Embracing the disruption

by Leonard Hayes

Leonard HayesWhen Henry Ford began selling the Model T in 1908, he began a process that not only brought the motor car into mass adoption; it also marked the beginning of the end for horse-powered transportation.

This kind of disruptive innovation – one that not only introduces something new, but also supersedes something current – is a recurring pattern in the history of technology. And as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, it’s vital to stay flexible if you want to avoid obsolescence.

Within the essential industries, there are a number of recent technological developments that could soon begin to disrupt the established order.

Next-generation mobile platforms
We’ve already seen a shift from industrial handsets to the widespread use of commodity smartphones. The ease of developing slick and user-friendly applications and the use of app stores for easy deployment and management have transformed essential industries’ ability to deploy mobile solutions – while also raising users’ expectations for convenience and usability.

In the near future, as next-generation devices such as Google Glass become widely available, businesses will need to decide whether they’re just a gimmick, or if they have the potential to offer significant value at minimal cost, compared to the current mobile landscape.

Internet of things
The rise of the “internet of things” is another likely source of change. In our industry, the most obvious example is smart metering, but this could just be the tip of the iceberg.

On the consumer side, we’re already seeing a first generation of home automation devices such as smart thermostats and lightbulbs. If these achieve widespread adoption, the whole profile of demand for utilities could change significantly.

For the essential industries themselves, the possibilities for smart equipment and smart assets are intriguing. Could we see water pumps, gas pipes and electricity lines that “phone home” when they’re about to fail? And if so, will we need to adapt our maintenance processes to a more predictive, less reactive model?

Big Data
Both the internet of things and new mobile platforms are likely to contribute to the need for Big Data technologies. As networks of connected devices (mobile or otherwise) grow exponentially, the businesses at the centre of these networks will need to adopt new strategies to deal with the increased density of incoming information.

Smart metering has already prompted a rethink of traditional approaches to data capture and management: similar developments in other areas will likewise require much more scalable data architectures than have ever been required before.

Adapting to change
The problem with the future is that nothing is certain. There’s a significant chance that each of these three technology areas could change the game for essential industries. But exactly how the game will change is anyone’s guess.

The question becomes: what can we do now to ensure we’re prepared for disruptive change, when we don’t know what that change will be? The answer is to make sure your approach to technology can embrace disruption, rather than resisting it.

In mobile terms, this means abstracting your business processes and logic from the underlying technology, so that you can adopt each new generation of devices without needing to rebuild software and processes from scratch.

For the internet of things, it means developing a flexible approach to integration, where systems can quickly and simply be adapted to interact with new sources of data.

And from a Big Data perspective, it means taking a component-based approach, where new, highly scalable systems can be swapped into the IT architecture without affecting existing processes and services.

In the years to come, a flexible, disruption-ready IT landscape could be the difference between success and failure. We may not be able to tell exactly what the future will bring – but the only way to deal with the unexpected is to be prepared for anything.

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