Why We Need to Move Beyond Traditional IT Culture and Get Back to the Future
The next cycle of technology and systems development in the Internet of Things and smart connected systems arena is supposed to be setting the stage for a multi-year wave of growth based on the convergence of innovations in software architectures; back-room data center operations; wireless and broadband communications; and smaller, more powerful client devices connected to personal, local and wide-area networks. But is it?
Current computer science still operates with models of information, networking, and database schemas that were conceived in the mainframe and client server eras and cannot serve the needs of a truly connected world. Data today is locked in silos, on both a system-by-system basis and by vertical use. Software development is duplicated and applications remain unable to share data or functionality. We are using the last generation of tools for the next generation of computing and information interactions.
Today’s so-called IoT and digital platforms, tools and solutions have several challenges:
Challenge 1: Platforms are, for the most part, limited to connectivity, “canned” device and data management functionality and programmer-centric APIs when what we need to do is remove app development limitations through more powerful data structures and more intuitive tools, making smart systems and IoT app development accessible to non-coders.
Challenge 2: Custom solutions are stunted by expense, time and lack of flexibility when what we really need is a catalog of reusable, modifiable parts to speed prototyping, development and implementation.
Challenge 3: One-off apps isolate data and do not enable fluid data interactions when what we really need is intelligent message flow, non-destructive data manipulation, and unique data identifiers that allow data to flow across apps, domains and widely varying usage.
Demand for interoperability is growing, and as designers of new digital technologies work to provide it, they will be laying the foundation for an information system far vaster than the existing World Wide Web. Cyber-physical systems will spill data at a scale few can barely imagine as the Internet is integrated into everything and extends tendrils into our homes, our cars, and our clothing. It will be many orders of magnitude larger in scale and more complex than any artifact human beings have ever encountered. This new world will look more like the neurons of the brain, or ants in an anthill, or human beings in a society, as well as information nodes connected to each other. The many “nodes” of a network may not be very “smart” in themselves, but if they are networked in a way that allows them to connect effortlessly and interoperate seamlessly, they begin to give rise to complex, system-wide behavior that usually goes by the name “emergence.” That is, an entirely new order of intelligence “emerges” from the system as a whole—an intelligence that could not have been predicted by looking at any of the nodes individually. There’s a distinct magic to emergence, but it happens only if the network’s nodes are free to share information and processing power.
The Internet of Interactions — between and among “Things” and “People” – requires much more than simple incremental improvements in today’s technologies to be fully realized. The challenge is much more than a simple patch, Band-Aid, or new flavor of what we already do.
What’s required is a true shift in thinking about how devices, people and physical systems will be integrated and how they will interact. We need an approach that is not about leveraging aging IT technology into a new application context; it’s about looking forward to a single, unified information architecture for the nearly infinite interactions to which any PERSON or any THING can contribute. The maturation of radically new information models and architectures that can more readily evolve and integrate classical IT capabilities with real-time, state-based devices and systems.
This is why we believe a new “Smart Systems Design Architecture” is required to integrate and bind these disparate views of the future of computing to inform a radically new view of information services. We might think of this as a “technology architecture” that needs to be more carefully integrated into the corresponding “business architecture” these technologies will inform.
For the first time in the evolution of networked businesses, these two “architectures” must be viewed in close proximity. The two thrusts need to be mutually supportive without inhibiting one or the other. However, trying to coordinate and leverage the respective roles of technology architecture and business architecture often creates contention. We are coming to see the continuously evolving relationship between these two dimensions as fertile ground for innovation. They need to be interwoven and mutually supportive. We believe success in either increasingly goes to the company that effectively utilizes the combined potential of both.
Radical new thinking about information technology and business architectures must begin at the most basic levels, with new conceptions about the interactions of information with people, systems and devices. We need to think more about future proofing innovations by making the fewest possible assumptions about the nature of networked systems, businesses and people; we need a much broader, all-encompassing view. Ultimately, the concept of a Smart Systems Design Architecture will alter traditional business models and how new technology-enabled applications are realized.
Even though their business models are feverishly intermingling today, all of the major categories of hardware, software and communications developers and suppliers in the “traditional” IT arena have historically operated within well-established assumptions about product scope and business models. No one would characterize the existing players of being technology or business model innovators or disruptive in nature.
In our years of experience, we have all too often seen the unfortunate scenarios that managers create when uncertainty and complexity force them to rely on selective attention. Unfortunately, when this happens, selective attention naturally gravitates toward what’s readily available: past experience and uncertain assumptions. Today’s IT, telco and software players are doing just this. By ignoring important trends simply because it’s difficult to perceive an alternative future, these managers are certainly leaving the door open for “creative destruction” that will lead to their eventual obsolescence…which will make for a very interesting world soon.