It is ironic that with so many emerging companies and emerging technology trends there is really nothing new under the sun. While new products and new companies are everywhere, many of the emerging technologies are built on technology frameworks that were initially developed decades ago. In fact, the most interesting emerging products that I evaluated in 2017 were massive commercial failures when first introduced. Think about it, artificial intelligence got its start in the 1950s and cloud computing evolved from time sharing systems popular in the 1960s. In addition, containers and microservices evolved from ancient remote procedure calls, encapsulated code, non-standard APIs, and Service Oriented Architectures from the mid-2000s.
When I wrote, Smart or Lucky? How Technology Leaders Turn Chance into Success in 2011 it was clear to me that three factors must converge before an emerging technology can become an engine of financial success. In my book, I explored 25 different companies to gain insights into why some companies roared to success while others simply imploded.
Here are my conclusions:
- No technology is an overnight success
Revolutionary technologies take decades to evolve. I can guarantee that any technology that is ubiquitous today had its origins as a crazy idea that wasn’t practical.
Let me give you an example of the dramatic change in technology evolution. First, facsimile technology was invented more than a hundred years before it became a technology embedded in a cheap PC. Even more dramatic is the evolution of refrigeration. The first non-ice house refrigerator was first demonstrated in 1756 by Scottish professor William Cullen. It wasn’t until 1913 that Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana invented a commercial refrigerator that could be mounted on top of an icebox. In the 1920s a refrigerator cost as much as a Ford Model T. By the 1940s, refrigerators had become widely popular when the price dropped to $150. Likewise, artificial intelligence-based offerings were first envisioned in the 1950s and are just becoming a part of almost every emerging technology offering today.
With the advent of cloud computing, the time to move from a wild idea to commercial success has been truncated by decades. Entrepreneurs are able to test ideas more quickly and the cost to test these ideas has plummeted.
- Mature products that are supported by ubiquitous infrastructure leads to commercial success
The technological innovations that become dramatically successful occur when the technology is mature enough and ubiquitous. Even when a technology is incredibly important and game-changing it doesn’t always make a splash immediately. Internet-based commerce networks were first introduced in the early 1990s but did not become widely adopted for more than 10 years. Even the common refrigerator didn’t gain wide adoption for almost 200 years.
- When standards meet lower prices, technology revolutions happen.
We no longer have to wait 200 years for a good idea to make it into a ubiquitous commercial platform. Standards for the internet, networks, browsers, and more recently IoT protocols have forever changed the pace of innovation. This doesn’t mean that revolutionary ideas become blockbuster products overnight. Machine learning-based libraries are beginning to become a commercial reality. However, it may be another decade before these products turn into massive profit centers for businesses. We are still waiting for standards for managing workload portability in the cloud. We also lack standards for managing a variety of computing workloads regardless of deployment model.