Hardware

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Want to beat the economy?

How eating our own dog food can help

Compiled on VS019 flying London to San Francisco and dispatched the next day from my hotel in San Bruno via a free LAN provided by my hotel

Here we are in an ever-complex world, driven by technology and accelerating change, with those at the head of the game hanging on by their fingernails. Our electronically interconnected world is not only faster than 20 years ago - it is manifestly chaotic and non-linear.

So the sudden collapses of entire business sectors can now be triggered by seemingly insignificant events. Yes, we are now governed by butterfly wings just like the weather system!

How can we be expected to survive in business under such conditions? Experiment! We have to experiment to see what works and what doesn't. Hanging on to our old ways and methodologies is tantamount to passively waiting for the grim reaper. It is essential that we subsume the latest ideas and technologies, try and test them, adapt them to our environment, and adopt them ahead of the competition.

My business is one continual experiment! It is about pushing the limits of technology and people to see where the opportunities lie and what their real impact is or might be. It is not sufficient to read reports and monitor the press and media - we have to be hands-on and keep up with the curve.

How do we do it? By eating our own dog food! When we advise people of fixes and systems for them, it is on the basis of tried and tested experiences - our own experiences and those of our customers.

Individual members of staff and associates are allocated a specific and challenging technology or operational mode to champion. If they can live with it, or adapt it, and see some business advantage, we then adopt it universally.

So what has our experimenting returned in recent years, and what realisations have we come to? Here is a short list:

  1. Web 2.0 working with thin clients, and web-based applications and data works well but we have found that a halfway house is currently optimum due to the woefully poor online bandwidth provided by the carriers and ISPs. To be specific: A 'thinnish' client is a safer bet than a thin client - having some local storage and applications are essential for continuity of operation while travelling.
  2. Social networking is a valuable new tool if used wisely but can pose risks if people are silly. Today more than ever we live or die by our network of friends and colleagues who we can call upon for instant advice, support and help. In short this technology:
    • Increases the visibility of individuals and companies
    • Improves connectivity beyond measure
    • Reduces information and experience latency
    • Automatically qualifies contacts and keeps them up to date
    • Enhances the ability of people and companies overall
    • Provides new preference, reference and quality check modes
    • Attracts prospective Gen Y employees
    • Overtly flags a progressive state of mind and culture
  3. SMS text messages are the preferred mode of communication for the young and affords some considerable advantages over email that are worth exploiting both internally and externally. VoIP and instant messaging also have a place and provide key facilities.
  4. IT departments are often a waste of time as much of the working population now has better computers and applications at home than they do in the office. Many workers are also now more or less self-sufficient and so don't need heavy-handed support. Social networking helps no end here! It is time to move on to create effective knowledge management and decision support systems but even more importantly it is time to get into business modelling and war gaming.
  5. Security has been and continues to be a moving feast with vast amounts of resource wasted on protecting the irrelevant, while yawning gaps of exposure go unaddressed.

The drive to become ever more efficient inevitably leads to brittleness and failure. More than ever companies need to be resilient. They need to be able to weather the continual storm and bounce back, which implies some slack, inefficiency and perhaps a short-term reduction in earnings. In short: the long term has to be number one over short termism. This implies more investment in experimentation and the R&D budget.

The biggest realisation and business/political change now coming over the horizon? Continual business and country GDP growth is fundamentally impossible across this planet of limited physical resources but it may well be possible in the world of bits.

I think we are going to have to spend more time thinking, modelling, war gaming and experimenting than ever before!

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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