Marty McFly: Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88.
Dr. Emmett Brown: Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
It was 1985 and these were the last lines of the movie, “Back to the Future”. Thirty years on and we are about to enter an era where there are still roads but the way we will use them will change.
This is called the Autonomous World Age and probably best illustrated by the advent of driverless cars. According to IHS, a firm providing automotive forecasts, sales of autonomous cars, including driver control, will begin by 2025.
This era comes hot on the heels of what we are experiencing now, the collaborative economic age, which has followed both the Internet and social media ages over the last two decades.
At the same time we are experiencing digital disruption, often misunderstood to only refer to communication or marketing, when it has far wider implications for all parts of an organisation. In this respect, digital will bring greater and more fundamental change in the years ahead.
Before we start thinking about what the future holds, let’s look at what’s just happened?
What is the Internet age?
The Internet Age arrived in the 1990s and has revolutionised the way we live, and changed the very foundation of our existence.
What this provided was instant and ubiquitous access to information, answers and learning, and is now the backbone of all society from education to business, professional and public services, as well as home life and entertainment.
The term “age” can be misleading as it implies the Internet has come and gone when this is definitely not the case. The Internet is not a static technology and continues to evolve.
We see this every day in the work we do advising companies on how to use cloud services to make business better, easier and faster.
Some companies leap in, see the potential and want to take advantage of all the new ways of working. But they are still in the minority, and organisations in general are not using the Internet’s full potential, including the wider use of the cloud.
While the Internet Age provided the tool to seek and share information, the social media age empowered people as communicators.
The ongoing influence of the social media age?
We now realise communication used to be limited before social media allowed everyone to broadcast to large audiences.
Along with the Internet Age, social media continues to develop but at the same time it has taught us how to network, influence and socialise.
This power to communicate broadly can be used for commercial reasons too, whether through words, visuals, audio or video. We have all become media powerhouses in our own right.
This power used to rest with media companies, large businesses or political leaders and influencers. Now we all have it and it can be used to our benefit, as long as we adopt the technology and the ability to use it effectively.
It was the Internet that gave social media the necessary foundation, but it has been the smartphone and mobile that’s placed power with each person, and this leads us to the next era.
The Collaborative Age
This is the world we are in now, where collaboration is changing the way companies think, are structured and how people work.
The rise of collaboration is a direct result of the two previous eras – we have all become supremely networked, providing opportunities to shake traditional structures of commercial activity to the core.
Technology has become king and the only focus for ongoing and growing success. A good example of this is the creative area of marketing. This is now being challenged by technology with marketers needing to become technologists and data experts, in order to reach customers.
No longer should there be corporate structures with hierarchies. Now we have highly networked teams or communities of interpersonal relationships all looking for opportunities to provide better products and services.
These communities are no longer just internal to an organisation, as customers and other external stakeholders are also part of your team. Your customers are the ones supporting your success, and they will rate and review you, so they should definitely be part of your network.
Then there’s location. The best person for the job doesn’t have to be in your office, your City or even your country any more. Through cloud services global collaboration is now an emerging trend but in a New Zealand context teams can be spread across different regions, working remotely and this provides cost and lifestyle benefits.
Where does this leave us for the next stage?
Here comes the Autonomous World Age
This is the natural next step following the hyper networked world of collaboration between people, to collaboration between objects. Driverless cars, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and robotics, all illustrate this.
From managing warehouse inventory, to mowing lawns or room service in a hotel, robots will become increasingly part of life in the next decade. Once costly to build, these machines are now affordable.
This is the stuff of sci-fi movies and is a future where technology systems can operate without the need for human involvement. Fortune emphasised this in its March 2016 article “The Age of the Autonomous Robot is upon us”, which could even mean Uber, one of the most famous digital disruptors, being disrupted itself by machines. According to Business Insider, Japan began testing “robot taxis” a year ago with the aim of transporting people at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Back to the present
Unlike Marty McFly and the Doctor we do need to stay in the present but for many this still means living in the past, using tried and tested IT infrastructure and communication methods that are becoming increasingly ineffective.
There are many organisations that have achieved the fit between the way they operate and the available technology, but there are many more not taking advantage of the efficiencies to be gained from digital and cloud tools.
Digital has much wider relevance than just communication or marketing. It’s all encompassing and integral to every single aspect of a company structure, how it operates and the roles of its people. So if you are still thinking about digital as just the Internet, or social media, or even just the way you communicate, think again. Where we’re going we will need new thinking about business models.
There’s much more happening than meets the eye in digital disruption where incessant change becomes the status quo itself.
While we live through these ages it’s important to dig deeper and consider what digital really means, and this will be the focus of our next blog.