by Chris Curran

Why ‘never enough’ is the right mindset for emerging tech

May 10, 2017
Emerging TechnologyIT Leadership

Businesses can’t afford to be slow and narrow in a world that requires fast and broad.

corporate meeting teamwork collaboration
Credit: Thinkstock

The pace of innovation is accelerating and fast-tech adopters could leave you in the dust.

Recently, PwC conducted a global survey of more than 2,200 executives which showed that most companies are no better prepared in 2017 to adopt emerging technologies than they were a decade ago [Disclosure: I am a principal at PwC]. In many ways, companies are running in place, particularly in their exploration and implementation of emerging technology. Despite digital’s importance to business success – and game-changing advances such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing and more – investment levels in emerging technology as a percentage of overall technology spending are stagnant.

Companies that don’t prioritize emerging technology face one of two fates. Either they simply won’t invest in emerging tech, and remain stuck in place. Or they will eventually realize that it’s important, watching competitors get ahead, and play catch up. But in doing this, it’s important to maintain balance in exploring multiple technologies and having your investments fit within the clear and stated goal of solving business problems. Simply throwing money at emerging tech isn’t the answer.

Addressing the Adoption Gap

Addressing this adoption gap requires organizational and cultural changes to create a systematic approach to emerging technology capabilities. This often requires an attitude adjustment. It’s easy to be excited about emerging tech, but you should be a bit nervous, too. You need to constantly be a learner, not think that you have this figured out. You should be on the lookout for what’s next, what you may have missed, and how someone has solved a problem in a different way.

This is important no matter what industry you’re in. A while back I was talking to a CIO from an oil and gas company about their digital strategy. I was trying to apply lessons we’ve learned in other industries to making his tech more usable, interesting and accessible. He said he didn’t have to worry about it, since his customers are businesses.

But what he overlooked is that his customers, not to mention his employees, are consumers more hours of the day than they are business people. Their expectations are driven by that experience. Even in the B2B world, people are looking for the user-focused experience, not some old system that can’t be used on mobile.

His mentality is far too common among companies and corporate leaders, and he is clearly in the majority when it comes to the emerging tech mindset. It should be noted that this mindset of the majority has changed over the years in that leaders understand the need to focus on emerging tech, but they still haven’t taken action to do anything different. The minority, on the other hand, is another company who hired game developers to create the next-gen sales tools that help them sell their oil and gas services twice as fast. It’s the minority – those few companies with innovation-minded leadership – that will excel as they implement emerging technology and recognize that everyone, consumer, customer, employee and business, is looking for a unique and advanced experience.

Notable findings in the survey yield insight into this adoption gap:

  • In 2007 about half of companies said they had a team dedicated to exploring emerging technology. Just 33 percent do in 2017, with the rest relying on ad-hoc teams or working with third parties.
  • In 2007, companies most often turned to technology vendors and consulting firms to explore how to apply emerging technology to their business. In 2017, despite a profusion of resources (e.g., incubators/startups, crowdsourcing, makers, open source, university labs), companies still rely old-school voices like industry analysts, competitive intelligence, and vendors.
  • Exploring new tools ranks low among the most important digital initiatives for next 12 months—less than a third of companies rank it is a priority.

It Starts at the Top

No emerging tech initiative will succeed without support from the highest levels of the organization. The biggest barrier most companies face is not around generating buzz for emerging tech, but in creating a shared belief in its value among leaders in the organization, whose buy-in is required to fund and support a systematic process. This goes beyond the CIO, CTO and even the CEO. To get something to a customer means buy-in from those who own the go-to-market channels. If sales and marketing are not bought in that the emerging tech is critical to the growth of the company, it will never see the light of day.

One way to do this is by building demos and proof-of-concepts. Make time to show these to people on a regular basis. These do not need to be designed to sell specific projects or individual technologies, but should demonstrate the “art of the possible” to get people excited and invested in making the vision real.

You must also take an active role in prioritizing continuous learning. This goes beyond reading analyst reports, white papers, and technology publications. A proper plan needs to go much deeper, including attending industry events, engaging with the venture capital community and deep research resources, and participation in open source development projects.

If you change the way you go and learn about tech, you can adapt. But complacency can never create growth.