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A warning to the digital newcomers

The world after nuclear war.Ghost town at sunset.Nuclear contamination

We’ve all been told that digital is the way forward, and this is one of the truest statements you will ever read, but newcomers beware; the digital world can be as destructive as it is fruitful.

Amongst all the presentations at Light Reading’s OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV, one comment stood out to us in particular. It was from Accanto Systems’ Brian Naughton and it was a short but an insightful one; “there is a risk of putting radio on TV”.

Naughton was on a panel looking at cloud native networks in OSS transformation projects, but it did get us thinking about the idea on a wider scale; are the telcos and traditional businesses thinking hard enough about this digital trend.

What Naughton is actually talking about is whether the digital newcomers are using the technology properly. Radio certainly works on TV, and there will be people who use it, but what is the point in moving radio content from the radio to the TV? It works perfectly well on its traditional home, and is likely to be a waste of money. If you are not talking advantage of the features which TV offers you, why bother to move it to another platform? Surely the capital and operating expenditures tied to the transition would out weight the benefits of capturing a new audience through the additional channel?

This could be likened to some moves into digital. It might make sense to someone to move a product or a process into the world of digital, but if you are doing the same thing, you’re kind of missing the point. This might not be an issue as a standalone example, but bundle together a couple of dozen and you have an organization which will eventually fall behind those who are using digital to its full potential.

The risk here is that newcomers aren’t thinking about digital in the right way. Digital creates new opportunities to create new products and new ways to engage (and ultimately monetize) your customer. Not everything which works in the analogue world, will translate into a success into the digital world. Or it might for a short spell, but before too long someone who has grasped the full potential of digital has a bright idea and screws your business.

To illustrate that point, let’s use a real world example. Encyclopaedia Britannia. For those who grew up before the mass market penetration of computers, Encyclopaedia Britannia was a collection of books for reference. For those who were brought up in the 90s, Encyclopaedia Britannia was a collection of CDs which could do exactly the same thing.

Prior to the introduction of the internet, this was a very viable business model, one which survived the transition from book to CD. But it couldn’t survive the internet. With the world wide web can Wikipedia, a free source of information. And that was the end of Encyclopaedia Britannia.

Many businesses today will think that simply digitizing a product or making it mobile friendly will be enough to cope with the connected economy, but it won’t be long before a clever young person comes along offering the same product for free, because they’ve figured out another way to monetize it. All of a sudden industries are disrupted, business models destroyed and companies devastated.

Another phrase which applies quite well is ‘if you digitize a sh*t process, all you have a sh*t digital process’. It isn’t exactly the same rhetoric which Naughton or we were leading to but, it is built along similar lines.

The worry here is that disruption comes before you realize it, and before you have a chance to react to it. For those who are simply doing digital, be warned. If you are not doing something new, you will become old news. Just ask the guys at Encyclopaedia Britannia.


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