Author Kevin Kelly on How the Future of Business Relies on the Big Data of Today

Oct 5, 2016
8 Min Read

Author Kevin Kelly on How the Future of Business Relies on the Big Data of Today

Kevin Kelly thinks a lot about the future. After all, he’s a founder and former executive editor of Wired, as well as its current “Senior Maverick.” And when it comes to the future of business, he thinks that we’ll get where we’re going with the power of data and the increasing role of consumer involvement.

In his newest book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Kelly envisions where digital transformation will lead us over the next three decades. It’s something thought leaders should keep their eye on as they look beyond their next quarter.

Kelly does more than just make compelling (even provocative) predictions about the digital future in The Inevitable. He also helps readers understand the emerging current technologies that organizations must leverage to position themselves to survive and thrive in a fully digitally transformed marketplace. Here's what Kelly believes leaders should know about the world's inevitable digital transformation:


Big Data Is the Fuel of Innovation

Much of digital transformation is rooted in the development of new tools, such as cloud platforms, AI, screening, and sharing--all of which require immense amounts of data. That data is what enables machine learning, information flow, on-demand access, filtering, and the explosion of Xaas (everything as a service). In Kelly’s view, individuals’ and organizations’ abilities to compete in the future will rely on their capacity to leverage data in truly transformative ways.

The rapidly growing number of cloud platforms, which Kelly calls “factories for services,” is a good indicator of the growing value of big data. He says, “Cloud computing empowers the law of increasing returns, sometimes called the network effect, which holds that the value of a network increases much faster as it grows bigger. The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on.”

Big data is also essential to the business use of AI, which requires increasing ease of aggregating and analyzing large amounts of information. Kelly says, “Part of the AI breakthrough lies in the incredible avalanche of collected data about our world, which provides the schooling that AIs need. Massive databases, self-tracking, web cookies, online footprints, terabytes of storage, decades of search results, Wikipedia, and the entire digital universe became the teachers making AI smart.”

Kelly believes AI will radically change how business is conducted over the coming decades, “The more people who use an AI, the smarter it gets. The smarter it gets, the more people who use it. The more people who use it, the smarter it gets. Once a company enters this virtuous cycle, it tends to grow so big so fast that it overwhelms any upstart competitors.”

But he also makes it clear that emerging technologies are making it easier than ever for ambitious individuals and organizations to compete in the global marketplace. In the past, the ability to compete was primarily based on wealth and ownership of physical assets. We are already seeing smart, lean companies like Uber and Airbnb take on traditional business and win. The key to their success has been their innovative approaches to leveraging data, cloud computing, and AI.


End-User Participation Changes Everything

Historically, technology users’ most significant contribution to the marketplace was establishing demand. In return, developers responded with a proportionate supply. Emerging technologies are changing that equation by allowing consumers to interact more deeply with the technologies that impact their lives.

Kelly says the “primeval impulse for participation has upended the economy,” emphasizing the opportunity that user involvement presents to companies. From social networking and online content creation to citizen development and the emergence of XaaS, the marketplace is actively being transformed by acknowledging that users are the true experts in what they want.

“When a company opens part of its databases and functionality to users and other startups via a public API, or application programming interface, as Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook, and most large platforms have, it is encouraging the participation of its users at new levels. People who take advantage of these capabilities are no longer a company’s customers, they’re the company’s developers, vendors, laboratories, and marketers,” according to Kelly.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is one example Kelly gives for how users are actively participating in digital innovation. He says it allows the consumer to act as a producer, or what futurist Alvin Toffler called “the prosumer.”

Kelly says, “If instead of owning software, you access software, then you can share in its improvement. But it also means you have been recruited. You, the new ‘prosumer’, are encouraged to identify bugs and report them (replacing a company’s expensive QA department), to seek technical help from other customers in forums (reducing a company’s expensive help desk), and to develop your own add-ons and improvements (replacing a company’s expensive development team).”


Digital Transformation Is In Its Infancy

One of the main points of The Inevitable is that when it comes to digital innovations, technologists and prosumers have only just begun to revolutionize life as we technologically know it.

“In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet,” according to Kelly.” In fact, he suggests that the products destined to run the lives of citizens in 2050 haven't been invented yet.

It’s from this perspective that he urges leaders to roll up their sleeves and persevere through the frustrations of digital transformation— because while current technologies will play a role in ushering in our digital future, Kelly promises the best is yet to come.

Learn how innovative CIOs and IT Leaders are enabling more efficient digital transformation across their entire organizations. Download the free eBook: Driving Digital Transformation via Rapid Application Development - 5 Lessons from Innovative IT Leaders.

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