Just over a year ago, I pre-ordered “stickers” that serve as location beacons. After a few delays, I received them in the mail yesterday along with a handwritten note from Estimote CEO Jakub Krzych. The tiny beacons are designed to make unintelligent things… “intelligent” – to allow them to sense and communicate, and to help people better understand the context around them.
The possibilities for using beacons are potentially endless. They’re already being used in retail, airports, and hospitality industries. However, it’s safe to say that even those who are early adopters haven’t yet tapped the killer ways to leverage location awareness.
Harnessing endless possibilities into meaningful outcomes is hard.
What should I have these “nearables” do?
– Should I have them tell me how long my shoes have walked or my bike has gone?
– Should I attach them to the mailbox door to let me know when the mail has arrived?
– Should I attach them to the ceiling fan to figure out the average temperature near the ceiling fan or how many lifetime revolutions I will get out of them?
Ultimately, what is the value of any of this information? Are any of these commercially attractive?
I already have a backlog of projects and maintenance to do on my home, my business, and with and for my family. Do I really have time to tinker?
What Leaders are Facing Today
Blown out and extended to a macro scale, the tiny simplistic scenario above is symbolic of the challenge that most organizational leaders are facing today as technology races ahead.
In an abstract sense, most people can envision how ultimately these new technologies will help to create new value. But the tensions of reality and bottom line results trump fantasy visions of utopian or dystopian futures.
How broad should I expand my focus? Too narrow and the risk of being blindsided increases. Too broad, and execution excellence goes out the window.
Over what time horizon should I plan? Too narrow and the tyranny of the urgent impedes long term progress. Too long and the market shifts too dynamically to respond.
How many resources should I allocate to disruptive or incremental innovations? Incremental innovations provide a clearer value proposition in the near term with an easier to understand ROI, though we likely won’t survive over the long term without disruptive innovations to catch subsequent waves of growth.
The opportunity for new value creation exists within the intersection of the constantly changing sphere of “what’s possible” with the economic feasibility of creating real and tangible business value.
This is hard work and requires creativity, savvy strategic bets, investment, testing, learning, and adjusting.
The Internet of Things hits Supermarkets
Kroger recently invested in temperature sensors in their frozen foods section to help reduce administration costs and ensure that food is not going bad for any number of reasons. The project is already said to have a strong ROI.
But this is just an embryonic predecessor of what’s to come. What happens when each item can be optimized for the ideal temperature? What happens when the supply chain is bringing just in time inventory based on constantly learning algorithms that rely on weather, traffic, beacons, and other digital signals to predict demand with ever narrower accuracy?
Sensors may soon be embedded in food to tell you whether it’s spoiled, the right temperature, the ideal eating conditions, or and/or if the caloric and vitamin intake is ideal.
Fast forward to a world where real time biometrics recommend the automatic creation and procurement of the ideal food on demand, aware of what you’ve already eaten or what you plan to do later that day or week.
Connection shifts the way the world works
The burgeoning world of nanotechnology is allowing us to connect even the smallest items. What happens when the cells and the atoms inside our bodies can communicate not only within the confines of one human body, but broadly to the entire world?
When things are connected, they bring with them the properties of interconnectedness; network effects, a near zero cost of production, and the benefits and risks of exponential multiplication of everything – good and bad.
As we saw a few weeks ago when a Jeep Cherokee was hacked while driving on the highway, connectedness brings with it new risks and exposes vulnerabilities we haven’t considered before.
So Many Problems to Solve
As I was driving through the California farmland this past weekend, I was struck by a few things;
1) We’re out of water. This is no surprise as it increasingly dominates headlines. California Lakes are down 10-20 feet. Our dependence on water is apparent. Entire fields had crops as dry as a bone. Thousands of acres of land lay barren. Why can’t we find an efficient way to manufacture water? Why can’t we harness the water of the earth across geographies to be better distributed? Why can’t we harvest water from the air in a more regular fashion?
2) The limits of physical geography seem constraining. For crop production, we are limited by the boundaries of the land, the minerals, the sun, the water, the fertilizer. We are totally dependent upon things out of our control. I envision future ability to replicate of all of these by magnitudes. I’m curious to watch the growth and expansion of aeroponic farming, etc. that transcends the limits of traditional farming.
3) The growth of solar panels to generate and create electricity were everywhere..
We’ve figured out how to harness the sun’s energy to store and distribute as desired. Why aren’t we doing the same with water? When will we do it?
Multiply these challenges by the millions across industries. These quick observations are a result of a drive home from a camping trip in the Sequoias. Every industry is in the process of being reimagined.
What are entrenched issues that have just been part of your organizational landscape that may suddenly be solvable with emerging technology that did not exist 1, 3, or 5 years ago?
Who’s job is this anyway?
While CEOs seem to mostly be looking to CIOs to lead digital innovation efforts, CMOs, CDOs, and COOs are also involved. My anecdotal research has shown that it’s less about title, but more about individual competence and passion that are driving these innovation efforts. There is, however, a great opportunity for CIOs to take a more prominent leadership role in their organizations as every company becomes a technology company.
The role of the next generation leader, regardless of title, is to bring together the best of their understanding of emerging technology, deep customer understanding, and sensible (network based) business acumen to drive their organizations forward. There is a great frontier for emerging leaders to bring the best of a new combination of skills and talents to make a difference in and for their organizations.
As automation consumes more blue collar (and white collar) work, the best that humans can bring is combining constantly emerging technological capabilities with creativity, strong relationships, and solutions that help the people around them live and share better lives.
What are you working on today?
This post is brought to you by The CIO Agenda.
The views and opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG LLP.