Silos, Stovepipes and Siri


I was invited to say something at a conference in Stockholm the other week and I gave a talk that I half-dorkishly titled "The Internetworkeffects of Things". I tried to say something about that the default strategy for products and services in an increasingly networked society must include good and open APIs that enable interplay with other products and services across industries. Otherwise they will all suffocate and die inside their closed silos.

Sofia Svanteson, founder of Ocean Observations, was also invited speaker at the same event. She gave a brilliant keynote after mine, coincidentally concerning similar issues, only, while I focused on structural silos as a barrier for the network-effects among connected products and services, Sofia talked about the fail of organisational silo-structures that affects the user experience of their products in a negative way.

Sofia citied "No man is an island" to illustrate of the importance of interconnectedness within organisations. The idea that nothing is isolated and that everything is interconnected was an essential idea during the European Renaissance, and while listening to John Donne's 400 years old words it struck me (in a delusion-of-grandeur'ish kind of way) that perhaps we are on the brink of an entirely new era here? Yeah, yeah, many people have said that the internet of things will be about as big as the industrial revolution, but that also implies a lot. Wouldn't for example one potential profound effect of an all connected world with networked products and multi platform cloud-services be a shift in the economical/industrial paradigm for example? A shift away from the industrialised specialisation and fragmentation, toward something which is more based on the ideas of holism and interconnectedness. That's where we are heading. We, people, the customers, already expect to be able to use our cloud-services as an uninterrupted and fluent whole across many different devices. Of course our e-books, rented movies, saved articles, photos and social chit-chat should just float like the same river behind any looking-glass we chose to use for the moment.

Looking back, expectations on today's consumer products and services have gone through some evolutionary stages in recent tech-history. Long time ago you were ahead of the pack it your product had some unique functions. Now everyone has fairly similar features and lots of functionality has become the general base line expectation, as has good quality, good design and most recently even good usability. Multimedia/app eco-systems and a great multi-platform user experience is still a competitive differentiator today, but over time that too is included in people's general base-level expectation. Many are already there.

In the near future our products will become increasingly smart and connected and we will probably see 'interconnectivity', 'context-awareness', 'collaborative abilities' and 'mashupability' as the next differentiators. A lot of things can be said about Siri, but Apple will probably be in a good position with future versions of their little digital butler when they open up it's APIs for 3rd party developers. When Siri can speak to and interact with all the apps in the iOS eco-system and after that, when all connected products have an iOS-app, and they're all connected to Siri, the synergies and possible mash-ups will be much like our Social Web of Things concept, but with the distinct difference that Siri will reflect the caricature of Apple's Stevejobsian organisational structure; one intelligence in the centre and everything else have APIs, but no voice…

There will of course be fierce competition in the product/service-network-effect-and-mashup-enabler market, and Facebook and Google (and perhaps even Microsoft and Amazon) will surely have their interconnected thing eco-systems, all reflecting their own organisational structure.

organizational charts

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet,

…and then - when ubiquitous computing reaches the plateau of productivity and mashupability and interconnectedness between products and services eventually become the base-line customer expectation, then the whole society will have shifted to a much more holistic way of thinking as such. When the generations born in the 00-ies or 10-ies enter the labor market they will have as little respect for silos as people born in the 90-ies have for work hours, and by then todays silo-organisations will finally become something of the past.

Or not. But still.

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