Hearing Ben Hammersley, the UK Prime Minister’s Ambassador to TechCity; London’s Internet Sector, mock the idea of planning a digital strategy for the future goes against everything I’ve learnt/read/preached/and have been told in my industry. Furthermore, hearing Ben Hammersley intelligently and logically explain why this is so further gripped me. Working in the mobile industry means that I am inherently involved in digital strategies on a day-to-day basis – strategically and tactically so. The idea of planning for something that will never arrive is something that made me think during his talk – ‘you never get to the future’ somebody in the audience crowed.
Technology is of an iterative nature
The idea of planning a digital strategy for a company normally involves considering a multitude of digital channels to consider – desktop, social media, personal devices, webTVs – and the different executions, solutions, engagements, and messages we can pump out via these channels for both external and internal purposes. These technologies and platforms are changing and innovating at a fast pace, so the idea that today we can plan a strategy on any of these platforms and say that in five years’ time that strategy will still fit the mould does not ring true. Consider how device improvements, underlying coding language improvements, OS platform version updates, connectivity speed, expansion of the ‘cloud’, and costs and pricing will all change and be refined over the next five years.
Due to the dynamic nature of technology the best we can do is prepare a digital strategy as best we can for the technology as it exists today and iteratively refine/re-think that strategy as the technology itself changes. The exponential growth in technology that Ben Hammersley discussed brings into focus that no one knows how technology will look and perform in five years’ time.
A tangible example: Facebook’s digital strategy
The best way to illustrate my point on the above of course is a real-life example relevant to the digital channels I focus on – personal devices. Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg, made a huge punt with their digital strategy and the technology HTML5 for web-based apps. Due to limitations associated with this technology and Facebook’s particular use of it, Zuckerberg himself describedthe mistake himself as “betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native”. I’m sure Facebook had this long-term strategy in place to push web-apps over native apps and invested a lot of money and human capital in doing so. When push came to shove Facebook realised that the technology did just not meet their needs and expectations. If one of the most successful and sought after digital start-ups can fail in their digital strategy, what hope do the rest of us have?!
To even further prove my point with the Facebook example and the iterative nature of technology: the digital strategy that Facebook are now employing post the HTML5 strategy admission fail will not fit the bill for the company in five years’ time. HTML5 will have iteratively improved by then and may have all (why not more?) the technological capabilities of a fully native app.
Human interaction with technology changes
The second most important thing to consider in supporting my statement is that human interaction with technology changes – not as fast as the technology itself – but it still changes. Again, to borrow a phrase from Ben Hammersley’s talk – people’s etiquette towards technology develops slower than the technology itself. So whilst the rate-of-change in technology is the front and centre consideration, how the people we map these strategies on interact with them is most certainly an important second consideration.
How people will react and use the iteratively improving technologies of the future is something no one can predict. However, I think we are better placed to approach this challenge as the rate-of change in people’s interactions is considerably slower and more malleable. As I am doing now in my career now, I aim to continue working with innovative applications of these technologies in the future and impact how people interact with them.