Remember 2000? The Y2K problem, the smells of dotcom bust and the billionth desi baby? Come 2015 and we’ll reminisce about 2008 in much the same way. By then the world population will tip over seven billion, 70% of them wired by the phone or by the Internet. A kid born in the year of MySpace or Facebook will be at the cusp of teenage, cocooned in a socially networked world. Similarly, Google babies will start crawling into the workforce. Most solutions will seamlessly be global (for example, a McDonald’s employee in Manila taking orders for a drive-through in Seattle). Several devices from your refrigerator to TV to shoes will shamelessly pester each other (much like Nikes talking to your iPod today). Hardware will be delivered as software (aka Amazon’s cloud computing that rents out flexible computing capacity).
Internet pipes will get fatter, making video the dominant mode of communication. Hate it, but your life will be video-ed in most public places. If you wish, your doctor will detect a heart problem before it occurs (Medtronic does this today). Access to hardware, storage, telecom and complicated software applications will become redundant. And the Internet will be ubiquitous like air (can’t see it, touch it, feel it but it’s always there—polluted or not) and you will always be poked in. The question is not whether this will happen. It will. It’s happening today, for Asimov’s sake! The question is how your business (or mine) will build, price and sell solutions in this transformed market.
Let’s consider an example so that I can make this short story longer. Say, a penny-pocketed undergrad in Powai wants to start a news channel focused on his campus life—confusing classes, colourful dates, noisy fights and other uncensored campus masala. He needs a good server to host his talent and lots of storage to park his videos apart from a Handycam. After stealing a cam, all he has to do is spend 5 minutes to open an account on Mogulus (www.mogulus.com), shoot his videos, edit them online, attach a CNN-type logo and broadcast the juice on the Net. He can save his heavy video files on Amazon’s S3 (a web-based storage service) by cutting his monthly chewing gum budget.
As he expands to need exclusive server capacity, he can use another Amazon service called EC2 (Amazon offers its infrastructure as a Web service providing flexible computing power) and pay for exactly the amount of computing power he requires. He wants a database architect, but finds those guys pricey. No problem, there’s Amazon DB and DabbleDB (web-based database management systems).
Now, his campus-life news model is so successful that he wants to scale it and target 15-year-old desi kids in, say, New York area campuses. He wants to do TV ads but ad agencies are a bit much (aren’t they all?). All Mr Campus-Life has to do is use Spotrunner (www.spotrunner.com), select a video ad format, customize it, select TV channels, pick the zip codes where he wants to run it and boom, he’s live on Disney channel right before the popular Hannah Montana show.
He gets another idea and wants to offer his video services to security offices to monitor illicit activity on campus. But how does one monitor hours and hours of video files without hiring an eye-slave? Pluggd, an Intel Capital-funded company, does exactly that—searches inside video files using what they call a “HeatMap”. Fast forward, his business explodes and he now needs massive computing capacity. No worries, welcome to VMWare, a company that pioneered virtualization, a technique that creates multiple instances of software and servers, making the physical need of such infrastructure redundant.
Moral of the story: He still doesn’t need that much money that major corporations regularly blow to do any of the above.
Let’s take stock of the industries where we made some below-the-belt strikes by offering happy quality and happy price: media, advertising, TV, IT and network infrastructure, application software services, servers, storage, search, security (physical and software), BPO and chewing gum. Let’s think about our own industries. Is there a monkey out there building a solution that can challenge what and how we sell today? How about we score ourselves? Here’s a simple scoring guideline:
5 stars: Use any of the services above
4 stars: Recognize the services above
3 stars: Sorta got it
2 stars: Didn’t understand a word
1 star: My kid and my IT friends should read this
0 stars: I’m a business person, is this even relevant to me?
This story isn’t about technology though it may appear to have a tech stamp on it. A business needs to continuously track how it risks getting knocked down tomorrow; tech is increasingly becoming the primary source of differentiation and innovation independent of the industry. As a business leader, if you outsource this task of thinking then hallelujah! Of course, there will be mind-numbing, fundamentally transformational stuff that we can’t foresee coming our way, but a lot of the future will be built on more-of-the-same of today: the more-of-the-same that gapes at us and smirks ear-to-ear even as we keep busy with our daily travails. Grasping the new, experimenting with it and preparing for it will not only hedge businesses from being trampled over but also invite new opportunities. Remember 2000 once again. If you missed seeing the iPods coming, here’s the next gold rush. Dig it. Who says life doesn’t give another chance...why even die another day?
(Praveen Suthrum is co-founder and president of NextServices and blogs at www.newageofinnovation.com. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)