially expected. Also, when an emerging technology is introduced, this usually sparks innovation in areas covered by existing technologies.
After this initial step applying S-curves to identify technologies, many of those on the top 10 list are often found in a cluster at the beginning of the curve. To be able to distinguish between several technologies in early phases, one needs to use additional tools.
The hype cycle methodology demonstrates how a new technology evolves over time, and can show whether or not it is a viable solution or nothing more than hype.77 The hype cycle has five main phases that can be used to evaluate a technology. The cycle begins with the technology trigger, where a potential technological breakthrough leads to significant interest. In this phase, there is little evidence of commercial viability, but the technology still incites excitement. The next phase is the peak of inflated expectations, where many success stories start to develop, along with plenty of stories of failure as well.
This leads to a third phase, called the trough of disillusionment, in which interest begins to wane in light of many failed experiments with the technology. There may still be some investments if there is continued evidence of improvement. The slope of enlightenment comes next, in which there are more examples of how the technology might benefit business or society. This leads to new expansions of the technology, but some still remain cautious. Finally, a fifth phase called the plateau of productivity occurs, and the technology becomes mainstream. Now it has obvious market viability and the investments start to pay off. It should be no surprise that the GPTs of the technological waves stand up well to the hype cycles. As a result, GPTs lead to major change in industry, often transforming the way manufacturing or distribution is conducted.
Although technological improvements are necessary for a new wave to exist, there is no new technology that immediately results in a dramatic change in society.
TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION CURVE
Although technological improvements are necessary for a new wave to exist, there is no new technology that immediately results in a dramatic change in society. Each new technology that comes into play must go through several phases in order for it to be fully realized to the point that it can have an impact on society and an effect on the future of business. It also must overcome major obstacles on its way to development, integration and wider market acceptance.
One of the most widespread models is the technology adoption curve78, stating that a technology encounters five categories of customers in its lifetime: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The model also introduces a “chasm” that exists between the early adopters (enthusiasts and visionaries) of a technology and the early majority (pragmatists). The reasoning behind this is that there is a major difference between the expectations of the visionaries and the pragmatists. The technology must successfully transition in the early stages in order to survive and become effective.
The existence of this chasm can prevent technologies from having a major impact on business and society. A technology cannot cross the chasm without having a target market, a whole product concept, a marketing strategy, and other factors that will allow the technology to develop to the point where it can make a significant impact. All these factors pose big challenges to any organization faced with taking the leap from the first initial sales to a more established market presence, and there are numerous examples of technologies that never get past this point. Unless there are enough people on board to see a technology develop, that technology will flounder rather than flourish. Once a technology successfully crosses the chasm, it can begin to have a major impact.
Unless there are enough people on board to see a technology develop, that technology will flounder rather than flourish. Once a technology successfully crosses the chasm, it can begin to have a major impact.
TIMING IS OF THE ESSENCE
You have now identified relevant technologies and have a framework in place to help you estimate their respected approach velocity. Timing is often extremely difficult, but nonetheless of high importance. To be able to take the next step, assessing present and future business implications of emerging technologies, three adoption level milestones are useful to consider: First, when the technology makes it onto the radar the first time, early on the hype curve. At this point it is possible to create a brief initial strategic business assessment, which tries to understand the implications of this new uncertainty. Second, when the technology has passed the hype and is on its way to reach an early commercial audience. This is the time to keep your eyes open for signs of upcoming mainstream adoption. Third, when the technology has “crossed the chasm” and reached mainstream adoption. Now (at the latest) it is time to launch a full scale effort to handle this new technological landscape.
(Early) initiate project and launch:
(Late) be curious:
Positive media attention and extensive hypeish coverage. Also look out for conferences with vague focus on the technology.
(Early) sit tight, improve offering and positioning:
(Late) start preparing:
The start of negative media and customer testimonials pointing at problems and disappointments. Also look out for startup lay-offs or incumbents closing projects in the field.
(Early) take market shares:
(Late) take action:
When reports are coming out showing positive adaption, actual (sizable) revenues and package offerings including products, services and peripherals.
One useful tool here is a simple chart with timescale at the top and emerging technologies on the left. When you first identify technology trends, put them up on the chart and sort them in order of relevance, based on timeframe or potential impact on your business. Then, based on your own findings, try to map when the technology is expected to have passed the hype phase as well as when it is expected to reach mainstream adoption having “crossed the chasm”. As previously with information gathering, do not approach this believing that it will result in definite and precise answers. Rather, see this as an exercise with the goal of establishing a thought process and a better understanding of the world from a technological perspective. Over time, and probably also through cooperation with peers, this chart will ideally cover approximately 10 emerging technologies, and will evolve into a very useful tool for upcoming discussions on the future of business and technology.