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A Rule of Four Technologies

September 24, 2011

A few days ago, I discussed an article in TechRepublic in which Jason Hiner describes five technologies he eagerly anticipates. I noted in that discussion that these technologies (eg, readily available broadband wireless) aren’t the ones the mainstream technology press seems most enamored with, but instead represent solid and realistic technologies that will make serious impacts in just a few years. Today, I’m going to extend that topic even further by referencing “The Four Technologies You Need to Be Working With,” by Adam Richardson (@richardsona at twitter) on HBR.com.

If Hiner’s selection of technology was understated and practical, Richardson’s is downright pedestrian. Richardson lists Microprocessors, Sensors, Wireless Connectivity and Databases as his four horsemen of “disruptive” technologies, despite the fact that these technologies have each been contributing to our lives for decades (well, ok, wireless maybe a bit less than two decades, but let’s not split hairs).

Before we accuse Richardson of dusting off an article from 1996, let’s take a look at what he has to say. Richardson points out that all of these technical levers used to be “scarce and expensive but are now plentiful and cheap. ” (as always, the italics are mine, and used when I quote from the article.) Moreover, Richardson tells us that “These technologies can be combined in numerous ways, and we are just starting to see companies really taking advantage of the possibilities.” I think that’s a reasonable, if unsurprising statement. He goes on to say “These four technologies will have a disruptive impact on your business, almost regardless of which industry you’re in.” OK, now we’re talking.

The author discusses each technology and cites several interesting examples of business using these technologies to create disruptive opportunities. For example, motion sensors are leading to a revitalization of the console gaming industry: “The cutting edge is represented by Microsoft Kinect, a gaming system that uses powerful sensors and processing to observe and interpret user’s body movements without requiring a physical device like the Wii remote.

I think the most interesting point about this post is that, like Hiner, Richardson realizes that it’s not the newest, sexiest technology that drives the biggest business impact. Instead, technology that is cheap, well-understood and proven begs to be exploited in new and powerful ways when the business environment cracks open an opportunity to do so.  As you might expect, reading the blog post won’t change your world, but it might make you take a second look at what you really think progress is.

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