The Battle for Context – Hello World!

I’ve been asked a lot over the past couple of weeks what I’m planning to do over the rest of my career. (Apparently, nobody expects you to retire at 40…) I believe that Amalgam Insights is going to provide a base to pursue what is going to happen next in the world of technology. But to explain what that means, first, I need to take a step back.

I’ve spent most of the past 20 years of my life considering how the future of applied technology will change the way that we evaluate our environments, conduct work, and better understand the world that we live in. In the mid-90s, when both personal computing and the Internet were coming into ascendancy, I was fortunate to have multiple experiences introducing me to the combined power of these technologies:

1), a USENET newsgroup focused on discussing major league baseball with a significant bent on how statistics could provide guidance in better understanding player performance

2) Working on, which at the time was the first fantasy baseball website on the internet. Although it is long-gone, the opportunity to both cover baseball teams online and create player projection models on a yearly basis was invaluable at the time in understanding basic characteristics of neural nets.

3) Building websites back when Netscape was just coming out as a graphic browser and gaining an understanding of how graphic websites were going to change what was then a very text-based world

4) Access to computational chemistry tools, which introduced me to the steric hindrances that challenge drug design, the value of network analytics, and the potential of high-performance computing to solve analytic challenges.

This combination of social technologies, predictive analytics, and institute-hosted computing assets provided an unfair headstart in understanding what would become known as SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud), SoMoClo (Social, Mobile, Cloud) or the Third Platform over a decade later. The key to having been so far ahead was simply in being a consumer and practitioner of computing services who lacked the budget and resources to conduct “computing as usual.” Rather than count on the PC as the end-all and be-all of computing, it was fairly obvious that PCs were going to eventually max out on the capabilities that they could provide to the typical consumer.

We are entering another foundational shift in computing where today’s mobile-cloud computing paradigm is about to be augmented by the next big things: the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, anomaly detection, natural language processing and generation, API-driven decision management, and design thinking. In this Fourth Platform, the newest challenge for computing will be neither performance nor scale, but rather of timely context. As companies build these “context platforms,” vendors may use marketing terminology such as “cognitive,” “business-focused,” or “user-focused” to show this focus on context and the individualized insights and data.

It is this next shift that currently consumes me as a technology observer. I believe that this focus on context is serving as the foundation for an even bigger fundamental change in business models described through a number of phrases including the “Subscription Economy,” the “Gig Economy,” the “API Economy,” or the “Uberization” of business. All of these trends speak to the consumer’s increasing expectation to access goods and services only when necessary with a focus on immediate and on-demand utilization. This business shift requires both the context platforms previously mentioned across the new stack of mobile, analytic, and interaction technologies as well as foundational changes in finance.

In the new world of finance, assets are now liabilities when they are underutilized. Data and analytic infrastructure have gone from costs to assets. The relevant costs to measure business no longer start with the Cost of Goods Sold, but the Customer Acquisition Cost. In today’s business environment, companies must start to take a hard look at their traditional cost structure and realize which costs are sunk costs used to support legacy accounting or business models. Likewise, traditional bookings and revenue accounting must now occur in context of relevant performance obligations and are subject to increasingly specific customer requests to accept or reject goods and services. The balance of power is shifting to the customer and woe betide the legacy vendor or service provider who ignores this trend.

There is still a lot of work left in translating legacy and current businesses into more flexible and “digitally transformed” organizations that are able to maximize the value of their data, transactions, and business outcomes. By focusing on the technology, process, and financial ramifications of the “Context Platform,” Amalgam Insights looks forward to advising on the future of business and providing practical guidance for both our clients and the enterprise technology world in general.

Hello World! It’s an exciting time to be in tech!