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This Is What Happens When Your Company And Deep Tech Don’t Match


We should consider ourselves extremely lucky to be living in the shadow of the innovation tree—it just keeps on giving and giving. The only question is, which of its fruits are best for you? 

In this post, I share a thinking tool that can help match your company’s tech readiness with the latest tech has to offer. Here is an example from my own experience to give this problem a bit of color.

My first degree is in product design. To get into the school of my choice, I had to prepare a portfolio of artistic examples, so I spent a few months with a renowned painter to brush up on my skills. For the first few weeks, every time the instructor looked at my canvas, he would nod and walk away without comment. When I brought this to his attention, he said: “Where you are now, even if you raise your hand as high as you can and I stretch my hand as far down as I can, they will still not meet. Keep on working. When you become good enough, I will be able to grab your hand and pull you up.” It took another month of sketching, but finally our hands met.

Imagine your company is the student and technology is the instructor. To enjoy the benefits of what tech has to offer—especially cutting-edge tech—your company must be at a sufficient level of readiness. Finding the right connecting point between your company’s capabilities and what tech has to offer is critical to your success. 

Technology Doesn’t Always Age Nicely

Part of what makes it so hard to find the sweet spot in this equation is that technology doesn’t always age nicely. This became apparent around 2017, when the fruit of web and mobile (AKA digital) began losing its luster. No matter how hard we squeezed, fewer and fewer new and innovative drops came out. By that time, most of our big problems had already been addressed via web and mobile solutions, many of which had undergone second, third, or fourth generation updates. Digital had become so ubiquitous, the saying “There’s an app for that,” (and by that, I mean everything) had gotten old. 

It would have been easy to assume that the tree of innovation had given all it had to give, but new flowers had already begun to bloom in the form of IoT opportunities on one branch and artificial intelligence (AI) on another. From the other side of the tree, the thin branch of mixed reality (MR) also began maturing, exhibiting young, yet promising fruits. We’ve understood the enormous potential of these technologies in theory for some time, but it’s not until recently that their branches have matured to the point where they can actually be used to build products. It’s all there for the picking now, but there’s still no guarantee there will be a good fit between you, the entrepreneur, startup, or enterprise, and the fruit in your hand. 

As we learned from the lesson with the painting instructor, we must make sure we’re ready for the technological fruit we’ve selected in order to realize its benefits. One way to do this is by looking at the Tech Innovation Graph. 

 

The Tech Innovation Graph

The majority of new technologies, referred to as deep tech (i.e. AI, IoT, MR, the blockchain), require some basic building blocks in place before it becomes possible to capture value from them. This includes: 

  • Data: For the entire process to work, we first need data—and a lot of it. If that data doesn’t exist, then we must put a means in place to capture it. 
  • Insights: Next, we need tools to convert data into information and insights. 
  • Actions: Finally, we must have tools and management processes in place that can turn our newly gained insights into actions.

These building blocks are directly related to where your company falls on the graph, which is divided into three segments.

In the first segment, we find ourselves on the bottom left corner of the graph. Here, we have companies that are not yet connected, digital, intelligent, or automated. Data is not being captured from physical assets, there are no fancy analytics tools in places, no ability to remotely manage assets, take actions, or predict future failures, disruptions, fraud, demand, or users’ needs. The bottom left corner is not where any company would like to be in 2019. 

At the center of the graph, things are starting to look better. Here, we have companies in which digital transformation has taken place. Connectivity and data capture are happening, but there is little intelligent automation.  As a result the level of utilization, optimization, automation, or personalization, is limited.  

At the top right corner of the graph, we reach the holy grail of intelligent automation. Here, we have companies that are generating multiple sources of data which can be captured, cleaned, and tagged. Analytic tools are crunching away, leading to new insights which can be leveraged to take sophisticated actions. Everything from assets to environments to processes becomes infused with intelligence and automation, enabling the highest utilization, optimization, personalization, and a host of other “X-tions.” In short, life is good. 

The good news for innovators, entrepreneurs, and corporates is that the majority of the world is still at the bottom left of the graph. Yes, a good number of companies have made it to the center, but very few have made it past that point. This means there is plenty of innovation and business build opportunity for companies that seek to climb to the top of the Tech Innovation Graph. 

 

The Right Fruit For You

So, now that we have a useful tool under our belts, let’s go back to the innovation tree and decide which fruits to “pick” based on where your company falls on the graph. 

Take the example of predictive maintenance. This fruit grows on the seeds of IoT sensors spread across your supply chain or manufacturing process. It has analytics embedded in its core that can capture data and turn it into insights and actions. For you to enjoy this fruit, many sensors, data points, analytics, and management decisions must already be in place. If your company resides at the very bottom left of the graph, predictive maintenance will require more capabilities than you have to offer. If you are at the center of the graph, predictive maintenance may work, but condition-based monitoring will probably be a safer bet. If you are at the far right of the graph, predictive maintenance solutions can be built and deployed. 

As you can see, no matter where you are on the graph, it is possible to match your company’s capabilities with what tech has to offer—and there is always value to be gained by doing this. But, if there is misalignment between the building blocks the tech requires and where you are on the graph, it will be of little use to you. The first point of action is to understand your position on the graph. Next, which innovations and technological capabilities match where you are. Make the right match, and you will enjoy the benefits within a short period of time with a sensible investment. Undershoot and you risk leaving valuable opportunities on the table. Overshoot, and you will end up with substantial investments and few results.

Enjoy your fruit picking and graph climbing.



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