Do economies and businesses need to be at the cutting edge of tech or is staying behind the early adopters the key to getting the most out of technology?
“Everybody has Facebook envy,” says Oracle’s Neil Mendelson, the company’s vice president for big data, about business life in Silicon Valley.
Mendelson was talking about how the Silicon Valley business environment is a high pressure bubble where the focus on shipping products is different from the needs of users outside the tech sector.
“The farther out you go from Silicon Valley the more people fundamentally understand the value is in getting something out of it,” says Mendelson, who was speaking at an executive lunch in Sydney yesterday.
“Being a late follower has an advantage because companies aren’t going to get fired up about this Facebook envy, trying to assemble a solution, but rather they can get something out of the cloud that will deliver value.”
The Minitel problem
An example of being too far ahead could be Minitel, a text-based network operating across France between 1982 and 2012.
Minitel was a visionary project intended to deliver services similar to the internet through a dedicated terminal. However, the open nature of the net made the French service less than attractive and eventually France Telecom wound the service up in 2012 as user interest evaporated.
How much the French bet on Minitel held the nation’s digital economy back is open to question, the World Economic Forum lists France as 25th in the world in its 2014 Networked Readiness Index; however, the gap between most of the top nations is quite close.
Falling off the bleeding edge
The idea that the best return on a tech investment is by being behind the ‘bleeding edge’ isn’t new, for years the advice from serious computer experts was to never buy a Microsoft product until version three came out. However, there is a risk that the early adopters might get an early advantage over the slow movers.
Another risk is missing out altogether; as Oracle’s Australian manager Tim Endrick told the room, “Our experience is organisations are doing two things; they are either managing disruption and/or they are leveraging their structures to innovate. Those who are sitting on the back step doing nothing are in serious trouble.”
So while there are risks with being too early an adopter of new technology, it’s important to be aware of the trends and tools that are changing business.
With the pace of change in both technology and industry accelerating, it may be that those staying too far behind the cutting edge risk falling off altogether. Maybe it’s worth being envious of Facebook.