A Paradox

Originally published 6 March 2008

It’s a paradox. On one hand, the world of technology is fast changing. Every day, there is a new technology to do something that we have never thought of before. We can play games on our telephone. We can send pictures across airwaves. We can store huge amounts of data cheaply. Technological advancement just never ends. 

On the other hand, for all of the changes in technology, the world of the technician is one that is resistant to change. There is the systems programmer that learned assembler language in 1962 and shut the doors to his/her office and is never again seen. Or, programmers learn COBOL and JCL when they graduate from college, and then they repeat the same year of experience over and over again, until retirement. The technician thinks that once having mastered a technology, that that is all there is. 

At the same time, the world is whirring around the technicians that are stuck in the mud with new technology and new innovations that appear and change every fifteen minutes. 

It is into this paradox that new technology and innovation enters the fray. New technology always has some new feature or some new edge – and there are junkies that dwell on the new. Yet, technology – once it is established – is almost impossible to root out. The other day, I was in a shop where there were still punch cards – one of the staples of technology of yesteryear. 

Admittedly, not many shops have punch cards today. However, once a technology becomes established, that technology takes on a life of its own and seems to live forever. 

Thus it is that the innovator that is developing new technology is faced with an interesting proposition as he or she prepares to bring a new product to the marketplace. The innovator must decide whether to make a wholesale displacement technology or to make an incremental displacement technology. 

A wholesale displacement technology is one that uproots some of or all of an existing technological environment. The wholesale displacement technology has to have features far and above the older technology that is to be displaced. There must be a real incentive for the innovative wholesale displacement technology to cause the older technology to be uprooted and thrown away. 

An incremental displacement technology does not require that the older technology be uprooted and discarded all at once. Instead, with an incremental displacement technology, a little bit of the new technology is introduced and sits side by side with the older technology. After a while, more of the incremental displacement technology is introduced and a little more of the older technology goes away. The end user hardly notices the passing of the older technology. Then, eventually, the incremental displacement technology displaces the older technology entirely. The end user doesn’t even know that there has been a displacement because the transition has been so smooth and so gradual. 

It is amazing that in the marketplace, the innovators often don’t even think about the technology that they will ultimately displace. Instead, the innovators just build the new technology as best they can with as many features as they can. The problem is that when it comes to marketplace acceptance, the issue of wholesale, immediate displacement versus incremental displacement is a real show stopper. 

Innovators would do well to make sure that the new technology not only has great features, but also is able to be incrementally deployed into the marketplace.

SOURCE: A Paradox

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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