At a conference recently one utility CEO suggested that (like Mark Twain) 'the reports of my company’s death are exaggerated'. Most people in the audience, also utility industry executives, laughed. I believe they laughed prematurely...
Three things have happened in in the last few months at the layers of the industry (infrastructure, technology and customer layers) that make me believe that the pace of the change going on within the industry is accelerating. Taken separately they are not insignificant. Taken together, from a systems perspective, they are signs of a seismic (pardon the pun) power shift. The three things
- Infrastructure: This layer of the industry tends to be the source of utility executive confidence about their indispensability in this industry. It’s totally understandable that this would be the case; it takes 7-8 years and billions of dollars to build a power plant. The first signs of a huge crack came in the form of Pacific Gas & Electric’s announcement yesterday that they’d be transitioning their oldest and most popular nuclear plant Diablo Canyon by 2025. The plants being phased out supply 1.7M homes in Central and Northern California homes. 1.7M homes that will now have to be supplied by alternative distributed power generation. 5 years ago the plan would have been to build or recommission the plant. It’s a new day when this is not the case.
- Infrastructure Technology: The second transition happening at this layer requires some systems thinking to connect the dots
- A few months ago a research team from the University of Electro-Communications in Japan announced in the Optical Society research journal that they’d passed 60W of power over 300 meters of Fibre cable by modifying the fibre cladding. The team, led by Prof Motoharu Matsuura, had failed at their attempts over several years but finally got their breakthrough in 2015. It’s a short distance and not that much power but the barrier has been broken. Before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute milein 1954 or before it seemed impossible, now pretty much every elite long distance runner breaks it. It will be the same with the power-over-fibre wattage and the distance barrier as researchers will figure out how to increase the distance and power that can be passed over that distance.
- In Michael Lewis’ ‘Flash Boys’ Spread Networks laid 827 miles of fibre optic cable between Chicago and New Jersey at the cost of $300M. The cable was supposed to help shed milliseconds off trading times to improve returns for electronic traders. As far as I know those cables are still there.
- Google continues to roll out fibre across the US announcing more cities at an increasing pace (see image below).
What am I suggesting here? That the old technology for distributing electricity, transmission wires/lines, might soon lose its place as the only channel. I’m suggesting that disruption is also happening at the level where the utility continued to charge rent (you and I continue to pay the utility for power moving over transmission lines even in deregulated states like Texas where you can buy electricity from alternative suppliers). That should be scary for those laughing executives from the conference I mentioned above. But the smiles are truly about to be wiped off when we consider the customer layer of the industry.
3. Customer: I’ve written about the lack of a brand name company in the utility industry. That is about to change. On two fronts. Tesla, one of the coolest brands in the world, just proposed to buy SolarCity, one of the leaders in the residential solar industry. By combining Tesla will own distributed generation (solar), storage and some demand (Powerwall) and more demand (electric vehicles). Putting aside the likely difficulties of combining businesses and manufacturing the 400K Teslas that were pre-sold a few months ago the utilities should be worried. Bringing a brand play to this staid market will certainly shake things up. Something else missed is that a few months agoSolarCity launched their utility-scale solar (generation) and dispatchable utility scale energy storage products. In layman's terms? SolarCity was already starting to move into the terrain of some of the utilities they have slowly been taking customers from. Between Tesla’s 450K customers and SolarCity's 300K customers all captivegeneration, demand and storage customers the combined company can be considered a sizable utility. The second brand play is by Apple, the company recently applied for a license that allows it to sell excess solar energy from its campuses. Wholesale now, retail electricity to you and I soon? Time will tell.
Granted these are experiments, especially the fibre research and Tesla/SolarCity story, but some of these experiments will succeed. The time between WorldCom building all the infrastructure that laid the groundwork for the high-speed internet we know today and the computer-in-every-pocket-world we have now is a mere 13 years. The infrastructure of landlines (analogous to the infrastructure of the centralized grid) and the steady uni-directional business model (you use the phone and you pay a fee) have given way to free phone calls to my childhood friends in Lagos over WhatsApp. In 13 years business models have been upended. Financial cycles tend to be between 7-9 years so it’s taken about two cycles for phone service provider business models to change. This power shift in the utility industry started roughly around a cycle and a half ago (2006). As the infrastructure layer becomes more distributed, the technology layer becomes more fluid and the customers pay more attention to
This power shift in the utility industry started roughly around a cycle and a half ago (2006). As the infrastructure layer becomes more distributed, the technology layer becomes more fluid and the customers pay more attention to brand at a pace that the utility has up until now never had to deal with. Business models will be forever changed and new utility companies will arise.We’ll see who will be laughing then...
Opower, the shining light of energy usage management and behavior modification, is being bought by Oracle for (what would otherwise be) a whopping sum of $532M. Under normal circumstances this would be a great thing for the energy technology industry. But it's not.
See until this morning Opower was a public company with a market cap of $556M. Yes, it's being bought by Oracle for slightly less than its market cap. For technology companies delivering products to some of the biggest companies in the world - there are ~27 publicly traded utilities with over $5Bn market cap - it is rather disheartening to see one of the flag bearers end up this way. Especially when the Snapchats and Pinterests of the world command multi-billion dollar valuations.
For technology companies delivering products to some of the biggest companies in the world - there are ~27 publicly traded utilities with over $5Bn market cap - it is rather disheartening to see one of the flag bearers end up this way. Especially when the Snapchats and Pinterests of the world are commanding multi-billion dollar valuations.
So why is it difficult for energy technology startup companies to grow as big or as fast as their social media counterparts? Why are there no unicorns (companies with billion dollar valuations) in energy technology? 3 main reasons (amongst many) for this:
- Policy resistance: This is a system concept where actors all work hard towards their best interests and consequently diminish the value to every actor in the system. The publicly traded utility is focused on maximising shareholder value, the consumer is focused on paying the least possible for secure and stable power, the regulator is focused on protecting the consumer and the technology providers have focused on serving the utility without disrupting business-as-usual. The outcome is a state of resistance where no one's goals are achieved, a suboptimal outcome. For technology startups' innovative efforts end up being stifled and this puts a cap on how much growth is possible in this market.
- Regulation and lobbying: The utility industry is, for the most part, heavily regulated. In an odd twist of business logic, the heightened regulation also provides a barrier to entry for smaller entities thereby entrenching the utilities even more. For example an average utility is required to have cash reserves that most technology startups can only dream of. Like pharma and insurance, also heavily regulated sectors, the utility industry spends a lot of money lobbying to maintain this status quo (image below shows the the top lobbying industries). Source: opensecrets.org). To bring to market a technology that would disrupt the utility business model would require a lot of money and a lot of time. Two things most early stage technology companies do not have are a lot of money or a lot of time.
- Behavioural Economics: Accenture (and anecdotally Google) carried out some research in 2010 that showed consumers only spend 6-9 minutes a year, outside of paying bills, thinking about their energy. The research also found that most of the interactions with the utility was negative. Opower was early in using social pressure to get consumers to pay enough attention to their bills to reduce their energy usage. But when you are working with just 6 minutes a year of negative interaction you have a long long way to go. Especially considering the number of minutes you and I spend reading memes, watching cat videos and dream boards with pictures of furniture we might never actually buy. The normal rules and expectations for user engagement do not apply when it comes to energy technology and stifles growth for companies in this space.
Combine the three conditions above and you see why there are fewer energy technology companies that have achieved unicorn status (1 and that company is Nest) than there are Women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies (20).
Will this change? Thankfully the answer to this question of whether there will be unicorns in the energy technology space is a resounding 'Yes'. As the utility industry moves to data as the value and energy as the commodity, a distributed structure, where every device is connected/controllable and becomes an industry with empowered and mobile phone enabled consumers, new companies will sprout up across the value chain to provide what the consumer demands and enable what technology wants (progress). Steve Case calls these sorts of businesses and entrepreneurs Third Wave Businesses. It will require entrepreneurs that see the future of technology, are in tune with consumer needs and are savvy in dealing with regulation and government. It will demand a new approach to thinking about the utility industry.
That work has already started.
The electric utility industry is glacial in its adoption of technology. There is evidence of this in never-ending pilot projects with startups that lead nowhere and in product design crowdsourcing campaigns that take a year and end up with products that remind one of the failed healthcare.gov project.
But change the industry must. The new consumer demands it (push) and it is what technology wants (pull). Caught in the middle of this push and pull is a cadre of management that is struggling with understanding who the new consumer is and is hampered by the bureaucracy and hierarchical decision making process in an environment where speed is crucial. Built on a premise that the utility's role was to provide stable power reliably and safely the system, and consequently the industry, has failed to adapt to a time where the consumers definition of safe and reliable power is one that is reasonably priced and sourced from renewables in a digitized economy.
What is required is a decision making approach that facilitates speed without compromising on the need to continue to provide stable power safely and reliably (as newly defined by the consumer). The new approach should factor in the 4P’s and weigh the impact of any new technology based on these four factors below by asking some critical questions. There are a few more questions than the ones listed below and I cover these in my ebook ‘Managing Technological Change in the Utility Industry’.
- People: How will the new technology impact consumers and employees?
- Product: How does the new technology change the product we are providing?
- Performance: Do our processes change as a result of this new technology?
- Policy: what are the policy implications of adopting this new technology?
A comprehensive risk and response prioritization assessment of the answers to the questions above. This enables the development of a simple radar chart that enables the manager make the case for the right projects to be implemented at the right speed. An example radar chart for Augmented Reality (AR) is shown below. As easily seen, employees and processes are most affected by AR. This is due to the possibility to train a new employee to address the skills shortage that is quickly becoming a big problem in utilities across the country.
Simple heuristics like the 4Ps also provide a mindset modification to favor speed over ‘paralysis by analysis’. A much needed mindset change in the industry. As the industry moves to a distributed structure, as consumers request a deeper and more customized experience from their utility providers and as technology advances at all layers (from the infrastructure to the interaction layer) the ‘glacial-response-while-we-collect-rent income-business-as-usual-approach' of the utility will no longer work.
It’s what technology wants. And you and I know that technology eventually gets it’s way.
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Zenefits, Uber, Facebook or Internet.org. These companies have dominated tech headlines in the past few days for the issues they are dealing with regarding policy and regulation. In the case of Uber it's been the case pretty much since inception. Some of the coverage positions the regulators as the bad guys stifling innovation: 'Damn those luddites!'. Some paint the technology companies as the villains; 'Travis Kalanick is the evil baron of our time!'. In the case of Zenefits it does seem like there was a lot of negligence and disregard for regulation.
The more thoughtful commentary cuts to the fundamental issue here and that is the conflict between the purpose of government and the purpose of business. The most crucial determinant of a system's behavior (the government or the business in this case) is the system's purpose. I talk more about this in my ebook which is currently free on Amazon. Fundamentally, both sides of regulation (government) and technology (business) pursue their own separate goals. There will always be friction between what was (and how regulation dealt with that) and what is about to be (and the inadequacy of old regulations to deal with this). That will never not be the case. Another example is the inadequacy of utility industry regulation in dealing with consumer energy data in a time when every device captures and stores data.
In all these cases what needs to happen is a shift from the ‘all regulations are constraining’ trope towards helping create enabling regulations. What gets missed in the conversation is the nature of regulation; some are enabling and help to bring the innovation or benefit to life while some are constraining by putting bounds around how much can be impacted as a result of the innovation or technology. The goal is to help inform more enabling regulations, with emphasis on the word inform not influence, and also foster an acceptance that some constraining regulations are actually for our own good! The simplest examples of constraining regulations that have been hugely beneficial that I can think of is traffic control through lane demarcations. Imagine a world where there were no lane markers on the roads because car manufacturers felt it would limit how much driving people could do...
Enabling regulation comes about by utilizing a framework where regulators
- look at the macro system,
- make projections about where things are going at the subsystem level (and this is where the technologists or innovators can help)
- Engage with the citizens they are trying to serve
- futurecast about what technology wants
and factor in all this information to create policies that enable the government achieve its ultimate aim of creating a thriving citizenry that benefits from the innovative/new technology that the other side of this conversation is selling.
It starts from working towards the same goal or shared purpose. A greater goal When goals are at odds (as is the case in the 3 examples above) the only real losers are the consumers; they miss out on the benefits the technology can provide while the regulators and businesses are distracted. During these regulation battles the businesses keep figuring out ways to run outside of the regulations (a systems trap called 'Rule Beating') to continue growing while the regulators keep regulating.
A shared goal that will yield benefits for all the subsystems involved, especially the most important element ; you and I.
One can always dream...
Netflix has been a darling of the stock market with a market cap that has grown to ~$40Bn over the last 5yrs (image below). The company did this by disrupting the movie rental industry (biggest victim being Blockbuster Movies along a few thousand mom and pop movie rental stores) with its watch and return all you can/pay a flat fee business model.
Netflix stepped up its game (and better served existing customers with improved technology in the form of algorithmic filtering/selection and the move to streaming. This was great for us but was just a sustaining innovation. Not much happened to the stock price but these innovations, which weren't internally developed but were as a result of overall technological improvements, kept Netflix at the top of the game capturing more and more customers.
And then along came ‘House of Cards’ and the era of data driven original content. Using data/intent and interest algorithms, Netflix green-lighted a series that a lot of people actually doubted would succeed. Competitors missed the shift that was happening because the competition (Netflix) did not look like whom they'd competed with all along. "There's no formula...there's no textbook on the shelf that you pull down and say, 'How do you run an Internet movie distribution company?' We're writing that textbook."Even when Steve Swasey (Netflix VP of Communication) said this in 2012 talking about the show competitors missed Netflix's bigger ambition to be a full production and distribution house.
Binge watching sessions, Emmy wins by several original shows created using this mix of data/intent/interest (by Netflix and Amazon) and, most recently, the movie rights bidding wars at the last Sundance festival (with the movie writers as benefits) finally signaled to movie houses and the TV/movie establishment that they’d been disrupted by Netflix. Similar to how Blockbuster (and even Redbox) did not know what hit them...
Which brings me to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn came into the market as the network of people; people get jobs through the people they know riding on the wave of social networks and greater internet access (technology not created by LinkedIn but key to its success). People could brand themselves and very soon companies could as well.
LinkedIn knocked companies like Monster out of the game; Monster’s stock price crater coincides with Linkedin’s IPO and it currently has a market cap that is 1.8% of LinkedIn's market cap. Since then Linkedin has added more engaging content through the acquisition of Pulse (where you are reading this now) & Slideshare, mobile apps for recruitment and career training (through the acquisition of Lynda). But these are all sustaining innovations.
LinkedIn needs to disrupt another industry and I believe it should pull a Netflix and get into publishing original career development books. Especially as we all wonder about the future of work and our roles in the New Economy (if the robots don’t take over). Think about it; LinkedIn has data on the job vacancies, talent pool and their interests/skills gaps and a huge market opportunity. Data, interest, intent and predictive capability. Despite the wrong declarations on the death of books, the global book publishing industry will grow to $128.3Bn in 2019 from $120Bn in 2014. The ability to target career needs using advanced analytics and provide the books/content to bridge the skills gap will enable entrants to capture market share from (and dare I say disrupt) the incumbents.
It’s a great opportunity for Linkedin to utilize its strength and get into adjacent markets where innovation is lacking and much required.
I’ve read 4 books this year, all based on personal recommendations and I even walked into a store to buy one. Like a lot of people, I will always buy more books than I can possibly read and recommending books that meet me at my point of need will always make me open my wallet. Why else do you think Amazon is opening over 300 stores? Because Amazon knows the market is huge, technology is ripe and it's time to disrupt the book publishing industry.
Working at the intersection of technology and the utility industry for over a decade has taught me two things
- Few industries are as glacial as the utility industry in adopting innovative technology.
- Despite all the resistance the industry inevitably adopts the technology it resists especially if shareholder value can be created.
For an industry that is critical to our day to day functioning (you are reading this from a device powered by the grid) I stay amazed at how little attention is paid to the industry. Regardless, it is on the cusp of a world of change (otherwise known as 'hurt') in the three broad sectors of the i) grid (the wires and lines that get power to your home), ii) operations (the people and equipment that keeps your lights on) and iii) consumers services (billing/payments and customer services).
In futurecasting for this industry one does not need to take too much of a leap in imagination to determine technological advancements because the industry borrows from other asset heavy (but technology friendly) industries. A key one being telecommunications. Investors and professionals interested in this space will do well to watch for the following
- Portfolio management software for distributed energy resources (DER): As solar panel prices continue to drop, as installations of Tesla Powerwalls start in markets where the kWh/price make the battery pack competitive and car manufacturers promise electric cars for the masses, the utility has to manage the variability in source and demand for power. The utility will require software to manage these microsecond decisions on where your electricity should or is coming from. A corollary is the high frequency trading (HFT) software used in flash trading; enable traders buy and trade stock in microseconds. Similar software, that enables the management of the grid to ensure quick responses and optimal grid performance, will be required and start to make its way into the utilities arsenal for delivering electricity to you and I.
- Virtual Reality for Workforce efficiency: VR and AR for training and simulations will enable knowledge transfer and retention to curb the problem of an aging workforce (55% of the utility workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years) before it becomes a catastrophic issue for the industry. A few months ago I attended a conference on the Future of Work and experienced the demo of an Augmented Reality product. The product wasn't for the utility industry but I quickly shared with them how perfect of a use case they have in the utility industry and how well suited their product is to the utility industry.
- Self Driving Cars and plummeting LiDAR costs: Unbeknownst to most, a big problem for utilities is outages caused by fallen trees/vegetation. Yes, vegetation. A single tree limb coming in contact with a power line causes circuit breakers to shut off your power. Not ideal as it inconveniences you and costs the utility money. Those self-driving cars you see roaming your streets (for those of us in Austin and San Francisco that is) and the plummeting cost of LIDAR* equipment (from tens of thousands of Dollars to $250) will enable utilities capture 3D data of vegetation close to wires and lines and plan ahead and make decisions about what to trim, when and how before unexpected outages occur. This will cut cost and improve the linesman efficiency who now have a plan to work with instead of driving around all day in search of stray tree limbs.
- Customer service, billing and payment user experience improvements: I met with a passionate entrepreneur here in Austin a few weeks ago who's applying an experience ubiquitous to digital natives who do use Venmo and do everything with a few clicks on their mobile phone; share payments. George Koutitas through his company Gridmates is enabling any consumer to share energy with people in need in the same way we transfer money to friends/family through mobile phone banking apps. It's a simple premise but one that is truly disruptive to the current payment and billing technology stack of the power industry (which I've spoken about before).
As is obvious from the list above, these technologies aren't new. But they are new to the utility industry. These technologies are mature in their applications in other industries and, for those in the utility industry, this is an indication of their reliability. The utility requires robust, tried and tested products that will enable secure and stable delivery of power to you and I. That's always been the case and, regardless of how cool or trendy an applicable technology is, the utility is not about to change its criteria...
Any other trends or products you expect to make its way into the industry in 2016?
* LIDAR: is a portmanteau of 'light' and 'radar' which explains the means by which the equipment captures data and converts into 3D imagery.
Watch Bloomberg West and you would be forgiven if you came away with the impression that Tesla recalling all 90,000 Model S cars is good news. It is quite interesting to watch how commentators fawn over Elon Musk and all thedisruption he's causing. Don't get me wrong I’m not suggesting we all pile on, I know it is terribly difficult to build a business (or 3), but let’s stop calling Tesla disruptive.
Tesla is impressively innovative (with a CTO at the top of his game) but the company is not disrupting the automobile industry. Disruptive innovation is not what we think it is. Tesla’s innovation is in bringing a beautifully designed electric car to the market but for the company to be disruptive it would have to have entered the automobile market one of two ways.
- 'Low-end footholds that occur because of the incumbents focus on their most profitable and demanding customers with ever improving products and services'. Tesla is selling products that are well above the annual wage of the average American. There is no low-end foothold in a product that only the 1% can afford. Even moving into the low-end of the market with new cheaper products does not make this count as a disruption to the status quo, it’s just the natural trajectory of any competitor in a market like this.
- 'New market footholds of creating a market where none existed before': in this entry mode Tesla also fails to disrupt. Wealthy consumers were going to buy expensive cars regardless of the fuel source. Fantastic design and great marketing doth not a disruptive product make (even thought it maketh a more sustainable world). Tesla captures market share, making it competitive, but I’ll suggest it has not created a market where none existed before as people were buying electric cars before Tesla came along. The majority of consumers who were not thinking of buying an electric car (or able to afford one) are not about to buy or lease a Tesla.
Assessing Tesla through a simple Systems Thinking lens
From an innovation frame Tesla is not disruptive. What about from a systems thinking perspective? A method we can use is what I call zooming (in and out). Through this lens we also see that Tesla, while innovative, is not disruptive.
- If we zoom into the company (squint) and pick one of the component parts - let’s go with manufacturing - we see a company that is using new technology, robots and humans to build an electric car (video below). For most people who haven’t visited a car manufacturing plant this all looks cool and great. I almost ended up working in one of these manufacturing plants in 2001 and I can assure you the plants in the midlands of the UK that I visited had technology, robots and humans building their cars too. A state of the art car manufacturing plant, as evidenced below, is innovative but it is not disruptive.
- Zooming out of the company and putting on a systems lens you see that Tesla's supply chain (sourcing parts from 200 global partners), distribution channels (company owned stores), service coverage (high quality no questions asked) and type of vehicle (electric) all differ from that of traditional auto manufacturers. But the elements of the business model are basically the same as that of said traditional auto manufacturers. Most engineers would look at a Tesla manufacturing plant and recognize every element of the plant. What might be new is the level of technology applied to what is a traditional plant. Again, innovative but not disruptive.
Like Clayton Christensen (an innovation sage), in his HBR article that fueled this post, I’m not suggesting that Tesla isn't doing amazing work. As a systems thinker what I worry about is how we devalue words (and the work that underlies the work) by ascribing it where it is not applicable. There are people doing truly disruptive works across all industries and you yourself might have an idea and can use the framework above to assess whether your product or service is truly disruptive.
Innovation abounds around us. But disruption? It’s actually pretty hard..
This is wrong.
Following your passion is the only way you get to #betheboss in your career. I’ve met and continue to meet too many people who are letting lie to waste the thing that will give them fulfillment. See, fulfillment is what most of us are looking for in our jobs, not money that comes from doing what we do. Only through following your passion will you find fulfillment. Most people (especially if you are reading this) have enough skills and abilities to put food on their table.
For a long time I always struggled with ‘doing what was expected' in terms of career; you worked hard and got into the best universities (Warwick University & University of Chicago), you got a professional degree (Engineering) and you got a traditional well paying job (power plant operations) and you never quit a regular job. But my passions have always been writing and ‘futurecasting’. Only when I combined those things with the expertise I’d gained in the energy industry to build and eventually sell a company did I truly feel fulfilled. That realizationcontinues to fuel all I do.
So how do we get the fulfillment we all desire? Three steps
- Follow your passion: Yes. It’s the first step in even getting close to finding fulfillment. You will have to ignore the noise you hear from everything and everyone around you about their own expectations for you. I have a dear friend who is one of the smartest people I know who got her MBA from one of the finest universities in the world. She ended up at one of the top financial institutions in the world. But she always cared more about baking than derivatives. She ended up having to make a decision about her career and decided to finally pursue her passion. She now owns a few successful bakery franchise locations in London.
- Stay in your lane and attain mastery: The anecdote above would be incomplete and unhelpful without mastery. Stay in your lane and get even better at the things you are good at. Mastery is what you need to take you that step above everyone else who shares your passion but fails to work on their craft. Interestingly, mastery of the craft does not have to be in what you are passionate about. My friend above was already a master in the fundamentals of business (revenue - expenses = profit/loss). She did have to learn more about baking and this she did, even coming to Atlanta for some training.
- Augment your capabilities: Technology is changing at breakneck speed. Our children will live in a world where they can order anything throughAlexa and have it delivered by drones, and have their skills augmented byArtificial Intelligence. Technology will be a force multiplier that enables you do even more than you think you can. Technology provides you access to all the information and tools you need to build your business and #betheboss.
Passion + mastery + technology will enable you to achieve all you aspire to. And more. Even Scott Adams ended up creating Dilbert because he tapped into the things he was passionate about (drawing, humor), the things he had mastered (business) and the overlap is where he has found success. If anyone had told him he’d become more successful than he’d ever imagined by drawing satirical white-collar office cartoons he probably would have cracked a white-collar joke and forgotten about it.
Scott Adams followed his passion and gave us Dilbert.
You can follow your passion too. Your career will probably look nothing like the one you imagined it would...
In 1971, 44 years ago, Intel introduced the first 'computer on a chip'.
In 1981, 34 Years ago, the operating system DOS 1.0 was fired up.
In 1991, 24 years ago, the world wide web was opened up to the general public. Amazon was launched 3 years later.
In 1997, 18 years ago, IBM released Deep Blue (which beat Gary Kasparov in chess) which had the 32-bit copper chip that also powered the Sojourner Rover/Pathfinder mission to Mars. Also in 1997/1998 Google (essentially the gateway to the world wide web that was publicly released 5 years prior) was born.
In 2007, 8 years ago, Apple released the iPhone.
One looks at this timeline and three things pop into mind pretty quickly. 3 things that give us a sense for where technology or (more precisely) technology companies are going.
- Every one of these major technology releases was the beginning of a 'platform' business. One or a few companies were the 'platform' providers of that technology. These platform providers are still some of the biggest companies in the world right now.
- Each release of a technology led to an ecosystem of businesses built around that platform. Many of the best companies around the platform also became huge businesses.
- The platform defining technologies have benefited greatly from Moore's Law which explains the exponential accelerating rate of the reducing cost and increasing capacity of computing power over the last 5 decades.
We are getting closer to 5th decade of said Moore's Law (even though some thinkMoore's Law is stalling/no longer applies) i.e. computing power will exponentially increase and get cheaper over the next few years. Even cheaper than it currently is. This is why we are hearing more about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Virtual Reality (VR), The Internet of Things etc. all technological advancements that are benefitting fundamentally from exponential reductions in processing power at cheaper costs.
Apple (with cars), Google (with cars/robots and AI), Facebook (with AI and VR) and Amazon (with Alexa and Voice Control) are all banking on the increased predicted capacity and have all picked a platform to 'own'. Of course IBM (with Watson), Microsoft (with Hololens) and Intel (with Skylake, their new processor) are also banking on becoming the next platform business.
What's odd about that list up there (save Facebook) is that it's the same companies in that timeline I've drawn above.
And it is truly odd that as things change (at the platform level), things seem to stay the same in the technology industry...Not sure how I feel about this... what do you think?