Machine and Process Management

Technology and digitization: our industry lost a battle, but how do we win the war ?

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

And then quite suddenly, around  the early 2000’s it changed. The technology started to be first used in our homes before they entered our professional areas.Technology at home

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
  • Fear

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”.


6 Responses
  1. Philippe Rambach Philippe Rambach

    Thanks for your comment and I will read the book.

    Looking at the summary, it seems to be about grid blackout in Europe and consequences of a full scale electricity shutdown.

    It brings to my mind two things :
    – As early as 1943, a french author, Barjavel wrote “ravage” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravage_(novel)) ,a book in which he described what would happen after an overnight definitive disparition of electricity – quite ugly consequences !
    – In 1998, Montreal went through a major electricity shutdown – that lasted a couple of weeks. And it survived it quite well ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Ice_Storm_of_1998)

    So the fear is not new (and the interests for fear of bestsellers writer neither !) and in reality, even a major blackout in an highly populated area can be managed !

    Philippe

    Reply
  2. Mahmoud Aladdin

    IMO it is a legitimate fear with the explosion of the internet access. But the issue as you said will you hide their waiting or facing this fear. The best way to get over fear is go out and face it.
    Another point which is the software development. It is the driving of all new innovations starting from cloud, email, smartphone apps. It is not anymore only HW the driver now is the SW development
    In energy summit 2020 last month Opower adopted and introduced this approach in energy sector

    Reply
    • Philippe Rambach Philippe Rambach

      Hello Mahmoud,

      Thanks for your comment – it makes a lot of sense and I like the idea of “facing our fear”.

      Do you have any link to what you presented at the last energy summit ?

      Thks

      Philippe

      Reply
  3. Frank McGrath

    Very interesting view. And the future is fascinating. I see three trends. 1-More innovative & flexible payment and monetary transfer via ‘smart’ phone technology. Apple Pay is just the tip of a massive iceberg. 2- Greater communication to sensor and control technology. Controlling your home heating and security settings will expand to include all household/office/work devices. 3- The Technology/Neural interface becoming more intimate. Cochlear implants and other fantastic medical technologies have been around a long time but are very crude in comparison to what the future holds. I believe hybrid ‘organo-tech’ transducers will be developed with stem cell technology which will allow unimaginable advances to be made in the field of medical electronics.
    Can’t WAIT. The future holds extraordinary promise and the advancements will come from every sphere of society as massive computing and modelling power, 3D printing and interconnectivity technology ramps up exponentially. Phew! Hold on to your seat!

    Reply
    • Philippe Rambach Philippe Rambach

      Thanks for your comment.

      Future (or should I say present ?) is exciting. And what you list is very exciting and demonstrates a very insightful view.

      Some of these innovations will create fear and that may slow their adoption, if fear aspect is not managed.

      Philippe

      Reply

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