UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Apr 2013

UKSG talk by Brian KellyYesterday I gave a talk on “Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies” at the UKSG annual conference (#uksglive) held in the Bournemouth International Centre. The talk was based on a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future“. But in addition I highlighted the dangers that processes for identifying early signals of disruptive technologies could be undermine by vested interests who may have an interest in promoting the continuation of current approaches and technologies. This concern was highlighted by a recent post entitled “Gartner May Be Too Scared To Say It, But the PC Is Dead” which described how:

Gartner has finally come out and said it: The PC market is dying.

Except it hasn’t said that, quite. But it is, and saying so is really important.

and went on to add:

Gartner, however, can’t bring itself to say the PC market is shrinking toward irrelevance. Instead, it describes the PC market as “transitional,” in much the same way companies firing large swathes of their workforces insist that employees have been “downsized.” If Gartner was a brokerage firm, its analyst would have placed a “hold” rating on the PC market, with all the wishy-washy implications that word connotes.

The reason for such evasiveness was:

to protect the lucrative relationship that Gartner has with its clients. If Gartner declares an industry dead, why should a company like Dell spend thousands of dollars a pop for a report that says so?

 The talk was based on the work of the JISC Observatory which has been provided by UKOLN and CETIS. The JISC Observatory was not provided by JISC itself in order to provide some distance from existing services and development programmes. However in light of the cessation of core funding for UKOLN and CETIS (together with other JISC-funded bodies such as OSS Watch and the JISC Monitoring Unit) there do seem to be dangers that JISC (or Jisc as it is now known) will lose its ability to focus on the rapidly changing technological infrastructure, preferring to focus, instead, on the delivery of existing services. In light of such concerns in the talk I gave yesterday (and which will be repeated later today) I argued that there was a need for organisations themselves to have mechanisms in place for detecting signals which may indicate changes which institutions will need to prepare for, as well as sense-making processes to interpret the signals and their implications.

As I was invited to write an article about the talk after giving the presentation yesterday, there does seem to be interest across the sector in the approaches I described :-)

The slides for the talk are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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One Response to “Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies”

  1. Sorry… I’m a bit late to this.

    Your point about being wary of vested interests is well made but in the example you quote I think you’re missing something. Yes, Gartner has a vested interest (though I actually disagree with you about what that vested interest is in this case) but so do bloggers with their sensationalist headlines like “the PC is dead”. In this case, has a much more vested interest than Gartner does IMHO.

    On the cessation of funding for ‘technology watch’-like activities, I guess one would have to do some analysis of how successful those services have been over the years at spotting significant new technologies that otherwise would have gone unnoticed and ignoring new technologies that otherwise would have been a distraction in order to form an opinion.

    On the face of it, one might imagine that services funded to watch for new technologies will do just that – i.e. they have a vested interest (in terms of funding model) in spotting new things. But the real challenge in this area lies not just in spotting new things, but in highlighting those new things that are actually a waste of time. And, yes, I’ve been as guilty as anyone in terms of failing to do that over the years :-) – Second Life being a prime example!

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