Finding Our Red Balloons
A decade back, technology was more about solving process problems – the systems integration discipline takes its name from a specific challenge. But the wish list was longer: better platforms for delivering and collecting information; better wireless capabilities for commerce and communication; better and more varied sensors to monitor supply chains. For the most part, that wish list has been fulfilled. If there is a theme to this issue, it is about putting into place the societal and organizational constructs to make new technology better serve our goals.
Asset intelligence, for example, goes well beyond gathering data about things. It is useful to know if a device is on the verge of failure or a banana on the verge of spoiling. But at its core asset intelligence entails using signals about asset status to drive decisions in real time rather than simply accumulating records for analysis. This is the intersection of technology and trust.
On a broader scale, the authors of The Power of Pull suggest that businesses have been constructed largely on the premise that scalable efficiency is the key to prosperity – building largely on the technologies of the last century, when demand was more predictable. With an increased need to innovate, a better approach is to consider how to dynamically access and attract the people and resources required to improve business performance. To some degree, scalable efficiency may need to yield to scalable connectivity, learning and performance.
Sustainability may also precipitate changes beyond company walls. The triple bottom line—the fiscal, societal and environmental reckoning of business results—seems likely to influence value chains encompassing everything from legislation to consumer behavior. Society is adding priorities to the board’s agenda, and the required innovation may hinge on ideas that focus more on how we use the considerable technology on hand than on waiting for the right technologies to come along.
Riley Crane tells us how his team at MIT Media Lab used social media to solve a specific challenge: to find 10 red balloons scattered across the country. At first glance the challenge is charmingly trivial. But the lessons learned are insightful, and the opportunities to apply social media and other technologies in new ways mark an exciting frontier in business management.