We often hear “technology” and “tool” used as synonyms. It’s intuitive to regard a commercial website as a digital storefront, for example, and email as an alternative to the postal system. But a better analogy, harkening back to my geology texts from college, might be eolian systems—wind, which alters landscapes slowly and can erode or empower what it touches. It can propel objects designed with it in mind.
This issue of Deloitte Review features several articles that would seem to fit neatly into the technology category. What is cloud computing, after all, if not a new path in IT architecture? And additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence-driven swarm robotics have an almost science fictional quality about them. Gamification is a resurgent idea, rising on a tide of data ubiquity.
In “Cloud Wars,” we examine the assertion that cloud computing levels the playing field, putting large incumbents at a disadvantage relative to fleet-footed startups that can now access whatever processing power they might want, whenever they need it, at an attractive cost. Before cloud, the authors note, an incumbent’s existing capabilities and assets made the business almost unassailable, a position that cloud threatens. Yet cloud can also allow these companies to generate greater value from the capabilities and assets the company already has—ones that are difficult or impossible to replicate overnight. Similarly, “Cloud Hits the Enterprise” considers how an organization can configure itself to use these technologies to its advantage. The technology is easy to access, but the outcome—boon or burden—hinges in part on whether cloud fits the company’s culture, processes and governance.
Gamification, in contrast, may be the oldest topic we’ve ever covered. It is not so much a new technology as a potent motivational force that can be amplified through technology. The elements have been around for years—frequent fliers and hotel rewards program point accumulators, for example, acquire status and compete for advantage, whether the prize is a first-class seat or a room with a view. Yet the ingredients—social engagement, real-time feedback, crisply defined challenges and paths—are more feasibly implemented now than in the past, redefining what is possible.
In manufacturing, the technology story is again a fascinating one on its own, but the macroeconomic implications—the ways in which technological change is reshaping the economic realities of an activity emblematic of industry, one that itself began to reshape the world 250 years ago—are perhaps more interesting still.
Technology, then, is front and center in our new issue, changing what’s possible and profitable for business leaders who can imagine and implement its advantages. The subplot, though, is the difference between doing great technology versus doing technology well.