The predictability of what you're going through

While we marvel and despair at the pace of changes being wrought by the technology industry, there’s a body of opinion that everything we are seeing now was entirely predictable.

I enjoy the work of Carlota Perez and Simon Wardley, among others, who map and model the processes of change that drive technology adoption and its effect on the markets that buy IT.

Perez says we are living through the fifth technological revolution to occur since the Industrial Revolution, and that each follows a predictable pattern. For example, “Each time there are two different periods with a bubble and recession between them,” she says.

Sound familiar? First the dot com boom and bust, and now the seemingly endless age of austerity?

Wardley writes about the move from a time of “peace” to one of “war” – when technology shakes up stable markets, disrupts the business of inertia-bound incumbents, and opens up opportunities for innovative new entrants who become the future giants of the next era.

You can see it in the IT industry – the slow-to-react giants like HP, Dell, Nokia and BlackBerry, while the likes of Google and Amazon rise rapidly. Look in particular at the battle for control of Dell – founder Michael Dell trying to take the company private, while rival investors seek a higher price and a different future, all the while distracting the supplier from the real task of adapting to the changes that brought about the battle in the first place.

Go back even further and you find evidence that the transformational shift represented by cloud computing was predicted as long ago as 1966, by a Canadian technologist, Douglas Parkhill, in his book The challenge of the computer utility.

You see it too in the increasingly rabid reporting around IT security – the idea of cyber warfare with China, and doom-laden predictions of the internet being brought down by hackers abound in national news today, only proving the old adage that truth is the first casualty of “war”.

Wardley in particular is scathing about the likes of Dell, whose travails were, he says, inevitable because they missed the entirely predictable changes in their market.

For IT leaders, this predictability should be a strategic tool.

You can see the same patterns of change happening in every major business sector. In retail, the inertia of HMV, Jessops, Blockbuster and others while new entrants like Netflix and iTunes revolutionised their market. In media, the financial challenge for national newspaper groups as blogs and online content destroys their old business models.

If you’re in an industry undergoing such radical change, which side of the inertia barrier are you on? Are you fighting to protect the peace, or embracing the battle of reshaping your business with IT?

Perhaps you’re in an industry so far protected from such change – financial services springs to mind. Perez claims the 2008 crash actually delayed revolutionary change in the sector, but that the change is nonetheless inevitable. Are you ready for the technology-led change you are about to experience?

All IT leaders need to understand which side of the inertia divide their organisation occupies, and get on the right side before it’s too late. Your future is both predictable and inevitable.