By Eric Berridge
My last post listed a few things I expect to see in 2012. However, I saved the biggest trend for the new year: the death of trends. The reason is simply that business now moves too fast for what we traditionally think of as “trends.”
Trends are largely a function of limitations. In the 20th century, people’s taste in music, fashion, etc. was dictated by a limited number of magazines, record labels and shows emanating from Los Angeles, New York or London. Now that the Internet has blown the lid off communication, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what “all the kids are doing.” Micro-trends, which are just as likely to emanate from previously unhip cities or even the developing world, are rapidly replacing the mass culture trends of the past.
Social, mobile and cloud-based technologies are doing the same thing for business and IT. Where strategy may have been guided (in some cases dictated) by the constraints of infrastructure, now computing needs can be scaled and customized without limit, and according to the needs at hand. For companies of all sizes, this offers a level of individuality and rapid response that’s completely unprecedented.
The speed of business: Too fast for trends
From this point on, the business cycle will become so hyper that mass trends will have difficulty materializing. While new flexible technologies give companies a means to keep pace with the growing speed of business, they also contribute to the acceleration in general — everyone, after all, now has access to these same tools and is leveraging them to the hilt. Even big companies are quickening pace, as indicated by The Wall Street Journal’s innovation awards, which showed that innovation — a hallmark of agility — is not limited to startups. Furthermore, the major players, reading the signs of the times, are engaged in a Soviet-vs-U.S.-style arms race of sorts, investing in cloud computing and developing their own social platforms.
Mega-trends like the mass migration to ERP of a decade ago will dissipate before they hit critical mass, splintering into a delta of tailored, diverse, and continually evolving solutions before they’re discernible as any sort of mass movement.
Business needs: Too diverse for trends
The technological needs of business have always been diverse. What has changed is our ability to meet those needs in a manner appropriate to the specifics of the situation. Just as the artist in the digital age has an infinitely expanded pallet to bring their vision to life, the CIO finally has the ability to mix and match technologies to deliver a solution customized to their vision. Now that companies have the tools at their disposal, they’ll be mapping out countless novel ways to solve their problems, making it increasingly difficult to identify the kind of large-scale trends that have characterized business of the past.
Even the trendy will differentiate
Of course certain products and methodologies will show broad value and thus be widely adopted, as in the past. However, even trendy software and methodologies may be so customized and integrated with other services that they become a symbol of individuality.
Think before applying the brakes
This is as much a warning as a prediction. Recent studies indicate that CIOs, as a group, are pretty apprehensive about letting IT workers bring their portable devices to work. It’s understandable — no one comprehends the risks better than the CIO. At the same time, when electricity was new, the risks for employing it were huge too, but if you didn’t use it you got left behind. So while old-school CIO’s smugly view the setbacks of companies making efforts to become agile, they’re ultimately going to be left in the dust by those same companies.
Furthermore, the ability to respond to immediate needs doesn’t just mean a potentially more agile IT department — it also means that non-IT folks may very well take actions that traditionally would have been reserved for IT. In other words, if you’re running the kind of IT department that has a tendency to put the brakes on change, other departments may very well just work around you.
Which brings me to another point of concern: the fact that business is speeding doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on its way to somewhere positive. If, for example, non-IT departments are leading the tech charge because IT is too slow and traditional, you may find your organization speeding to a very nasty, chaotic place. This makes it all the more important that you be the one leading change, and not stifling it.
Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.