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Technology-Enabled Innovation: Pathways to Success


Expert analysis from Alan Costello, a business consultant and Enterprise Ireland /New Frontiers mentor, founder and managing director of Ruby Consulting, and director of StrategyCrowd.

Many new technologies can face a certain degree of hype. Gartner, a US-based IT research firm, developed the hype cycle - a graphical representation of the maturity, adoption and application of specific technologies.  Such hype cycles can drive both venture capital and media attention towards the great potential, or lack thereof, of new technologies. Attention is also given to ‘experts’ predicting that a given technology is the future, or the contrary.  

In actual fact, it takes many years of testing technologies and evaluating them for different-use cases before they’re ready for mainstream use. Standards must also be proposed or adopted in real time, before technology can achieve mainstream adoption to enterprise or consumer level.

Driverless Cars and a Mushroom Analogy

Consider the shape of a mushroom.  The stalk represents growth of a technology for two to six to ten years followed by an explosion of adoption of that technology into different use cases. The technology then resonates with users to the extent that customers can’t imagine what life was like before said explosion (ie. the iPhone is only ten years old, Hailo only five). Basically, we see apprehension first, a growing buzz about a technology and, at the right time, mainstream adoption follows.

Examples of this behaviour is evident in the case of the future technology in driverless cars.  Initially, people will be very cautious; we will hear cases of fatal traffic accidents and instances when the car couldn’t differentiate a bike lane from a car lane, 3.5m truck drives in US being laid off and so on. 

However, it’s clear that some consider driverless cars to be the latest ‘mushroom explosion’ in the making, as 2016 saw the online transportation network Uber, purchasing a driverless truck company for approximately $680 million. Warren Buffet is quoted as saying the biggest risk to banking and insurance conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway is driverless cars, because their widespread use will mean fewer car accidents, and less of a need for car insurance.

When the cars are ready for mass consumer adoption, infrastructure providers will catch up, and dedicated lanes, electronic signage and municipal vehicles will all play their role in facilitating this emergent technology. Exact timing can’t be predicted, but eventual productivity gains will ensure that technology will facilitate for driverless cars and societal acceptance will follow.

Using this mushroom imagery to explore the stage of development of other new technologies, we would see emergent technologies on the ‘stalk’ as being:

  • Augmented/virtual reality technologies

  • The mainstreaming of data mining and data analytics at consumer level as platforms such as Facebook and Google fully monetise their data

  • Enterprise level data analytics insights from equivalent platforms such as Microsoft and SAP

The key issue around innovation, and especially some of the technology-enabled innovation today, is the time it takes to get to the stage of mainstream adoption and how that timeline applies to you or your company.  Are you going to invest early and lead, while facing an uncertain length of time along the stalk, or are you going to trail early leaders and join the mushrooming market, but as a follower?  The length of the testing phase is hard to predict (ask Blackberry or Nokia), but the outcomes are immense (ask Google or Uber).

I wonder if this mushroom-shape of adoption can be also applied to commentary outside of technology innovation; a long phase of emergent thinking before action -  Brexit or Trump anyone?

Our thanks to Alan Costello, a business consultant and Enterprise Ireland /New Frontiers mentor, founder and managing director of Ruby Consulting, and director of StrategyCrowd. Alan can be contacted via his Linkedin profile,  email; alan@strategycrowd.com, or phone; 0872791150.

The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Directors in Ireland. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. The content of this blog is for information purposes only and the Institute of Directors in Ireland is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied.