Historically, the most disruptive and long-lasting products were not built through a single, emergent technology. Rather, they were built through a combination of existing technologies, innovation and new business models that appealed to customers. Products built on an innovative, but independent, technology often struggled to achieve wide adoption. Minicomputers, for example, did not find widespread acceptance in enterprises until they layered on data storage and management platforms. Pagers and early clamshell texting devices did not have the longevity of cellphones. Individual technologies are often innovative and disruptive, however, the value proposition and the disruption they offer is significantly higher once utilized in combination with preexisting technology or another emergent technology.
Today, forward thinking enterprises are reaping huge benefits by incorporating technological advances into older processes, platforms, and products. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for quite some time, and for much of that time its disruptive potential has been widely discussed, but narrowly implemented. However, with the emergence of Cloud, Big Data technologies, and low-cost compute, AI has found widespread acceptance in enterprises. Where AI was once a curiosity, it is now regarded a critical component to any enterprise strategy. As another example, texting has been a form of communication since 1990s, but widespread adoption came only after mobile phones became popular and layered in messaging as a core utility of the device.
Combinatorial technological innovation is visible in most, if not all, of the current leading technology products. Things like 3D Printing, IoT, Drones, Robotics, Machine Vision, Machine Learning, Cognitive Computing, Data Discovery, AI, Natural Language Processing, Blockchain, and more, were built by bringing together previous innovations to create exponential gains in value and applicability. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel to gain a competitive advantage. Two or more disruptive technologies in the right combination will do just fine -- the critical part is thinking through the ways two technologies leverage one another to enhance their collective value. When individuals or organizations get this right, the sum of the parts is far greater than their individual value. One plus one equals ten, or even one hundred, instead of two!
The potential to marry multiple technologies into a single process transformation is very high for most business processes. Combinatorial technologies are creating super intelligent products and services everywhere you look. In a retail store, the ability to combine Computer Vision, real time Big Data analytics and IoT information can redefine the in-store customer experience. Technologies such as Object Detection, IoT, Augmented Reality and Haptic Feedback can be combined to create immersive learning/ training/experience environments. A CNC lathe operator could use these technologies for training. Sport coaches could use it for training athletes. Oil & Gas, Utilities and Mining operations could use these to make field workers more efficient and improve safety. The Armed Forces could use it for military training without putting personnel in harm's way.
Other examples of relevant technology combinations -
- Computer Vision + Machine Learning + 5G + Cloud - Traffic monitoring and control in a smart city
- Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality - Entertainment, education and work
- 5G + Autonomous Vehicles + Computer Vision - Real time route optimization and last mile travel and delivery
- Blockchain + Smart Contract + AI – Distributed systems that can enforce laws and implement services, the next generation of 'public utilities'
Given the enormous amount of technological innovation and development happening, the critical element, once again, is thinking carefully about how technology can intersect and amplify. Choosing the right combination of technology, along with a deep understanding of the domain in which they will be applied, is essential to create relevant innovation.