Warning. This post is somewhat self-indulgent. If you’re not interested, please skip straight to the bio.
It took me a year to update my biography. Stepping down as an industry analyst was a tough decision for me: I enjoyed the work, I loved the company and people I was working with yet I still felt I was compromising. Compromising what, precisely, I didn’t know. So I took the choice to deal with some other projects that I was not finding the time for – completing one book and starting another. To pick up a few writing jobs. And, in the meantime, to spend a bit of time work out what it was I wanted to do.
Very quickly I arrived at a quite succinct conclusion – I wanted to get more involved in helping technology make a positive difference. What took the time however, was how to actually enact this. As I spoke to numerous individuals, marketing and PR agencies, IT vendors and end-user organisations, media, music and publishing contacts, the need became pretty clear. Each area was an obvious source of knowledge about how IT could add value – and there were, and are, great things being done. But equally, each was on its own journey, a victim of its own provenance and even, in some cases, distrustful of progress made in other sectors.
For technology to make a genuine difference, I realised, best practices needed to be learned from wherever they were emerging, and shared across domains. The key was not to focus on ‘the thing’ – the domain-specific elements, for example how research chemists use technology to do research chemistry, or how musicians make music. Rather, it was to look at the areas around ‘the thing’ which are common to all domains. To my good fortune, I realised all of these started with the letter ‘C’.
The first of these, then, is ‘Capability’. Technology can have a positive impact simply by being there – but so often, it gets in the way, it’s too expensive to procure and install, requirements get misdefined, the results are inappropriate and therefore compromise any positive impact they might have. Best practices exist in these areas, such as agile software development and value-based project delivery, and technology is evolving to become more usable and affordable in the shape of internet-based services (aka Cloud). New capabilities are emerging all the time, which bring technology closer to people and enable more effective service delivery, and I am watching developments in augmented reality and 3D with interest.
But capability is nothing if it doesn’t support our ‘Creativity’ and innovation. In a world that is increasingly strapped for resources, organisations have two choices – to work within increasingly squeezed margin structures delivering commodity products and services, or to identify new opportunities to create value and deliver services of their own. The publishing industry is a case in point – right now the literary-agent-and-printed-page model which has served so well for hundreds of years is currently being subjected to enormous change. Technology is both the problem and solution – from one perspective it is the great destroyer, but from another it opens up new possibilities. Insight drives innovation, which is why I’m watching recent developments in big data – it remains to be seen whether deriving insight from information remains an elusive dream but I see it as another waypoint on the journey.
‘Communication’ is becoming the backdrop to most human endeavour. Today’s technologies enable collaboration during the creative, research and development process, and then as part of engagement with prospects, customers, music fans, intermediaries, citizens and other stakeholders – on a global scale, and in real-time. Indeed, the lines between development, marketing and sales are becoming increasingly fuzzy, to the extent that technologies such as social and collaboration tools, mobile messaging and so on can sometimes emphasise conflicts between departments more than solve them. Communication goes back to back with privacy and identity and, like all of us, I am a guinea pig in the great experiment we are currently undertaking with our private lives.
Which brings to the final ‘C’ – ‘Context’. It is one thing for technology to add value to market capitalisations of new technology companies, but does it actually make us happier? Are we more productive in our working lives, are our societies more democratic, are we better educated, or financially and personally better off? Is it the right thing to help other people get online, and do computer games help or hinder the development of our young? Are we better communicators, or merely more able to fire random streams of text into the ether which undermine our individuality rather than reinforce it? What’s perhaps more important than these questions is the absence of debate, which is fascinating in itself.
Putting all of this into a bio has been something of a challenge, but given the fact that I don’t have all the answers, the bottom line had to come down to what I can contribute. As a technologist with 24 years experience I have done most things, and seen examples of the best and worst of all IT has to offer. Meanwhile, over the past decade I have been developing my skills both as an analyst and a writer, in both technology and the creative – notably musical – world.
So that’s me. I will continue my research into what’s going on: indeed, as I have found over the past 12 months I have no choice, as it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. The books and articles I read, the relationships and conversations I have, the part of my brain which continues to machinate, digest and attempt to make sense of what’s going on, is geared towards technology and its congruence (or lack if it) with society as a whole.
In the meantime, here’s the skinny: I offer writing, consulting and facilitation services, helping clients reach their audiences, tell their stories, solve their own problems with information technology. I’m as happy helping older residents in the village understand the Web, as I am advising major corporations establishing a global presence – and in many cases, the challenge is the same: it’s all about dealing with people first, technology second. Am I still an analyst? To be honest I don’t know, nor am I that bothered – I’ve always had a problem with labels but if people want to call me an analyst that’s fine. What I am clear about is that I no longer feel I am compromising, as I am practicing what I preach – for example, I’m very happy to say that I’m becoming a director of a technology-oriented charity, which feeds my need to roll the sleeves up and get stuff done.
That’s probably enough about me. I set up the company Inter Orbis (literally, ‘between spheres’) as a vehicle for what I wanted to do, and as well as my own clients I’m working with agencies, media organisations, events companies and consulting firms to help deliver on the promise of technological impact. My bio is here – if you have any questions, do get in touch (email jon at inter hyphen orbis dot com), and thank you for your time.