We've Lost Control of Technology - and That's OK

Deloitte recently released its annual Tech Trends report, this year subtitled, “The Kinetic Enterprise.” While the individual articles on each of the trends are fascinating, I found it particularly telling to review how the report has evolved over the years.

With topics selected in part based on an analysis of capital investment flows, in part on what Deloitte’s clients are asking for help with, and in part based on the focus of academia, each issue has been a microcosm of the corporate technology discussion of the time. And, while many of the topics have remained the same – from analytics, to cloud, to core modernization and more – our approach to managing them has changed quite a bit.

Put simply, in eight short years, we have migrated from a world where the underlying message of the issue titles could be summarized as, “We got this,” to one more along the lines of, “Man, things are moving fast,” … and that’s without the expletives of surprise randomly inserted.

What might have been “best” last year might not even be “good” this year.
What might have been “best” last year might not even be “good” this year.

The Charmed Delusion of Control. When the first Tech Trends was published in 2010, the topics covered the range of ways corporations and governments could harness the power of technology to their advantage. Articles centering on “User Engagement,” or “Information Management,” or “CIO Operational Excellence” revealed a mindset of optimism and best-practice thinking which had been the domain of management (not to mention hordes of consultants) for decades.

Regardless of the discipline – financial engineering, Six Sigma, value-based management, etc. – the way to get ahead had historically been captured in a neat “how to” manual by those who did it best. There was no reason, in 2010, to believe that technology would be any different.

That ability to ape others and control the application of best practices went out the window at some point in the last 5 years. As predictable, linear paths forward have given way to exponential change – especially in fields powered by the similarly exponential increase in computing power – it is no longer possible to rely on best practice. What might have been “best” last year might not even be “good” this year. And if we do all our planning based on peripheral vision (not to mention the still-dominant tendency to glance in the rear-view mirror), it is virtually guaranteed that we will work our way towards obsolescence.

The Kinetic Enterprise. Instead, the authors of this year’s Tech Trends would argue something different. They’d say that today every company is a technology company at its core – driving innovation and growth while also redefining the competitive background. But technology is a moving target. In the kinetic enterprise, the only constant is change[1]. So the collection aims its editorial guns at topics which enable rapid response to change and ways to plug into the outside world through radical approaches to try to avoid being left behind.

The eight Tech Trends for 2017 – in brief – are:

1. IT unbounded – The boundaries surrounding IT are fading as technology becomes integral to almost every business function and relationship.

2. Dark analytics – Advances in computer vision and pattern recognition allow companies to unlock insights from unstructured data that until now, have been lost in the dark.

3. Machine intelligence – Machine intelligence is helping companies make better decisions, embed complex analytics into customer and employee interactions, and—with adoption of bots and robotic process automation—automate increasingly difficult tasks.

4. Mixed reality – Companies are exploring more immersive and engaging ways to combine the physical world and digital systems, creating a new, mixed reality that’s more natural, intuitive and intelligent.

5. Inevitable architecture – Open standards, cloud-first designs and loosely coupled architectures are the norm in start-ups. Now, large enterprises have similar ambitions.

6. Everything-as-a-service – Traditional business products are being reimagined as services as organizations modernize core systems and the technology stack.

7. Blockchain: Trust economy – Blockchain is emerging as the mainstay for digital identities in the emerging trust economy.

8. Exponentials watch list – Advances in disruption forces like synthetic biology, energy storage, quantum computing, and nanotech could exponentially transform the way we do business.

While this list of topics may feel foreboding, the good news is that resources like Tech Trends are starting to proliferate and unlock some of the secrets of how to deal with all this change. The underlying tone in each of the pieces mentioned above is still one of optimism and a sense of opportunity.

Indeed, spend a little time with the man primarily responsible for the report and you may just cheer right up. Bill Briggs, Deloitte’s Chief Technology Officer, is a man of unbridled enthusiasm and energy when it comes to all things technological. But what gets Bill amped up is what gets more traditional executive types nervous: control and predictability are becoming less and less relevant as management tactics.

Instead we have to learn in the moment by dipping into the universal data flow as needed. We need to figure out ways to source the best talent around without employing it. We must learn how to use technology without owning – and sometimes even completely understanding – that technology. A little understanding can’t hurt, though.

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[1] Deloitte Tech Trends 2017: The kinetic enterprise, Deloitte University Press, February 7, 2017, https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/tech-trends.html

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