Study Tour April 2021
The April 2021 study tour investigated the development of new practices caused by the industrialization of technology, and given the COVID restrictions...
Study Tour April 2021
The April 2021 study tour investigated the development of new practices caused by the industrialization of technology, and given the COVID restrictions then in force, became a case example of what it was examining. We drew three main conclusions:
First, it’s possible to recreate an effective study tour online. We are, however, still learning how to transfer physical practices related to learning, collaboration, socialization and inclusiveness to an online world. This process requires hands-on experimentation, a willingness to challenge, importing some physical constructs but leaving others behind, and an awful lot of preparation.
Second, there are significant changes of practice occurring in industry. They include six that are of immediate interest to most corporations: Swarming of People, Distributed and Indirect Learning, Radicalization, Sustainability, Focus on Principles and Intent and Incentives and Funding Models. A further four are of growing interest: Supply Chain Management, Situational Awareness, Augmented Intelligence and Swarming of Machines.
Third, whilst practices such as DevOps and FinOps should already be in use, significant questions were raised on the value of data and the storage of it. Access to data (including shared and open data) is a technological driver that is anticipated to have a significant impact across many practices. Both Microsoft and Amazon are clearly gearing towards this.
This may raise questions regarding existing data strategy, a point that was made by Swim.ai, The Floow and Kloudle.
The industrialization of technology has always led to new practices. It is up to each of us how readily we adopt them.
Figure 1: The pattern of change
To understand the study tour, we need to first understand the hypothesis behind it. Throughout history, it has not been the introduction of technology that has changed the world so much as the practices that developed from the industrialization of technology – Fordism from electricity, DevOps from the cloud.
As shown in Figure 1, a user has an existing need, which is met by an existing practice based upon some thing that is provided as a product. For example, the user need for computing was met by existing architectural practices based upon the use of servers (computing infrastructure-as-a-product). As the thing evolves (computing infrastructure evolved to a utility) new practices co-evolve. In the cloud world these practices were called DevOps. Both the practices and the more evolved technology enable new needs to be met (e.g. Netflix).
However, there is usually inertia to this change caused by existing capital and existing practices. That inertia can be overcome by forcing functions. At the turn of the 20th century, it was public outcry over mountains of horse manure in New York City that drove the adoption of the automobile. Today, the isolation economy caused by COVID is driving the rapid adoption of existing technology (video conferencing, online collaboration tools), forcing us to overcome our own inertia.
This is the basic pattern of change that this year’s study tour was built upon and explored, as part of our wider research project on industrialization.
Throughout history, it has not been the introduction of technology that has changed the world so much as the practices that developed from the industrialization of technology."
Figure 2: Finding meaning
Within this pattern, I’d like to highlight the role of emerging and existing practice. Both will have a common meaning. For example, in cloud, the term DevOps fundamentally described architectural practices – distributed systems, design for failure, use of chaos engines, continuous deployment. The concept of architectural practices had existed earlier but had a different meaning – scale up, N+1, disaster recovery tests, change control. This difference comes from the change of characteristics in the underlying technology as it evolves i.e. meaning changes with context and it is technological evolution that is the cause of that change.
For example, computing evolved from High MttR (mean time to recovery), with enterprise-scale products where you might have to wait weeks for a new server, to Low MttR, with utility-like services such as cloud where your wait would be seconds. This change from High to Low MttR enabled new emerging practices. Previously, you couldn’t do continuous deployment because you were waiting weeks for the machines to turn up. Whilst the emerging practice had the same meaning as the traditional practice – they were both ‘architectural practice’ – the form they took was fundamentally different.
So, we have:
- A common meaning, such as architectural practices
- Two different examples of that common meaning in the existing traditional practice and the emerging next-generation practice
- A cause of the shift – the industrialization of some technology.
Finding a possible future
Figure 3: Creating a sensor network
When examining future trends, it is common for people to focus primarily on technology – the power of AI, the disruptive force of bitcoin, the digitization of organizations with cloud – and then to extrapolate from this ‘perceived truth’ using concepts of cause and effect to arrive at a possible future. The issue is that there is a vast amount of technology that is changing and it is not the technology itself that drives the future but the practices that develop from it. Cloud without DevOps is just a more efficient use of resources; cloud with DevOps is about speed, new sources of value, new ways of architecting and a more efficient use of resources.
Hence, when we look at the future, it's important for us to go beyond technology and identify the changes of practice that are occurring. To do that we need to start with changes in meaning. This approach is derived from the notion that meaning is informed by and derived from context combined with the simple maxim that the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Changes of meaning lead us backwards towards practices behind them and from there we determine the technology that actually matters.
To enable us to do this, we organized a series of over 200 sessions with 60 people around the world organized into 11 groups, each examining either a specific industry (Government, Healthcare, Finance, Defence, Manufacturing, Automotive) or a general technology theme (Robotics, Sensors, Immersion, Space), or covering a broad area of ‘needs’ arising from COVID. During the sessions, the groups discussed changes in those areas through the use of maps. What we were looking for were the common meanings that appeared throughout all the groups. The groups themselves acted as a form of sensor network searching for that change meaning.
Figure 4: Meanings that mattered to the Study Tour attendees
Of all the meanings that were examined, 41 were found to be common across the research groups. These meanings are all candidates for major changes in the future and they covered a wide range of topics from sustainability to swarming of machines. During the early part of the study tour, we tested these meanings against the audience and found around half were ones where the audience was already experiencing change – see Figure 4.
Note that the sample size (the study tour attendees) was small, and just because that audience didn't consider something significant doesn't mean it isn't. Also, the meanings themselves are interconnected. For example, sustainability requires an understanding of supply chains which requires situational awareness.
During the research process, the groups were asked not only to find the changing meanings but to attempt to define the next-generation and existing practice within each one and to ground the next-generation practice in reality by finding an example of an organization using it. These example organizations became the basis of the study tour. (A more detailed description of the meanings and the type of practices they represent will be provided in the upcoming research report.)
Figure 5: Organizing the example companies into discussion groups
Constructing the study tour
Two companies that came up repeatedly as examples were Microsoft and Amazon. They were included as major pillars within the tour, were given all 41 meanings that were changing and asked to speak to any of those. Microsoft focused on sustainability whereas Amazon gave a broad discussion ranging from sustainability to cloud to space. A selection of example companies was also made and grouped into dominant meanings (see Figure 5):
Immersion: Spatial, Virbela, Sixense, Augumenta
Situational awareness: Prehype, The Floow, Swim.ai, Upekkha
Supply chains: Planet, MakerBot, iRobot, WeRobotics
Security: Synthesia, Rezilion, BrainCo
Finally, a group of ‘wildcards’ were inserted from the stables of a16z (Andreesson Horowitz). One (Zipline) had come up within the research group examples and the rest were selected as being representative of one or more of the meanings that were changing. Once the companies were selected, it was now a ‘simple’ matter of organizing it all into a two-week virtual space in order to explore the changes.
Two companies that came up repeatedly as examples were Microsoft and Amazon."
Setting the scene
The study tour used a mix of Zoom, Miro, Virbela and 6Connex to attempt to recreate that study tour feeling. How we got to that use of technology is a case study in exploration itself. The changes in meaning (and the resultant new practices) were based upon underlying industrialization in technology. This had been mapped out in the research groups. However, if the audience did not perceive the underlying technology as having evolved or to be evolving to more commodity forms, then they were unlikely to contemplate the change of practices. If you think that your computers are somehow special and unique to you then you’re unlikely to contemplate the DevOps mantra that we should treat servers like cattle not pets.
The audience state of mind was an unknown for us, so hidden in the introduction to the study tour was a test, the results of which are shown in Figure 6. The attendees were asked to vote for when they thought particular technology areas would industrialize, and the most common answers (with the strength of those signals based upon votes) plotted and compared to a wider research and tech audience. The sample size of the audience was extremely small but the results were comparable. This gave us confidence that the attendees would be receptive to some of the practices presented because we shared a common understanding of how technology was evolving.
Figure 6: Testing the audience
Day 1 – Microsoft
Microsoft’s stated mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This applies equally to itself and it is taking a strong position on environmental sustainability with commitments to be carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030. This work has three core pillars in its framework: societal development, infrastructure transformation, and remote work and collaboration.
In terms of remote work, due to the impact of COVID, MS Teams experienced 894% growth with over 5.6 billion meeting minutes a day. As Satya Nadella stated: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. Along with such new practices as the rise of the 30-minute meeting, this new normal of collaboration online is considered to be already here.
Figure 7: A Microsoft underwater data centre
With regards to infrastructure development, the focus was on renewable energy use and cooling via underwater data centres (as in Figure 7). However the most interesting areas of practice change seemed to be in the societal pillar, with the move towards new investment models including shared capital/alliance models, the inclusion of sustainability metrics in executive performance, the importance of context and situational awareness including land cover mapping with project brainwave, and the importance of open data. In Microsoft’s own words “Open data is essential to an evolving paradigm in our world and we will not be able to create a sustainable system without it”. The problems with open data were not underestimated – the tendency towards corporate silos, data asset value is often unbalanced (i.e. we are taught to believe there is more value in holding data than sharing data), the lack of standards in data, the lack of trust and unsustainable business models. However, Microsoft is clearly committed to greater access to data in order to pursue this goal of a sustainable system.
We’ve seen two years’ worth
of digital transformation in two months”.
Day 2 – a16z
Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) is one of the leading venture capital firms in the US. It brought along three companies to discuss the changes that were happening.
Drishti focused on the use of video to extract best practices on the factory floor including A/B testing of production, deterministic examination of supply chains within the factory and the use of video snippets to identify and share intrinsic practices. Drishti exhibited a strong focus on empowering humans and learning in a manufacturing setting.
Ambient discussed the introduction of context into object recognition within the security industry. The problem with identifying objects and behaviour is that (for example) writing on a wall may be a desirable activity in one context (the use of a large whiteboard in a brainstorming session) but undesirable in another (graffiti on a building). Ambient is focused on the notion of that wider context through the use of context graphs.
Zipline discussed on-demand delivery to every human on earth. It focused on using commodity and re-usable components for autonomous delivery which are ‘battle tested’ in harsh weather conditions. Zipline has established the largest autonomous delivery network in the world. It operates globally and has been focused mainly on the medical industry including delivery of components in the US supply chain for PPE. It is both an operator of logistics and manufacturer of the drones used (see Figure 8).
Figure 8: A Zipline drone delivers
Day 2 – Security theme
Figure 9: Synthesia creates lifelike avatars from text
Rezilion is focused on ‘refinancing’ technical debt by continuous analysis of security vulnerabilities being introduced into an organization. The problem is that with the explosion of code and attack surfaces due in part to new practices such as DevOps, there is a significant unmitigated surface of vulnerabilities within most large organizations. Taking lessons from supply chain management, Rezilion introduces a smart gate into the CI/CD pipeline in order to certify code before it hits production.
Synthesia works in the area of programmable video enabling people to create lifelike avatars from text (see Figure 9) using AI video generation. Its stated mission is to replace cameras with code and to disrupt the entire pipeline of camera to studio to actor to post-production. Its focus is currently on automated help centres and training videos but it is moving towards corporate messaging with API-based automated creation. The markup language used describes not simply the words to be spoken but the emotions, the gesticulation – the entire script.
BrainCo works on the emotional connection between people and their environment through the use of brain sensors on a headband, which detects the state of the person and both allows them to train themselves (for example in the reduction of stress) and tailors messages to them accordingly. This has obvious connections with Synthesia’s work.
A comment on security
We are heading towards a world where video (what we see) is programmatically created in real time and adjusted to our emotional state. This can be used for both positive (e.g. learning, stress reduction) and negative reasons (e.g. radicalization, fake videos). It also opens up new attack vectors in the supply chain that makes the programmable content – as in the SolarWinds attack. A future beckons where your online salesforce starts scowling at customers because the underlying emotional marker has been hijacked.
Day 3 – Situational Awareness
Prehype. 50 percent of all innovation efforts fail to hit business targets regardless of the scale of the investment and resources of the incumbents. Prehype uses a mix of signal mining and MVP (minimal viable product) development to improve the odds, claiming 80+ concepts built from thousands of ideas with $3.4 bn in value created over the last decade.
Swim.ai focuses on vast sensor networks and the use of continuous intelligence from streaming data. Areas of work include predicting real-time traffic flows in the US and satellite collisions in space. The scale of the data is so vast that there are no practical solutions to storing it, so Swim uses AI-based agents that continuously learn on live data and interact with each other to create fluid memory graphs. This results in systems that are claimed to react a million times faster than current methods of analysis and use 90 percent less infrastructure.
The Floow focuses on making mobility (i.e. travel) smarter and safer. Through a mix of advanced signal processing and behavioural models, it aims to reduce mobility risk in the insurance and related transportation industries by anticipating accidents before they happen. The key to this is not just access to vast volumes of data and sensor networks but the application of contextual understanding (road risk, distractions, time of day) and driver behaviour (smoothness, speed, fatigue). Clients include AIG, Plymouth Rock Assurance and AmeriTrust.
A comment on situational awareness
All three companies use different elements of signal analysis to observe their environment, with the larger data scale companies moving towards continuous analysis. This has profound implications for any corporate data strategy as it questions the relevance of the current trend towards building large data lakes. As one attendee said: “We need to review our entire data strategy”.
Figure 10: Real-time traffic analysis with Swim.ai
Figure 11: AWS is expanding into space
Day 4 – Amazon
Amazon is the undisputed champion of industrialization and with this in mind it discussed three areas of focus – cloud, space and climate change. The history of the cloud does not need repeating other than in the dispelling of myths: Amazon built its cloud as a standalone service (under AWS) and then migrated its own systems to it. Amazon never sold ‘spare capacity’. The scale of the systems is vast, whether we’re talking 100 trillion objects in S3 or the AWS annual conference re:Invent attracting over 570,000 attendees. Amazon’s depth of understanding of the detail is also immense, all the way to its own silicon.
In terms of climate change, Amazon’s focus is on net zero by 2040 and running entirely on renewable energy by 2025. It has 59 utility-scale wind and solar projects and around 6,500 MW of capacity. It has also introduced a climate pledge with partners and aims to lead the industry in this direction. In terms of industrialization of space, Amazon is focused on ground stations (customers pay only for antenna time), satellite networks with Project Kuiper (a constellation of 3,236 Low Earth Orbit satellites) and the promotion of open data which it also sees as essential for its sustainability goals.
Behind its effort, Amazon points to some key principles (a form of universal practice) that drive everything it does. These key principles, from customer obsession to diving deep, are embedded in recruitment, promotion and remuneration – they are not just words. On top of these principles are some additional practices such as single-threaded leaders (individuals accountable for single major initiatives), working backwards (from the outcome to the project), a willingness to fail but also an understanding of the context (e.g. is this project a one-way door through which if we go then we cannot return?)
These key principles, from customer obsession to diving deep, are embedded in recruitment, promotion and remuneration – they are not just words."
This focus on principles, on intent and on context is repeated throughout the literature published by AWS itself including Working Backwards by Bryar and Carr, and Reaching Cloud Velocity by Allen and Blood.
Day 4: Immersion
Spatial focuses on creating inclusive virtual environments that blend a mix of augmented reality with VR and video conferencing in order to create a remote working environment for many participants. It uses a range of notable technology from lidar scanning to live translation. In the words of Sven Gerjets, CTO, Mattel: "Our classic brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels have diverse teams of designers, engineers, marketers and manufacturers that are spread all over the world. They now come together in a Spatial project room".
Virbela was used on the study tour itself to create an immersive experience for attendees. As one told us, they went from thinking ‘this is a gimmick’ to using it in their own company for meetings in about a week. The environment is simple and immersive through the clever use of spatially aware audio; it requires no specific technology to use and its single largest obstacle is simply taking that first plunge. The platform is designed to solve the challenges of remote work and enables companies to create their own campuses and HQs. Its parent company, eXp Realty, which has over 48,000 real estate agents, has won a Glassdoor Employees’ Choice ‘Best Place to Work’ award four years in a row, operates in 12 countries, and has a $7bn market cap – operates exclusively in Virbela.
Sixense is firmly in the VR space on the AR/VR spectrum. Whilst it has in the past focused on education and training, the most outstanding piece of work is its use of VR in the recovery of stroke patients. By enhancing neuroplasticity through the use of specific games in a VR environment, the Sixense team have developed tools in conjunction with Penumbra and HTC to enable patients to regain control and rehabilitate more quickly. Many of the companies on the tour had a mission, but Sixense was notable in its passionate drive to use VR to help people recover.
Augumenta focuses on the use of augmented reality to create telepresence where experts can ‘beam’ into a local factory floor and provide guidance to solve existing problems. The systems use a mix of commodity components packaged into simple solutions designed for scale that can be unpacked on site, observation started, packaged up and moved to the next site (see Figure 12).
Figure 12: Augumenta’s flexible telepresence
A comment on situational awareness
All four companies were focused on the shift from physical to virtual spaces and the creation of new forms of practice for learning, social interaction and collaboration whether related to the workplace, the office or the factory floor. All were focused on combining existing commodity components where possible and highlighted the role of the isolation economy in accelerating demand for their work. All the speakers agreed with the assertion that the economy we're recovering to will have less of the physical space and more of the virtual as these practices develop.
Figure 13: From physical to virtual
During the study tour, we ran a number of optional mapping sessions. The map in Figure 13 was created during one of those sessions and captures the basic concepts of the shift from physical to virtual that was discussed in the immersion sessions. This included emergence of new virtual practices, the inertia from existing practice and installed capital (such as buildings or symbols of status). A great deal of emphasis was placed on status symbols in the physical world (such as a top floor office) and personal status (including physical presence) being significant hurdles to adoption of a virtual world. When considering the adoption of immersive technology for collaboration in the office space, we need to be mindful of the impact that a loss of status symbols may create.
Day 5: Supply chains
iRobot discussed its serverless software supply chain and how it manages over 15 million robots ‘in the wild’ with a handful of people using 100+ lambda functions, 30 AWS services and no EC2 instances, no containers and no servers.
Planet discussed the supply chain of build, launch and operate for earth observation. It covered continuous iteration of CubeSat design and the role of satellite imagery in other domains including government, insurance, agriculture and finance. Planet estimates that less than 20 percent of suppliers understand their supply chain, which has obvious implications from pandemic response to sustainability. With over 800 CubeSats (known as ‘Doves’) in operation it provides daily scanning of the earth surface down to 3m resolution.
MakerBot is a manufacturer of 3D printing technology. It discussed the disruption of existing manufacturing supply chains and its introduction of Method X which covers multiple materials including carbon fibre through a heated chamber and FDM (fused deposition modelling). As a result of the pandemic it has adapted to remote engineering of new printers.
WeRobotics is a non-profit focused on providing local logistics systems through the use of drones. It operates 30 flying labs from Asia to Latin America, concentrates on building local expertise and focuses on commodity components where possible. Its work covers essential medical supplies to disaster relief and ethical implications of technology and skill sets.
Figure 14: One of WeRobotics’ flying labs
A comment on supply chains
All four companies were focused on industrialization in their space, use of commodity components and increasing situational awareness.
Day 6: Broadening horizons
On day 6, we broadened the horizon of the study tour to India and invited a local venture capital outfit – Upekkha – to present. As with a16z, it brought several startups along, and also discussed how its own business model was changing.
Kloudle focused on application security in the journey of large organizations to be more cloud-native i.e. use of cloud, use of microservices and faster application life cycles. It highlighted the weaknesses of traditional perimeter-style security and the need to build security around the flow of data within cloud applications.
Kennect provides performance coaching for large sales teams, including mechanisms to empower local reps with novel incentive models covering scenario planning, real-time tracking of performance and automation within the salesforce including the concept of assisted selling.
Upekkha is a startup accelerator. It works with over 150 startups in India. Its focus is on network and advisory services and unbundling this from traditional forms of capital. 60 percent of its startups are cashflow positive in under two years and all its startups use Wardley Mapping to challenge existing business models.
Figure 15: Upekkha’s view of the changing role of India
A comment on broadening horizons
Whilst Upekkha was a bit of a wild card, it was surprising to see the extent of its use of mapping across these companies. All had a focus on user needs and using industrialized components where possible.
The Matrix of Technology, Practice & Time
Figure 16: The technological causes of the change of meaning
Our research identified a number of common meanings associated with changes in technology which we placed over a timeline based upon industrialization of the technology (see Figure 16). Whilst architectural and development practices (DevOps and FinOps) have already changed, the areas that appear to be of immediate interest include those listed here, with the organizations active in them included in the tour:
Swarming of people: i.e. murmurations without a directing force [not covered in this tour]
Distributed and indirect earning: Sixense, Drishti, Virbela, Augumenta, Microsoft, Spatial
Radicalization, including the potential for manipulation: Synthesia, Rezilion, BrainCo
Focus on principles and intent: Amazon, Microsoft, WeRobotics, Planet, Sixense, MakerBot, Swim.ai, Synthesia, Augumenta, Upekkha, Kennect, Kloudle, iRobot, Zipline, Drishti, Virbela, Rezilion, BrainCo
Sustainability: Microsoft, Amazon, Planet, Zipline, MakerBot, WeRobotics
Incentives and funding models: Microsoft, Upekkha, Kennect
Supply chain management: Planet, Zipline, iRobot, MakerBot, Drishti, WeRobotics, Amazon, Microsoft
Situational awareness: Swim.ai, The Floow, Upekkha, PreHype, Amazon, Kennect, Kloudle, Rezilion, Planet, WeRobotics, Ambient, Microsoft
Augmented intelligence: Augumenta, Spatial, Microsoft
Swarming of machines: Swim.ai, Planet, Microsoft, Amazon
Behind the scenes
The original date for the tour was May 2020 but it became rapidly clear in January 2020 that a physical tour might not be possible and we had to decide to delay and/or consider a virtual tour. There was a lot of discussion internally about whether it would be possible to run a virtual tour. To keep things ticking over, we introduced a series of virtual electives, mini podcasts – 11 in all – to build up to the tour, whatever form it might take. By June 2020, we had 11 research groups (around 70 people) working remotely on the topic of the tour whilst separately we prepared for a virtual Map Camp – an online event in October 2020. Map Camp was a success and showed us that we could run a virtual event (in that case for 1300 people) over a day on complex topics.
We had experimented with formats and settled on a mix of single-speaker, armchair-style discussions along with a three-person themed format. Both seemed to be able to create some of the interaction that we craved, but we still did not have enough to create that study tour feeling. After more discussions, trial and error, and lots of failed efforts in 3D headsets, we settled on using a system called Virbela to create the required immersive experience. It creates a sense of space (often through the clever use of audio, something gained from the gaming world) but presents a low enough technical hurdle that most people can rapidly become immersed in the discussion – as long as they can get it past corporate security.
The speakers were selected from the companies identified in the research groups. Some had already been involved in the elective sessions (another point of experimentation), and all were introduced to each other. As Jane (the tour director) would freely state, we had vastly more interaction with the speakers prior to this tour than with any previous tour. We subdivided the speakers into four themes – immersion, security, supply chain, situational awareness – and we extended the tour days to cater for different time zones.
We also added reflection sessions (in Virbela), optional mapping sessions and additional reflection sessions after the event. The entire tour would be managed through 6Connex (the main platform) and a Miro board was the preferred way to capture the learnings throughout. Most importantly, our own weekly organizing meetings were in Virbela, which rapidly became a replacement office.
Figure 17: The study tour platform – 6Connex
“We had vastly more interaction with the speakers prior to this tour than with any previous tour.”
Lessons from staging the tour
The lessons we take from the tour are not just about the subject matter but about the tour mechanics:
- It is possible to create a virtual learning environment that challenges existing thinking. It just takes a lot of work and preparation. Preparing this study tour involved four or five times the effort of previous tours.
- It is possible to create environments that allow for serendipity and create an immersive and collaborative experience online. We utilized a blend of tools (from Zoom to Virbela, from Miro to 6Connex) and a blend of formats (from armchair discussion to three speaker formats and reflection sessions). Variety, or more importantly diversity, is the spice of life.
- It is important to think about physical concepts and replicate them where needed in the virtual world. Having audio that was ‘space aware’ gave meaning to the act of walking up to a group's table in a virtual world and helped make the space more immersive. But equally we must think about what we need to leave behind.
- The need to experiment and to try things out yourself cannot be overemphasized. One technology leader reported going from "this is a gimmick" to "having their own team start looking into this technology" to "having their own first team meeting in this virtual world" in a matter of a week. The difference is simply exposure to the technology and being mindful of our own inertia. It's why running our organizing meetings in Virbela was critical to the success of the tour.
- The virtual world enables us to broaden our horizon beyond where the tour is physically based. We could bring together speakers from all over the world into a single space.
A willingness to challenge, immersion, importing some physical constructs but leaving some behind, experimentation, broadening horizons and an awful lot of preparation – these were the lessons we learned from putting on the study tour. These lessons are examples of the emerging practices developing from the industrialization of technology – in this case virtual spaces, video conferencing and collaboration tools – which is in turn accelerated by the isolation economy caused by COVID. Our research on virtual spaces for enterprise collaboration is relevant on this matter.
A willingness to challenge, immersion, importing some physical constructs but leaving some behind, experimentation, broadening horizons and an awful lot of preparation – these were the lessons we learned."
Results from the reflection sessions
The future is always uncertain. Whilst we can attempt to narrow down what matters, the question is whether our observations change or chime with the views of the attendees. To explore this, we used reflection sessions that enabled attendees to comment on the tour and the companies presenting. The following was captured into Miro:
What was the big “Ah-ha”?
- “Imagine to combine Spatial, Virbela and other capabilities to revolutionize the way we do work”
- “The state of play – Swim, Zipline, Synthesia – is further developed than I expected”
- “To be able to get out of the day-to-day and think more broadly, look at problems differently. A stretch my mind experience”
- “Need to consider views of data / analytics / modelling / AI”
- “Synthesia for onboarding process”
- “Data and what you can do – challenging the traditional way”
- “Climate / Corporate responsibility”
- “AR / VR. We have only scratched the surface on how to use it. Can reshape your brain … where else can it go in healthcare?”
- “Startup community is rich and in tune with real world problems … how to incorporate more of this in our DNA?”
- “The laser focus of purpose / intent e.g. ethics / shared data”
- “Founders = wild eyed zealots”
- “Mind stretching”
- “Common challenge of misuse of technology but dealt with through an ethical stance”
- “Recognition that things outside of one’s industry can impact one’s industry”
- “Relentless focus on intent”
- “Microsoft – Art of the Possible”
- “Challenging data thinking … there might be real momentum around the opportunity to stop moving data”
- “Simon's summary and tables this morning”
What was the most relevant and impactful presentation?
- “A number: Zipline was cool; Synthesia (AI created videos … had us thinking on what it means to trust videos in the future) … would it still feel authentic vs a real actor?”
- “Rezilion & Kloudle around cloud security... most relevant from a corporate's infrastructure perspective. Spatial – global operations across time zones and make it more engaging. Putting together all of these technologies.. avatars w/ collaboration tools w improved AR/VR.. Virbela campus... can slip on a headset and feel like you are sitting in a meeting room; asynchronous ideation?”
- “Varied, no single presentations”
- “The level of belief came across”
- “All of them have different uses”
- “Zipline was incredible”
- “Simulation videos...Synthesia...can train more people more quickly with new tools like augmented reality. Communicating internally with Synthesia...eliminates hurdles and internal slowness; also concern about misuse externally/online...want to mobilize organizational awareness and response. Zipline is also interesting”
- “Sixense for therapy, faster recovery, how do we keep up with these advances? regulatory concerns”
- “Synthesia, Swim, Augumenta”
What action might you take?
- “Explore other opportunities out of here that we need to start on or plan on to prepare for the future”
- “Make the company aware of the opportunities”
- “Opening my mind to opportunities to bring back into the business”
- “Already have internal teams looking at innovation and fresh horizons, will start to bring them together”
- “Challenging and thinking about data strategy and training”
- “Experimenting with Synthesia”
- “Explore what each of the practices might mean for us as a business (or our customers)”
- “Varied, no single action”
- “Think about how we can incorporate the detection of practice change into our processes so we're considering it on an ongoing basis”
- “Listen to the discussions / mindsets that are further removed”
- “Share more of this with a wider audience”
- “Help increasing awareness”
- “How can we partner with some of these companies?”
- “Push the business harder to recognize that things like FinOps are real now!”
- “Review our current roadmap of future technology developments with this output”
- “Experimenting with Swim.ai”
- “Data lakes? Are they right?”
What might you do differently as a leader?
- “Not being dismissive of technologies that are still really early... Truly look at the 5 year to 10 year horizon versus the quarter”
- “How to leverage early as a competitive advantage”
- “Reassess some of our principles especially around data”
- “Need to be more like the founders”
- “Challenge ourselves with these mindsets”
- “Make people aware – leadership don't know about this”
- “Challenge assumptions and biases”
- “Review our approach to storing lots of data”
What was your biggest ‘ah-ha’ from the study tour’s mechanics?
- “Virbela platform; nature of work has changed by COVID ... work anywhere and virtual, engaging in a near real world helped”
- “Worked better digitally than physical events”
- “Confirmed tolerance for events in this format”
- “Able to have great conversations in Virbela”
What new practices might you take from the study tour itself?
- “Already some planning meetings in Virbela”
- “Be open to new immersive ways of working”
The April 2021 study tour to investigate the development of new practices caused by the industrialization of technology became its own case study because of the COVID restrictions then in force. We drew three main conclusions:
1. It is possible to recreate an effective study tour online, though we are still learning how to transfer physical practices related to learning, collaboration, socialization and inclusiveness to an online world. This process requires hands-on experimentation, a willingness to challenge, the importation of some physical constructs and the abandonment of others, and an awful lot of preparation.
2. Significant changes of practice are widely occurring in industry. Six are of immediate interest to most corporations:
• Swarming of people
• Distributed and indirect learning
• Focus on principles and intent
• Incentives and funding models
A further four are of growing interest:
• Supply chain management
• Situational awareness
• Augmented intelligence
• Swarming of machines
3. Practices such as DevOps and FinOps should already be in use, but there are significant questions about the value of data and the storage of it. Access to data (including shared and open data) is a technological driver that is anticipated to have a significant impact across many practices. Both Microsoft and Amazon are clearly gearing towards this. This may raise questions regarding existing data strategy, a point that was made by Swim.ai, The Floow and Kloudle.
The industrialization of technology has always led to new practices. It is up to each of us how readily we adopt them, but the need to experiment and to try things out for yourself cannot be overemphasized.