technology innovation
06 September 2018

What really drives technology innovation

Work long enough in this industry and you see a lot of technology firsts and new solutions shoot by you, most becoming mundane, absorbed into something much bigger or simply redundant.

Who can remember the excitement of the latest MNP protocol for faster modem dial-up downloads or the first Pentium chip? Well, I can, sadly.

Dial up internet technology innovation

What drives technology innovation ahead or down a cul-de-sac has always fascinated me.

Being a kid of the Sixties and Seventies, you might have thought scientific advancement was what rocketed us literally to the stars and beyond. The mantra of those times was: because we can do something scientifically, it will happen and become every day (especially in the Sixties). So, I expected moon-bases, supersonic flying cars and nuclear doomsday by 2000.

Flying car technology innovation on Jetsons

None of this has happened (thankfully in the case of a nuclear apocalypse).

Does our behaviour or technological capabilities drive innovation? 

Reading a book on the social history of railways on a recent holiday reminded me (again) what really drives technology innovation. As a railway buff (I own up to this alongside a love of bad movies, clockwork toys etc) I have always known about railway time. This was when the spread of the railways led to a unified time zone for the whole of the UK. The importance of this was made clear in the design of the major terminals. Take a visit to St Pancras and see what I mean when you gaze up at the huge clocks. These and every other clock that used to tick in every station celebrated railway time’s predominance.

Prior to railway time, the time in, say, Bristol could be several minutes earlier than in London. Agreeing that when it was noon in London, it was also noon in Bristol made timetabling of trains much simpler. Lots of micro time zones dividing up the country, hugely complicated how you calculate travel time from A to B.

So, hurrah, an arcane practice was wiped out by the nineteenth century’s greatest technology innovation – the puff puff? Well actually, no. Science established in the 19th century that time was relative meaning that London time is ahead of somewhere else westwards. It was scientifically correct – and advanced – to record precisely different times for different towns

But this scientific advancement hit the buffers because it ran counter to what drives innovation – greater efficiency, greater utility and richer customer experiences. We need our trains to run on time. This is made a lot easier to manage when you can calculate time more clearly and consistently.

B2B technology innovation

So, what’s this got to do with today’s B2B technology? I think a great deal. Currently, there are some technologies like blockchain that we are told are ground-breaking, but we really struggle to understand why. They may be cutting edge in how they’ve spun up a new form of IT, but are they of any real use?

Thrashing away at assessing how much of today’s advanced technology aids, rather than impedes, efficiency and experience is very much the process we are going through right now. Don’t necessarily expect the most scientifically smart to win through unless we as consumers, and the market, can actually find a good use for it.

Nonetheless, let’s hope for something exciting and revolutionary. A time machine perhaps?