GigaOm recently produced a fantastic video interview series with John Hagel, the co-chairman of Deloitte’s think tank, The Center for the Edge.
There is a lot of information in these videos and a bit of postulation about what the Internet means for modern businesses. Two points in particular I want to touch on.
The first is about the Internet enabling companies to appear bigger than they are. John kind of glances over this as far as I am concerned. Because without a doubt, the Internet not only lends to the appearance of a company’s size but, more importantly, actually enables it to be bigger by utilizing distribution, just-in-time resources to enable business operations that once required hundreds of people. Take fulfillment for example. As an online retailer, I now longer have to manage an entire supply chain myself. Using the Internet, I can process orders, send the order detail to an outsourced fulfillment center who drop-ships the product for me right to the customer’s door. In fact, all of this can happen while I am sitting on the beach sipping a margarita. The connectivity of the Internet has enabled a wide swatch of business that are part of any supply chain to connect. In fact, we often talk about social media and the social graph in terms of people. I would suggest that we need to talk about those to concepts in terms of businesses. Perhaps it’s a Facebook of business? This state of n-connectedness is actually a direct correlation to the technology of the Internet. As the Internet (and the Web, the presentation layer for the Internet) has grown and matured, a layer of connectivity has bubbled up. Instantiated primarily through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) one company can easily connect with another company. These APIs enable companies to not only share information but also to share services. I could build a business right now (it would take me only a couple of weeks) that would center around a web application connected to multiple other business for content and services (my supply chain), utilize a virtual 800# for customer service (or outsource that to India), and build a website with an off-the-shelf template that has the appeal of a Fortune 500 company. Yes, the Internet can not only make companies appear bigger than they are, it can actually increase the physical size and scope of companies.
The second is about being always connected. Unfortunately, this is rapidly becoming a state of life. I agree with John about setting boundaries. It’s important to keep a level of sanity in a very rapidly-moving post-industrial world, especially as everything becomes “dataized.” The “dataization” of the modern world, enabled by the Internet, is pushing us towards a new economic era that will eventually replace industrialization. When companies no longer produce “goods” but instead traffic in data, industrialization is over. But it’s important to understand our need to be connected all the time that doesn’t relate one bit to the business world (it is simply a reflection of some fundamental aspects of human nature). If you look back a hundred years, our primary means of getting information was centered around relationships. One person shares their information with another who shares it with another who shares it with another. In some cases, a person who is a hub can share information with a lot of other people (just think degrees of separation). Let’s say that in this model, with we will call very analog, you go on vacation. Do you still wonder what is happening at home? Do you still wonder what is happening at the office? Of course you do. It’s all about your degree of relevance. As human beings age, they go through stages of relevance. When you are young, you are trying to capture that relevance. When you hit the work force, you are trying to demonstrate it. When you retire, you are trying to keep hold of it. Relevance is a glue that binds the social structure of humanity together stemming back from our first hunter-gatherer days. When you were no longer relevant, there was no need for you to consume resources and, in most cases, you were expunged from the tribe. That deep-seeded part of our humanity has become magnified by the interconnectedness of the Internet. It’s now extremely hard to stay relevant as that analog situation a hundred years ago has been supercharged 1000 fold. The questions we face now are “how do I stay relevant? What information is important for me to be relevant?” This dataifcation of the world will only make this worse over time. But I believe that as software becomes more intelligent we will be able to use it to carve out our boundaries. John talks about making boundaries with the connected world, as if “shutting it out” solves the problem. I would disagree. Remember, this concept of relevance is in our very nature as human beings. I think the boundaries we need to create are between that information which supports our relevance and that information which doesn’t. Right now there is just a constant flood. When we can clearly identify the small streams we need to support our relevance in the world, our “always-on connectivity” will be much more manageable. I won’t have to be connected 24-7.
There are some valuable points discussed in these videos. I believe, most importantly as parents though, that we need to educate our children about relevance, about how to utilize the data streaming around the world to become relevant, and about how to remain always on without letting it consume our lives. Even if I am connected all the time doesn’t mean that my focus is on it 24-7.
Image courtesy of www.verizoninsider.com.
Originally posted 2011-07-10 09:05:07.