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The Technology Model is changing from Computing to Consumption

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 11, 2013  |  1 Comment

Computing power has been the measure and the model for how we think about technology.  The model was that greater the MIPS, Feeds, Speeds, Capacity etc. the more powerful the technology.  With CES going on right now, its interesting to see that the buzz is not about technology as computing power so much as it is about technology as the capability to consume information.

Recently the changing technology model came to light in a conversation with a CIO friend of mine.  He was going on about the technical performance of various Android devices.  Commenting about how they had the best technology, the most advanced components placing a high value on the parts in the product.  He pointed out that devices from Apple, for example, do not have the same technical performance, a ‘real’ operating system and that the iPad is basically a supersized iPhone.  All true to some extent, but the value of these technologies rests in what the technology enables me to consume rather than what the technology contains.

Both of us are right, but both of us view technology from different perspectives.

Digital technology changes the technology model

Digital technology changes the technology model and with it the nature of personal and corporate computing.  Valuing processing power matters when the only difference between two options is the speed of the technology.  A more powerful computer will run Windows or any other application better than a less powerful one.  This makes tech marketing easy, simple tout the processing power, speed, memory, etc. of their products.  The technology model rests in ‘compute’ performance so long as the solution space remains largely the same across technology options.  May the biggest, fastest and greatest win!

Digital technology in general and mobile technology in particular is changing the basis of the compute model.  Mobile devices shift value from the technical ability to compute data to the personal ability to consume information and media.  Sure we talk about the processors in the latest smart phone, but that is an aside.  In fact companies that have touted compute over consumption often find themselves in nerd niches rather than appealing to the mass market.

This is a lesson most Android based smartphones could learn.  It is also a lesson you know you need to learn when someone talks about how technically inferior product can be popular or why people are not out at the edge of technical capability.

Computing power no longer the thing being purchased.  I am buying a consumption device – that is the essence of what it means by consumer IT.

TV is in the middle of this transformation

This change is transforming the TV industry, which has been dominated by technology power (DPI, HD, etc.)  You see this with all the discussion going on at CES about the re-invention of television based on consuming content not about the display technology.  Watching this space, particularly in light of the mixed results of internet-technology TV like Apple-TV, Tivo, Royku, etc.  Those models provided new ways to support media transactions, getting to content rather than changing the way people consume that content.  Consumers have largely rolled their own using digital technology outside of TV either via time shifting via digital devices, or by bringing digital technology into the TV viewing experience using the iPad or mobile device while the TV is turned on.  The point here is that raising the technical performance of the television will not get eyeballs out of these digital devices, only a better way to consume content will alter behavior and viewing habits.

From Computing to Consumption in the Corporation

Changing the model from compute to consumption changes many of the things we hold dear in IT and in technology. It is easy to equate consumption with app’s, social media and the shift from software to hardware, but that view is incomplete.   The change goes deeper in terms of how CIOs can think about what it means to deliver value as well as what it means that they need to develop.

Traditionally, CIOs and IT have built applications based on technology processing transactions.   This creates a subtle bias where every business request for technology support revolves around identifying the transactions, business processes and workflow changes in order to understand how to change or build new transaction systems.  Complexity abounds as transaction system beget transaction system all handled by more powerful processors and technology.  The result is that CIOs and IT create value through the most complex, time consuming and costly technology model – the business transaction.

Change the compute model and you change the nature of IT and the path CIOs take to create value.

Digital technologies are media and content syringes – injecting content into everything, everywhere, all the time and for everyone.  This changes how business views technology toward one based on consuming business information.  It also changes the way CIOs need to create business value and works with the business.  In a nutshell it is this:

CIOs need to consider changing their model from computing to consumption.  That involves shifting CIO views on business requirements from deliberate transaction projects.  CIOs support consumption when they support business consuming whatever information they want, in many cases allowing them to pull that information whenever they want and often without IT’s prior knowledge.

This view is not shadow IT, so much as it represents the significant change in the technology model.  While there is more to discuss, in latter posts, consider the fact that in many cases the business wants information not transactions.  Go through your midsized, small and change request logs and see how many of the requests revolve around information consumptions rather than real changes to business transactions.  If you find a transaction change request ask a follow up question, why do they need this transaction?  Frequently the answer is so they can see information, and changing the transaction is the only way they can ask for an information change.

Giving the business analytics and big data capabilities is part of the answer, but only a part as IT management practices can easily treat analytics the same way as business transactions.

Consumption is an emerging technology model that matters.  How you support information consumption, while still retaining economic control over transactions represents a challenge for organizations and the CIO. That is a challenge that requires evolving IT management practices and attitudes regarding value, responsiveness and the realities of digital technology. Computation and power remain important, but they are no longer driving the technology business model, if they did than the fastest, cheapest, most capable technology would win.  Clearly there are market winning technologies that are good enough technically but superior in terms of consumption.  Consumption includes usability but its more than that as well.

More on all of this latter, but lets start by considering a change in the technology model where consumption replaces computation.


Category: digital-edge  digitalization  innovation  re-imagine-it  strategy  technology  

Tags: 2013-planning  digitalization  digitization  it-strategy  technology  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

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