The Great Transformation
March/April 2012
Daniel Burrus

Years ago I was able to listen to my music one album per spinning disc. As I got older there was a technological change that came along and I could get one album per smaller spinning disk called a CD. And I liked that change. Not only did it take up less space, but more importantly it got rid of the scratches and the hisses and the pops that existed with all my old music. Today, of course, I’ve got all my music, along with all my email, video, and even a browser on my phone, which is with me at all times. This hasn’t just changed how I listen to or access music; it has transformed it.

Whether you realize it or not, right now we are no longer in a period of rapid change. We are in a period of true technology-driven transformation. It seems every company is using the word “transformation,” but most of them, if you look at what they were doing, are just talking faster change. There is a big difference between faster change and true transformation. The question becomes: What are we going to transform?

During the next five years we will be in what I would call “The Great Transformation” where we are going to transform how we sell, how we market, how we communicate, how we collaborate with each other, how we innovate, how we train people, and how we educate people. The only uncertainty that exists is figuring out what companies are going to do about it.

There are three drivers behind all of this and they’ve been around for a long time. They are: processing power, storage, and bandwidth—none of which are particularly newsworthy, but what they are doing to contribute to this transformation is indeed newsworthy. In all, the market is laying the foundation for that next level of bandwidth, storage, and processing power, which will create a trifecta of transformation.

Today, the relevancy of a connected world isn’t just about connecting, but rather what we can do with those connections. Here is a quick example: cloud computing. The cloud wasn’t very important about 10-15 years ago; and why is that? It was because bandwidth, storage, and processing power weren’t where they are today. You couldn’t have something like YouTube in the year 2000—it would have been much too slow and people would have become frustrated. But today, it is very possible to have HD YouTube.

So, if you look to the future, we need to think about this. We are not just going to put storage in the cloud, we are also putting processing power in the cloud. Many of you will probably recall the IBM Watson supercomputer playing the contestants on JEOPARDY!, and winning, of course. Well, we’re accessing lots of information via the cloud on our phones and tablets these days, which means the processor in your phone or tablet is important. But in reality you’re going to have a supercomputer in your connected device, because all you’re doing is accessing from the cloud. What this means is you don’t need to own a supercomputer; you just need to tie into one. As we enter a new generation of empowering the enterprise with mobility, we have a new sense of mobility.

Currently there are two revolutions—not evolutions—happening. One is a hardware revolution and the other is a software revolution. Let’s take the hardware revolution first. At one time the only way to use a computer was with a mainframe and a terminal. Then as time passed, desktops became powerful enough to be your main computer of choice. However, you must remember—here’s the important part—mainframes didn’t go away. We still have them. The past doesn’t go away either, but it gets repurposed and integrated.

Today there’s a revolution taking place with your primary “computer.” Your primary computer is in your pocket or your purse at all times; it’s also known as your smartphone or tablet. Today we have videos, news, and magazines on our phones. That is a big deal, bigger than most realize, especially if you look at what I call the visible future. Look ahead a bit and you can start to see it is a transformation. I’m not saying we’re not going to use our laptops and desktops in the future; we’re just going to use them less because our main computing tool has shifted.

Next, we have the software revolution. This one is truly profound because a long time ago (back in the day of mainframes) we had to have enterprise-level complex software. Until all of a sudden we had the desktop and it became powerful enough that we started having packaged computers, software rather, like Microsoft Office and QuickBooks. And here we are today with a software revolution that is spreading fast, called apps.

Just like in the hardware example, the old stuff doesn’t go away. We still have SAP, Oracle, IBM, but we have this major revolution—apps. Like many revolutions, it started out with kids and toys and games but has quickly spread to the enterprise for marketing, supply chain, purchasing, logistics, remote disease management, etc.

The apps revolution is not just your smartphone or tablet; it’s the revolution of your television because your television is, of course, getting connected. You have to ask yourself, why do you have 100 channels on cable and nothing to watch? And the answer is simple: You don’t have app-TV. But one day you will, because this allows you to personalize that TV experience.

For example, let’s say you have an iPhone and I have an iPhone. However, my iPhone is very different from your iPhone, and the reason is apps. Essentially, I don’t have an “iPhone,” I have a “myPhone.” The user customizes it. And, unlike past software, I can download it, try it—it’s either free or cheap—and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s easy to delete.

We’re creating a mobility revolution around this theory. So, not only is my phone personalized for me (customized by me for me), but my television will be as well due to the app revolution.

Speaking to the connected world, in the beginning it was about getting people connected. But now what I’m doing is throwing in another dimension, saying we’re going into a new phase of mobility and it’s not just represented by the word change. We’re going to transform the enterprise through connected devices. We are going to a new level because of the three aforementioned drivers and the fact we are now at a unique point in history. We can literally transform those things: how we sell, how we market, how we communicate, how we collaborate, how we innovate, how we train, how we integrate; all of it.

Let’s take the example of kids going to school. For years they have gone to school with a backpack full of books. All those books cost a lot of money to school districts. What if the kids all had a tablet computer? They wouldn’t have to hurt their backs by carrying around all of their books. Also, print books can become obsolete; they can’t be upgraded at the push of a button, they aren’t interactive, and there’s no video.

Imagine if all the software was on a server at the school district, if most of the processing power was accessed through this server, and if the kids’ homework was accessed through this server with, of course, local access on their devices. The point I’m making is, you could get a tablet for kids down to a very inexpensive price point. It’s not that expensive because all of the really expensive stuff is not on the device, it’s on the server in the school district.

Connected mobility can transform our schools and even save money. It would actually turn kids on to education and give them multimedia tools, rather than turn them off. Instead of having 10 computers in a classroom, for instance, why not go to the new platform? Remember, there is a new transformation in software and hardware. And this is just a snapshot of what is to come.


Daniel Burrus is a technology forecaster and business strategist, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting



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