Once upon a time, not so long ago (maybe 20 years), the adoption “flow” of new technology was simple and easy. First we saw it in high level university labs – often military related -, then in industry and our workplaces and finally as a consumer and in our homes.
A few examples were:
- Fax machines used in offices much before they became common in private homes
- Printers or laptops were common in the professional field before the consumer field
- Machine automation and office computers were connected through professional networks much before we had home networks
This was seen when…
- Many of us had e-mail and internet access at home one or two years before we had it at work (at least for the relatively early adopters …)
- Most of us had a smartphone for personal use before they had one for professional use
- Most of us used social networks at home many years before it became a subject of interest for the major firms
- Most of us used a central repository for their datas accessible from anywhere through the internet before it became common in the professional field
- Most of us access to their personnal mail from any computer through a very simple logins (gmail model) on any hardware and … still few of us can do same for their professional mail
I’ll stop the list here, it could grow forever and you have plenty of similar examples to give – please share them through a comment.
Why did we (as a global industry) lose this battle:
I personally see two main reasons:
- Innovation through software
Most of the innovation used to be hardware and therefore quite expensive, resulting in a very limited adoption by consumers until its development in the professional world made it more affordable for private users (do you remember the initial cost of a network extension card or a laptop ?).
Now, not only has the cost of hardware been strongly reduced, but most of the innovation which used to be hardware has now become software with a low to high investment cost. And the cost of expansion immediately close to zero making it affordable from day 1 to consumers. It’s only a question of the pricing model but not of costs anymore.
So,as a first step, the industry lost this competitive advantage / barrier to entry of cost.
But, then why is industry late and not simultaneous to consumer? I do believe it is because of fear…fear of many things…
- Fear of our own people. I remember endless discussion in various companies about the risk to give internet / mail access to employees, will they stop working or send irresponsible mails ? And this exact same discussion happened again recently in such companies about giving access to Facebook or Twitter.
- Fear of loss of control, fear of apocalypse. What will happen if we connect machines to the Internet? What will happen if a terrorist takes control of a water treatment plant through its automation connection to the Internet? Could someone stop the electrical grid through a cyber attack on a connected grid? What about our secrets if we simplify the access to mails?
Those fears are not entirely wrong. But if we look at them, regarding the fear of our own people, no loss of productivity came through internet, mails or Facebook. On the contrary, direct access to information has strongly improved productivity. And what about the fear of “apocalypse”? Yes, there are some examples of cyber attacks but not so many and much less impacting than traditional terrorist attacks. And there are some reasonable – not 100% perfect – protections existing that can and should be deployed before connection. So these risks should not slow down our move towards digitization.
So as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, if we want to come back in the race of technology and digitization, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.