Technology comes from the greek word “techne” which can be translated in part as “cunning of hand” or in other words: the enablement of performance adeptness. And who doesn’t want more agility and performance adeptness?
What makes the business of technology exciting is the leap-frog advancements that transcend capabilities from evolutionary, to revolutionary. These leap-frog periods are often called disruptions, or S-curves. A new S-curve can hatch new industries. This is where investments are made that if made wisely, drive market leadership, new categories, new life changing experiences, and generational wealth for everyone who participate.
One of the great examples of technology S-curves is the mobile phone. The mobile phone benefits from many S-curves with the most obvious being the transistor. The first commercial transistors produced in the 1950s introduced a new architecture that combined many technologies such as semiconductors. Semiconductors had actually been in development since the late 1800s, but it was a modern architecture in the 1950s that unleashed a technology revolution. Like the semiconductor, which led to transistors, which led to modern computing, these building blocks have spawned new mini-S curves such as cloud computing, big data, and social media.
The key to the advancement of technology is architecture… the novel assembly of existing technologies to enable new capabilities. Without new architectures, the first cell phone call would not have been made in 1973. Nor would we have GPS which received its name in that same year. And in my house at that time “touchscreen” was not in anyone’s vocabulary and our only screen was a black and white TV that took 5 minutes to warm up. So the technologies that we take for granted such as Google Maps, social media, and modern communications, would not be possible without new architectures.
We are once again at the dawn of a new technology architecture. Naming the technologies that result from this new architecture is a bit like someone in the 1970s suggesting that a bookseller would be the largest “cloud provider”, or that your phone could play “all the music ever produced” along with “high definition movies”. Predictions like this would have put you in good company with Cheech & Chong – and certainly made you rich. The same is true today.
Despite the potential for riches, the guessing game is dangerous for investors and business leaders. The key is to identify modern architectures that embody proven technologies in novel ways. The “high-value” part of the equation is not always readily apparent which is why Steve Jobs never asked customers what they wanted. In banking the value of the best architectures will be measured by agility and lowering risk with reduced barriers to entry, less time/cost, and immediate co-existence with legacy investments.
Just as we are at the dawn of a new technology architecture, we are also on the eve of banking as we knew it. Current regulations and the trust society has for banks is providing a window of opportunity for banks to transform their industry. Our children may never know what the book or music industries were. Our grandchildren may never know what a car dealer is, or why we even actually drove cars. Similarly, the bank of the future will not look anything like the bank that we have known. The question is how quickly banks will embrace modern architectures. The building blocks exist for banks to reassemble their value proposition in the same way innovators assembled the building blocks to turn TV tubes into computers, computers into mobile phones, and mobile devices into portals for our modern life.
Just like the best companies have become the essence of our very existence – the best banks will become the fabric of our lives.