When you were a kid, what did you expect the future to look like?
Were you sure there’d be hoverboards or a sassy robot butler who would help the kids with their calculus homework?
When NASA put a man on the moon in 1969, everyone was probably sure there’d be strip malls on Mars by now. Today's "hoverboards” don’t hover. Your robot butler is a tiny vacuum cleaner.
So what happened? Instead of complex technology making life simple, I believe we’ve made things complicated.
Simplicity should be simpler
To see how complexity has crept into every corner of life, just look at the way we communicate.
There was a time in our recent past when email and phone calls were the sum total of technology-based team communications. Now? We often use multiple messaging apps, SMS and video conferencing tools.
But just think about the future that Star Trek promised. Their team communications were handled through that little communicator tool or on the big screen. It was simple, streamlined, and efficient. The effect was clear: The future promised to simplify life, not complicate it.
But in my experience, that’s not what happened. From your workstation to the living room and even in the driver’s seat of your car, technology is taking over more and more of your life. And despite our best intentions, each piece of tech can actually make things more complicated with a new system to learn and a new login to remember.
It's technology overload, and it can be a productivity killer. Let's take a look at how it all got so out of hand.
On your phone, apps are great, even if there’s redundancy — want to order Thai food? Will you use GrubHub, Caviar or UberEats?
Where apps (or "systems") can really become a problem is in the enterprise world. You might have a hundred apps on your phone, but your bank could have several thousand systems in place for everything from calculating loan approval risk to tracking global markets.
Not only can things be more complex with enterprise companies, but the stakes in terms of competitiveness, profitability and data privacy can be way higher.
Inefficient enterprise systems are a source of wasted time, money, and human resource in business today. They can create a nightmare of never-ending data integrations and data security problems, and they can kill agility in the process.
Almost any enterprise leader will have a story to share about a failed attempt to bring customer data together for a KYC (Know Your Customer, associated with security and fraud) or 360 Customer View (part of marketing analytics) project.
These types of projects are supposed to provide a new source of information about a customer, but the data integration efforts are sometimes so complicated and time-consuming that they become a major source of frustration instead.
But that’s not to say that everything is a mess right now; fast internet connections, the cloud and other breakthroughs have made it easier for people to collaborate than ever before.
What Went Wrong With Data
I believe the reason a sci-fi future is still sci-fi — the reason enterprises are bogged down by massive data integration efforts — is because of the way data has been treated over the past 50 years. While everything else grew and changed, data stagnated.
That’s because it worked well enough. If technology were a building, data would be its foundation. It’s absolutely essential. But so long as it works, it’s not something you really want to think about messing with. Modern technology is finally advancing to a point where that foundation should change as well; otherwise, it’s like building skyscrapers on a sandy seafloor.
And while spreadsheets might work for tallying expenses with a roommate, they're probably not going to work as a foundation that drives business transformation; enterprise requirements are exponentially larger than what these types of tools can handle.
People have been pushing off the big job of reinventing data. We have storage solutions (databases, data lakes) that can scale but other tools that don't.
A Vision For The Future
Technology keeps advancing, but it doesn’t make your life any less complicated. Apps are a solution that’s acceptable on your phone, but they can be a total nightmare for businesses. It’s time for reality to catch up with the sci-fi visions of the future.
It all starts with a call for simplicity — a return to focusing on the things that really matter. Companies can save themselves from the problem of technology overload by asking some very simple questions when they're considering data solutions:
1. What work does this take away? The goal of new technology is to make life simpler, so ask yourself what you'll be able to stop doing once your new technology is in place.
2. What work does this create? Be realistic about the added effort a new piece of technology introduces to your workflow. The more effort something requires, the more complicated it can make your life.
3. Is this really necessary? It can be tempting to adopt new technology simply because it's new. Don't get caught up in the hype; do your due diligence and decide whether or not a piece of tech will actually improve your business.
In the end, you may find that technology on its own doesn't simplify your life.
But simplifying your technology can go a long way in making you feel like that sci-fi future has finally arrived.