Disrupt … or Be Disrupted

“Established companies are being disrupted faster than ever before according to the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. The academy also believes that 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.

That is a mind-blowing statistic.

Small businesses are not immune to this potential disruption either. When you consider that there are approximately 30 million small businesses in the US today and they employ almost half of the US workforce this warrants a further look.

What the heck is going on?

In case you hadn’t heard, we are entering a new era of technology innovation. Some claim we are at the precipice of another industrial revolution. History shows that this has happened only three times. The first industrial revolution (beginning ~1784) was typified by mechanical production, steam power, the railroads and telegraph. The second industrial revolution came in the next century (beginning ~1870) with electrical power, mass production, radio, tabulating systems and the advent of the assembly line. The third industrial revolution came in the next century (beginning ~1960) with automated production, programmable computers, electronics, video recorders and eventually the Internet.

At every industrial revolution

  • New industries were created and rapid growth ensued
  • Fortunes were made and fortunes were lost
  • New jobs were created and outmoded jobs eliminated

This fourth industrial revolution is being called the “Age of Intelligence”.  Data is exploding and flows from every device in unprecedented volumes, variety, and complexity. Traditional analytics and other decision support approaches are unable to fully exploit its value … driving a need for new innovation in many areas. New business models, a growing digital economy, aging workforce and global skills shortages are all driving this same need for smarter systems in all facets of life.

We have never seen so many disruptive technologies come along at the same time. It’s an overused cliché but this is a perfect storm of technology-based innovation. Artificial Intelligence (AI or Cognitive Computing) is leading the way. AI is a game changer. When combined with cloud, mobile, social, the Internet of things (sensors), nanotechnology, robotics, drones, 3D printing, new business models and more … it’s a lot to get your head around. It’s nearly impossible to fully understand the impact of this revolution right now … but’s let’s look at few areas …

If you’ve worked as a video rental clerk, travel agent, assembly-line worker, 411 operator, ticketing agent, stock-broker, department store or telephone book advertising salesperson you already know what I mean.

According to a recent McKinsey report … we can expect artificial intelligence technologies to play an increasingly great role in everyday life.  Their potential effect on the workplace has, unsurprisingly, become a major focus of research and public concern. The report also explores which job roles will or won’t be replaced by machines. It can be accessed here.

As for me … I believe the adoption of AI (and other disruptive technologies) will indeed impact our lives in a big way. It will take some time … and will create new roles/jobs and eliminate the need for others.

I am not old enough to remember when “Computer” was job title and not a machine. I do know that role consisted of people who manually computed and/or counted things and the primary tool was the slide rule. Before that, it was the abacus.

Today, those same people who became “Computers” in the 1950s and 60s are more likely to be Accountants, Financial Planners, Controllers even Programmers today … which by comparison are certainly higher value and higher paid roles.

The Information Age (or 3rd revolution) birthed an entire industry (Information Technology).  It impacted corporate structures/strategies/governance and brought us household names like Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo and too many small businesses to count. It seduced us into wondering what is REALLY possible. At present, Evans Data estimates there are 18.2 million software developers worldwide, a number that is due to rise to 26.4 million by 2019 (a 45% increase). On the whole, that’s a huge amount of positive change and human advancement.

There will always be doom and gloomers who worry that robots will take their jobs. Sure, some statistics show that a large percentage of all employment roles will be impacted by machines within the next two decades. This impact will be good for some and bad for others.

It seems to me that history will repeat itself, and the same outcomes will occur again, in both large and small businesses:

  • Some roles will be eliminated.
  • Some roles will evolve forward and upward.
  • Many new roles will be created.

My point is … now is the time to take action and get ahead of this. The McKinsey report does a good job of detailing the roles and workloads that are most likely to be impacted. I think the more important issue is what are you going to do to make sure your job or company is benefitting from this. You don’t want to be the person left wondering “what happened?”

IBM brought this into the mainstream when cognitive system Watson … beat the best human competitors at Jeopardy! in 2011. That was the starting gun … and the race is on.

My experience with AI/Cognitive Computing (so far) has taught me the following:

  • Information is exploding at such a rate that it is impossible to read, assimilate and apply except in small volumes. Technologies to assist us with decision-making are now mandatory.
  • There is so much new information being generated that it is also impossible for doctors, lawyers or any information based professional to keep up with their professional learning obligations. Do you want a Doctor who is up-to-date on the most recent medical information to treat you or one who hasn’t kept up on the medical literature?
  • Too much information is creating numerous bottlenecks to decision-making and process execution.  Many information based processes are actually getting slower. Resulting delays can cause more errors.
  • Any situation where a human has to read, research, explore, find and or learn new information (before making a decision) is ripe to benefit from artificial intelligence or other new decision support tools.
  • This is particularly the case when unstructured text or documents are involved. This form of data is typically “dark” and not easily locatable. It also takes longer to learn from text-based information.
  • There can often be so much information (hundreds of pages, many documents) that the required time to read and assimilate further bottlenecks decisions from being made … exacerbating the problem.
  • If video or audio  is involved, one can spend countless hours looking/listening for snippets of relevant content. The time invested to reward equation is so poor that most people just skip video/audio altogether when looking for information.
  • Net-net … any situation where human expertise/knowledge is being applied (regardless of information type) could probably benefit from a system that makes cognitive (AI) assistance available. These systems observe, reason, apply, recommend and learn from outcomes … eventually optimizing those same outcomes as guided by humans. They don’t get tired, go on vacation, have a bad day or introduce personal bias and emotion … typically things that subvert optimal decisions and outcomes.

The era of Cognitive Computing (or Artificial Intelligence if you prefer) is here NOW. Like disruptions of the past, there will be winners and losers. Robots and artificial intelligence based tools will certainly transform the nature of work.  I personally think for the better.

But what are you doing about it?

Heed this call to action – whether you are involved with a big business or a small business!

I will be delivering a keynote address and exploring this topic in much more detail at the upcoming Loudoun Small Business Conference on May 15, 2017. This event is the brainchild of the folks who run The George Mason Enterprise Center in Loudoun County, Virginia. Event details can be found here. If you are local, I hope to see you there.

As always, leave me your comments below and check out the following resources and organizations who will be at the event:

 

Content at Rest or Content in Motion? Which is Better?

I really wish I’d thought of this concept but I didn’t.  It’s such a simple idea when you think about it … that there are two fundamental types of content … enterprise content at rest and enterprise content in motion.

Content at Rest = Cost / Risk

Enterprise content at rest is sitting around just taking up space.  At rest implies not being accessed … not being used … not doing anything of value.  (Hhhmm … this sounds a lot like my Uncle Leo around the holidays.  I have this mental image of him asleep on my couch one Thanksgiving surrounded by several beer cans.  Sorry for sharing.)  Anyway … when at rest, this content usually includes duplicates and near-duplicates making the problem worse.  Content at rest drives significant and unnecessary costs in the form of storage, power, system administration and more. Worse yet, all this unnecessary content is ruining our search experiences.  We can’t find anything because of all this useless content just hanging around gumming up our search results.  Boy this sounds dumb.  Maybe we should start disposing of some of this stuff?

Content in Motion = Value / Reward

On the other hand, enterprise content in motion is highly valuable and rewarding.  Content that is part of business process or case management enabling better decisions and outcomes … or content that is community and social oriented driving better collaborative experiences and outcomes … or content that is being analyzed to unlock business insight across large amounts of unstructured data.  Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?  Let’s put all that content to work for us! (Reminds me of my Aunt Marge … who never stops cleaning, cooking, running errands taking care of the familiy critical stuff.  How Leo and Marge have stayed married all these years is beyond me).

What To Do

If we’re agreed that’s far more valuable to activate content, then how do we go about it? … and more importantly how do we pay for it?

Today, over 80% of most IT budgets are already allocated to managing existing “stuff” … programs, systems, storage including all that costly content at rest.  With information expected to grow 44 times by 2020,  This is a failure scenario.  IT budgets are flat or declining in most organizations so at current course and speed we’ll increasingly be spending 83%, 88%, 95% and eventually all of our IT budget on managing existing “stuff”.  This leaves very little or no money to invest in new ECM initiatives that drive value … like those that activate content and put content in motion.

And those who say … “but storage is always getting cheaper, so no big deal” should probably stop reading here because you won’t like what is coming next.  Storage may indeed be getting cheaper but the people, power, maintenance, physical space that it requires to work is not.  It’s was a dumb argument yesterday, a ridiculous one today and an untenable one going forward.  Most IT budgets already spend 17% on storage (yikes), which ought to be plenty.

Action Plan to Activate Content and Drive Value

Let’s just stop the madness and put much more focus, energy and budget on delivering value through content in motion!  Here are some basic steps you can take right now:

1. Think and act differently … it’s really about the communities, the processes and the insight related to your content.  Use and value comes from activity, not stagnance.

2. Defensibly dispose of everything you can, including retiring old content centric apps, abandoned SharePoint sites, unused file shares as soon as you can … except what you are obligated to keep for business, regulatory or legal purposes.  Big hint: This will free up loads of resources and budget that can be reallocated to new projects, like activating content.

3. Work with your line-of-business execs in three areas to activate content:

Case Management:  Automate and improve those workflows and processes that are case centric where people, process and content are essential to the outcome.  The more ad-hoc and exception oriented processes drive maximum content value … think claims processing, dispute resolution, customer inquiry, investigation, onboarding and more.

Responsible Social Content:  Enable a true social content experience for knowledge works where projects, activities, instant collaboration, tasks and ECM services are the norm.  Think Facebook + ECM for the enterprise … combine ECM, social software and a more responsible approach to content collaboration.

Content Analysis:  Leverage and exploit your content by understanding the trends, patterns, anomalies and deviations of your business that are currently trapped in your content. Think Business Intelligence for content and detect fraud, predict outcomes, find new opportunities, hear the voice-of-the-customer and more.

I think it’s obvious by now which is better … or in other words, we should all be more like my Aunt Marge and not  my Uncle Leo (he snores when he naps, too). 

Toby Bell (Gartner ECM analyst) made the “content at rest” and “content in motion” remarks which got me thinking along these lines.  I’ve taken Toby’s idea and added my own perspective.  I also discussed this concept at this weeks Managing Electronic Records Conference in Chicago and received positive feedback from the audience and a few individuals afterwards.

As always … leave me your thoughts and ideas here. I’ll be discussing this topic and other ECM topics at the upcoming Boston and Toronto UserNet events. Hope to see you there.