The land of the swift. Such was the moniker we used to describe the network of networks when the Internet was first introduced in the business world, at the beginning of the 1990s. Thus it’s no wonder that I enjoyed interviewing Aleksander Poniewierski, the author of “Speed No Limits in the Digital Era”.
Emerging technologies and innovation are all about SPEED
Aleksander is also Leader for emerging technologies at E&Y for EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa). He is an economist and businessman. His book is the result of hard work on this topic during many years of presence in the field.
In the book and this interview, Aleksander describes how fast innovation is permeating our world, overturning established strategies, altering business models and creating tremendous opportunities.
Yet, innovation is a wild beast, which needs taming and flexibility. It requires partnerships and combinations of emerging technologies to start with, and the injection of new blood too. Above all, what I liked in Aleksander’s pitch was his description of what innovation truly is: the ability to pick the best practices from one industry and adapt them to other sectors.
Time and time again, I have seen the opposite. Financial institutions copying other financial institutions, telcos cutting and pasting from other telcos, retailers from other retailers etc. This overused practice of benchmarking and business process reengineering (BPR) has stifled innovation in many businesses across the world since the invention of the concept by Champy.
Interview of Aleksander Poniewierski on innovation and SPEED
It’s time all business people read Aleksander Poniewierski’s SPEED and changed their minds about innovation and got serious about it. For the world is changing fast.
Aleksander, you declared in your book that you created your first computer virus at the age of 21, so you are a hacker!
In the 90s, we only had a couple of terminals connected to the Internet at ou university. And when you had a modem at home, you could dial into the BBS system. And so one of my first thoughts was to write a computer virus. Today, one would call it a bot. It was a piece of code which put me on top of the waiting list when I dialled into the university system. This was triggering a call-back, and this is how I was granted free Internet access. It was very cool.
In your book, you contend that we are living in the fourth revolution. What do you mean by that?
Mr Rifkin is saying that we live in the third industrial revolution, the industrial revolution which is based on interconnections related to energy exchange, for example. But when you listen to the arguments developed by Klaus Schwab, the man who founded the World Economic Forum, with which I am far more agreeable, one finds that we are no longer in the third bu the fourth industrial revolution.
The third industrial revolution was all about ERP systems and computers; the fourth is about online data exchange, the exchange of information and knowledge between people and things.
What distinguishes the fourth industrial revolution from the previous three?
There is a huge difference. Firstly, concerning technology. The fourth industrial revolution is about managing systems in real-time. Data generation, data storage and data processing all done in real-time. Secondly, from an economic perspective, the fourth revolution means we can leverage this data to do business, based on facts rather than intuition. With all previous industrial revolutions, guessing has been superseded with knowledge and facts.
It’s the accuracy of the information, of its value and sources, that makes a hell of a difference.
Why did you call this book SPEED?
Today, with this new industrial revolution, everything is fast. Information is available, and you can process it and predict the future. There are no boundaries in the digital era, and every day someone is pushing the envelope.
Going back to the SPEED acronym, what does it mean exactly?
I decided to use this acronym to describe the world in five different fields.
- S stands for Security, privacy and trust. And I believe that security is at the basis of the fourth industrial revolution. It is an essential element upon which one can build a business and partnerships too.
P is the second letter of the acronym, and it stands for Partnerships because, in this fourth industrial revolution, you are unable to exist without partners. And here I am not just talking about partners outside but inside of your business. With partnerships, you can create new kinds of companies, actual or virtual companies, and real or virtual products.
The first E in SPEED stands for Emerging Technologies, the new technologies which are changing our way of doing business.
The second E stands for Economy because, in the fourth industrial revolution, everything is about new business models. About very the fast-changing profits one can derive from the use of data. This is a pivotal concept in my view.
Finally, D is for Digital transformation. Younger generations are increasingly present within our customer and employee bases. They behave differently, think differently, and buy and invest differently. So, this is why digital transformation is not only changing the structure of your business. It’s mostly about recruiting new blood to prepare for the future.
Focusing on chapter four entitled “emerging technologies”, could you explain why we must look at emerging technologies not just in isolation, but as a combination of two or more innovations?
This is something that I have studied for quite a while. I compiled and analysed the research by Gartner, the MIT and the World Economic Forum on this subject, over ten years. On that basis, I came to one striking conclusion: with all previous industrial revolutions, there always was one unique technology which loomed large above the rest. For example, the combustion engine, or the power generator. One technology at a time. And based on this technology, new businesses, processes, education systems or even business models were devised.
With the fourth industrial revolution, no single technology is sufficient to generate an impact on the way we are doing business. I observed that we need to combine 3 or 4 different emerging technologies to come to a ground-breaking result.
For example, talking about cloud computing in isolation doesn’t make sense. Predictability only happens when you have massive data processing power in the cloud. For example, cloud and IoT are making it possible to synchronise the data produced by thousands or millions of sensors in real-time. But nothing serious can happen unless you combine the power of AI, cloud and IoT.
You could retort that this is not new. With the third industrial revolution, one had to bring microprocessors, memories and other computer parts to make a microcomputer. However, the significant change is about scale as well as fast processing capabilities that weren’t even thinkable five years ago.
Today, one can connect millions of different sensors. One can process the information and grant access to it, or not, in real-time. So the synergy of such emerging technologies is making a huge difference.
This leads me to my last and final question. What is truly an innovation and how can you distinguish between innovation and a fad?
This is a one-million-dollar question. To me, innovation is no rocket science. it’s not even about novelty itself. Innovation is about spotting the ability to embrace best-of-breed emerging technologies implemented in one industry and transposing them to another sector with far greater benefits.
It might be stuff you take from the telecom industry, and you adapt for utilities, for instance. Or from the financial market to the health industry. To me, innovation is about that, it’s that simple.