With the world going digital, how will it look in a few years? Here’s an interesting question that’s been debated time and time again. On the 8th of December, we heard another interesting answer to that question – at the Attune Digital Symposium.
The speaker of the day was Professor N. Venkat Venkatraman, an IT strategist and the Chairman of the IS Department at the Boston University. He began his presentation by saying every business is in the digital age, whether they like it or not. Computing, he said, has changed over the years, and perhaps that evolution is best charted by seeing how once powerful, monopolistic entities, perceived as unstoppable, have changed and come under fire.
In the early days of the internet, for example, there weren’t many browsers besides Netscape Navigator. Today we have more doors to the internet – especially with Chrome, Firefox and Safari; Netscape is nowehere. The same story is playing out with the rise of mobile devices. The once dominant Microsoft Empire is under heavy attack by Apple with OSX and iOS as well as Google with Android and Chrome.
Change, Professor Venkatraman pointed out, is the primary challenge a business faces today, and is not a technological challenge but a fundamental management challenge.
This is because organizations are bad at adopting technology. Leaders delegate their technology decisions and often fail to keep up with the times. In this digital decade, organizations need to think about the scale, scope and speed and rely on combinations of each; if not, falling by the wayside is inevitable – no matter how large or how strong a company is right now.
The Professor explored this further, with examples of how things once taken for granted are changing. Once, web traffic was text. Then pictures. In the next decade they’ll be eclipsed by videos. Even the architecture of the car is changing. The cheapest smartphone today has more computing power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Companies embracing this disruption are hitting gold. Just look at YouTube. Or Airbnb, which has more rooms than the entire hotel industry.
Such digital companies have blatant disregard for industry boundaries, a disregard that is often needed. For example, he said, when Apple launched ApplePay, it saw it as an extension to iOS, not Apple entering the mobile payment industry; Apple didn’t care about that boundary. And in doing so, in not caring, Apple established a product that is not just beautifully adapted to existing technology, but one with massive reach right off the bat.
Professor Venkatraman concluded his speech saying the trouble is not building new ideas but dropping old ones. Following the speech we saw one of the most active Q&A sessions we’ve ever seen at an event – a Q&A which moved from industry ideas to analytics to data security. Overall, Attune produced what was perhaps the single most educational tech event of the year.
Editor’s note: Interestingly, we experienced yet another thought session when we got the Professor started on user privacy.
“User privacy is a myth,” he stated adamantly. “People are ranting about Facebook and this network and that and the data mining that’s going on in the name of advertising, but the reality is that user privacy has not existed in the Western world for almost twenty years. It went out of the window the moment the first credit card company started tracking spending habits.”
“The only real way to stay away from this phenomenon is to not use Facebook, to not use social networks, to not use credit cards, to not make phone calls…you get the picture. Somewhere in the background there is always an analytics layer running. There are huge pockets of information in the world today. If you look at Facebook, and Amazon, and Google – these are huge clusters of information. We’re seeing crossing between them, but it hasn’t got to the point where there’s a huge pool of everything. Not yet.
“It’s a question of trust. Right now, there are services out there that specialize in mining user data, your data, and turning that into intelligence for corporates. What we need are services that defend against these for users. For example, there’s something called a credit check that can be conducted on a person.
“I know a person who has software installed that alerts them on their phone the moment a company runs a credit check – and lets that person know which company is accessing that data. That layer of protection is something that should be in place. Until, say. Facebook implements a service that actively protects my data and gives me opt-in options when companies want to use my data, it’s not fully trustworthy. And your decision and the data you put out should be based on this knowledge.”