Technology is changing at a faster and faster rate but is that always a good thing?
When developing programs or software in the past, you would use a single language. There was one language for one operating system on a specific type of hardware. Your choices were definitely limited and the knowledge required was straight forward. Now we face a different set of difficulties:
- There’s a lot of new technologies
- The rate of technical change is accelerating
- A lot of different technologies are needed to build systems
These changes and complexities are having an impact beyond just what it takes to program a system. They are also making it more difficult for developers to have conversations with their customers about critical tech decisions. The divide between developers and non-developers will limit our ability to effectively build the systems that businesses need to run.
This divide happens in other parts of business management but to a lesser degree, at a slower rate, and usually not to the detriment of a business. Business owners, for example, understand finance and accounting on a high level without being formally trained in those fields. Just about any executive can read a basic Profit and Loss statement. In fact if somebody popped out of a time machine from 10 years in the future they could present their P&L and people would understand it. But it’s different in tech. Technology is changing quickly and it’s not just systems, everything is changing. There are new languages, new frameworks, new systems, new protocols, new hardware, new terms, new everything. This keeps most non-developers from having the understanding and even the language to critically discuss their tech decisions.
Additionally, technology is getting more esoteric. Machine learning is a great example of this. Even if you understand that computers can be trained to learn new things, it’s difficult to really make sense of the concept. Computers used to be programmed under the paradigm of “if this, then do that”. Machine learning systems don’t get created that way. As Computer Science matures, computers are being taught to process the environment around them based on “training”, not recipes like they have in the past.
Making things even more complicated, is the lack of any ‘oversight board’ in technology – there’s no group of people deciding how pieces of technology work together or what we call pieces of technology. There’s no GAAP. This is one of the reasons innovation can occur so quickly, but it also makes keeping up more difficult. All of these issues and the constant advancement of technology, are making it more difficult for people to understand and discuss technology – deepening the divide.
The divide is between people who understand how new tech works and those that do not understand and there are real costs associated with not understanding. For instance, my neighbors book their airline tickets via a travel agent (they don’t have a computer or smart phone) and, in the end, they pay more for a ticket than I would. Now scale up that example to entire businesses who haven’t adapted their technology – think of the farmer who still has to manually drive his tractor trying to compete with a farmer who has a GPS controlled tractor who plants crops absolutely perfectly to maximize available land. In order to keep competitive in business, we (business leaders, techies, non-techies, everyone) must bridge the divide.
Some tips for bridging the divide: Treat your tech like you treat your health.
- Take your systems, tools, and applications in for regular check-ups. Be pragmatic about the age of your systems and what they can do. Think of it this way, I no longer play tackle football – not practical at my age – J. Tools have a limited shelf life.
- Get a second opinion. Make sure big investments are being validated by technical resources inside and outside of your organization. Some of the best projects Amadeus Consulting has ever worked on were from wise CIOs who were getting a second opinion (relative to their own).
- Find experts and specialists. Have them guide you through the process and help you avoid missteps.
- Build trust with your technology partners. It is very expensive to keep up with all the changing tech and even the most profitable companies in the world, like Google, utilize outside consultants.