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Whatever Next: without vision the platforms perish PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Friday, 29 November 2013 15:52

design innovation helixWhile most of us are focused on 'the here and now’ (and many others are still catching up) a few brave souls are way ahead of us.  These are the pioneers, the folks who will design the agenda for our futures.  Shortcomings in the past may inform those futures but the battle cry of the digital innovators is as disruptively discomforting as in the early days of Monty Python and now for something completely different’.

Change – however we accept or resist it – is often presented as an incremental ‘upgrade’; an evolutionary progression from one generation to another.  Innovators, however, are not always so keen to cling to generational tags – particularly when their latest designs are so radically different that, apart from some superficial similarity, they really bear little resemblance to the supposed forbears. 

In the Digital Economy the gradualist approach is something that is constantly reinforced by modern production and sales methods. 1 - make something that mostly works. 2 – issue it as a Beta version.  Then (3) respond to critical feedback and aggressively sell it with the promise of yet more future upgrades. 

This continuous ‘work in progress’ notion is much derided by truly creative innovators.  For these hardy souls, ‘patches are for pirates’.  You’d not buy a novel if every month or so one of the chapters had an upgrade – though that might be a good idea for academic textbooks.  On the other hand, the mobile phone in my hand is essentially a platform for an ever-changing cast of Applications and we know that that there’ll likely be more of them coming along any moment.

What we learn from this is that digital platforms (just like non-digital platforms such as theatres and newsprint) have a relatively constant presence and the performances are variables.  There is, however, competition between platforms and when they can no longer be stretched or upgraded to deliver the expected and ever more-demanding performances they wither and die. 

Usually the first to lose their appeal (and their committed followers) are those platforms that were invented to deliver one specific function and can only be marginally adapted to prolong their life.  Some (like Yahoo email) attempt a design refresh – with mixed success.  Some shrink into irrelevance with astonishing speed while others cling on for a slow lingering death.  Some (like Blackberry perhaps) may have an afterlife – subsumed in the supposed greater glory of another’s platform.

After 3G even the mobile network industry sought refuge from the generational tag by opting for ‘Long Term Evolution’ (LTE) but, try as they might, pundits, researchers and marketeers cannot kick the habit and talk blithely of 4 and 5G.  What is largely ignored is that whatever comes next is increasingly less likely to owe any of its technical design features to these imagined forbears.

Trying to envision a future, Telco’s talk of Telco 2.0 as if some transition can be imagined between design cultures and business models that are not only fundamentally different but have been fiercely opposed for decades.  The extraordinary power of advertising may convince customers for a time that black is white but investors, armed with the facts, are less easily deluded.  Voice telephony over an aging network of copper connections is fast fading as Voice over IP is integrated into umpteen other data Applications that demand a broader broadband than copper champions can ever countenance.

Even the Palace of Westminster is not immune with Commons Speaker, John Bercow, encouraging the Hansard Society to envision digital democracy and e-dialogue plans as ‘Parliament 2.0’ – a mighty big step for an institution that has yet to embrace simple digital voting for its own members.

But for real innovators these attempts to redecorate the past will not suffice.  Nothing short of shuffling the pack – ignoring time-honoured (or time-worn) boundaries – and dealing an entirely new hand, will provide a platform that stands a chance of life long enough to move the agenda forward.  Business consultants focus management minds on ‘core competencies’ and ‘sticking to the knitting’.  But innovators do not live with those constraints.  You think you know what water or energy companies do?  Think again – or think back in five years time.

Of course, in five years time with the benefit of hindsight, today’s innovative shifts will be seen as blindingly obvious – as obvious as adding voice packets to data management systems, using twitter to give (and get) a much broader interpretation of the TV News, or Food Retailers seeing a future in redefined Health markets.

So whatever happens next, the really interesting things will not be those patches to make Applications work properly or fixes designed to extend platform life.  The true innovations will be those that challenge us to think again and write an entirely new script.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the stage is yours.




Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 11:47

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