Slowly but steadily, pressure is building for industrial companies to come to grips with the fact that technology-enabled disruptive change is coming. This creates tension in most companies, because the culture in many industries is quite conservative when it comes to innovation. Product designers may be keen to innovate in their traditional areas of expertise, yet still be reluctant to consider new designs that rely on software and enhanced connectivity. Production groups find it difficult to justify even the time it takes to consider new ways of operating, and making do with aging production systems and techniques is the norm. So when a company’s visionaries talk about ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘Industrie 4.0’ or other terms for technology-enabled digital transformation, they are taking a risk. But are they right?
To be sure, there’s plenty of hype in the market. It’s easy to find incredible claims about “xx billions of connected devices” or “yy trillions of dollars.” On the other hand are the naysayers who dismiss the trends saying “we’ve been doing it for years” or “we’ll never do that.” You can even find surveys from respectable firms that say “half of manufacturing executives don’t know about IoT” or some other comforting statistic. We’re not the only ones, you think. Maybe it’s not real. And if it is, it looks like I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.
That building pressure comes from the growing gap between two forces: The exponential growth of computing technologies, and the linear thinking and inertia of humans and human systems. And that pressure is akin to tectonic pressure building at a fault line: the changes are barely noticeable for a long time, until a seismic shift unleashes a massive change. This pressure derives from what Ray Kurzweil calls the law of accelerating returns: “we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The “returns,” such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. ”
We have experienced this as a series of disruptive changes: personal computers, the Internet, Smartphones. In each case, there was hype. In each case, there were naysayers. But the changes were inexorable. And so it is with the latest set of disruptive technologies, the Industrial Internet of Things.
There’s a pretty good chance your visionaries are wrong. Not because they have fallen victim to the hype, but because they have staked out a too-conservative position!