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Kevin Okell
Digitally Speaking
Written by Kevin Okell on
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you can’t have failed to notice that we’re living through an era of unprecedented technological change. Moore’s Law (that processing power will double every 2 years) is still going strong after 50 years and our phones now pack more punch than a 1990 mainframe. By 2020 Cisco calculates there will 50 billion devices connected to the Internet and IDC estimates there will be 44 trillion gigabytes of data in our digital universe. Wearable technology has arrived, 3D printers are making bridges and self-driving cars are about to hit the streets. The world around us is changing faster than ever before.

Meanwhile, more subtle changes are taking place in the language we use to describe this new digital world. Since the industrial revolution, mechanical metaphors have dominated the way we understand the world around us. Politics, Education, Business even Medicine have all adopted mechanistic phrases to describe their workings. Politicians control the levers of power, difficult students go off the rails, successful businesses run like clockwork and heart attacks are explained by failures in pumps and valves.

It wasn’t always that way. Political authors in the Renaissance wrote about the body politic, poets compared education to a garden and even further back the ancient Greeks worked very hard to keep heavenly bodies revolving around the earth. Now it looks to me like organic metaphors are enjoying something of a comeback in the technology arena.

Nowadays our data is held in the Cloud, tech-savvy teens are described as digital natives, malevolent code is a virus and the internet is a web. The language of our new digital world is distinctly biological and with good reason. The Internet may be the foundation of the third industrial revolution but it is changing shape by evolution rather than design. New components spring up every day, they are combined and adapted by a new breed of designer to make services which spread by viral marketing. No wonder the talk is of digital ecosystems.

The only problem is many of these ecosystems support commercial operations. If it’s your commercial operation, you won’t want to rely on natural selection to do its thing. Instead we need a new way of managing service in this new environment and a different set of skills to do it. Managing a digital ecosystem requires the vision to conceive a new service from the available materials, the rigour to select the right components, the technical know-how to plug them together and the management skills to continuously monitor and tune the whole thing.

It’s Tech Jim but not as we know it!

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