Innovation chains key to realising value from emerging technologies, says Forrester

By Forrester’s Brian Hopkins, Vice President and Principal Analyst serving enterprise architecture professionals

A 2017 survey from Forrester showed that 70% of executives are willing to invest in emerging technologies to drive growth. However, very few firms will actually realise the benefits because they are implementing them in silos and missing out on the breakthrough innovation created when several of these technologies are used together.

According to a new report from Forrester, Technology Innovation Chains Create Breakthrough Opportunities, firms are counting on emerging tech to drive business innovation at the intersection of customer experience and digital operations. However, it is easy to get stuck on individual technologies and miss opportunities to exploit how they work together to solve problems.

Emerging technologies are critical to your business innovation plans, but they can be hard to time correctly. CIOs need a better way to think about and invest in emerging technologies that no longer conforms to outdated ideas like hypecycle curves and watchlists that simply track individual technologies. It is not one technology that creates business breakthroughs, it’s the synergy between many, fuelled by exponential trends like Moore’s law. Technology innovation chains end in software that pierces through inhibitors and creates business breakthroughs.

A better way to plan for emerging tech

The common wait-and-see attitude adopted by CIOs means that emerging tech opportunities can appear deceptively slow, but then suddenly explode into commercial use.

The miscalculation of the shift towards mobile experienced between 2000 and 2010 is a good example of how emerging tech could catch business leaders on the back foot. The same could be said for AI, the theory of which has been around since the 1950s but is suddenly receiving much of the attention from the venture capital community.

We will see a similar scenario with quantum computing which has been with us since the late 1970s. Forrester has likened quantum computing to a freight train, moving slowly, but accelerating, and says that by the time quantum products are generally available many first-mover advantages (such as discovering new credit worthy customers in the 40% of credit applications that get denied) will already be gone.

According to the report, companies often focus on one emerging technology at a time. For example, AI and distributed trust platforms based on blockchain have grabbed everybody’s attention but in individual silos. However, the firms making real business breakthroughs are those which exploit many technologies simultaneously. 

Technology innovation chains help firms accelerate

Groups of technologies working together synergistically can create opportunity. Forrester refers to these technology innovation chains as: “… a series of related technologies that build upon one another synergistically to create breakthrough opportunities.”

Technologies build on and accelerate one another in chains. For example, Google’s work on cloud and big data allowed it to train advanced machine learning algorithms with massive data sets, leading to advancements in AI, which let firms build agent-based solutions.

Emerging technology research teams should focus on how these technologies could fit together and business leaders should be challenging them to imagine chains of innovation that will support and accelerate breakthroughs. Teams should then ask how the innovation chains behind these emerging technologies create future breakthrough potential as well as examine the timing for this to happen.

Many firms still think bubbles of overinflated expectations will be burst by a lack of technology maturity, leading the industry to deep troughs of despair and disillusionment. This mode of thinking biases many firms toward a wait-and-see approach to emerging technology. Maybe you can afford a dent of doubt, but the pit of despair is becoming just the place where losers get stuck.

Technology innovation chains could drive the cost of software-based innovation toward zero, leaving weaknesses in businesses exposed and allowing opportunists to exploit niches in an environment of faster paced business turnover. However, firms that invest in the right innovation chains will be positioned to thrive in this accelerating pace, highlighting the importance of this new way of thinking.

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