Seizing the emerging tech initiative

I’ve got a few thoughts on the emerging tech space that I’d like to share. It seems to me that there’s a great deal of opportunity that isn’t being exploited to its fullest, and I’d like to propose a way to unblock this.

First some context. Never before have so many emerging technologies matured all at once, and at such pace. In the past five years alone, a vast array of technologies have burst onto the scene led by the tech giants and found their way into the hands of 100s of millions of users – TouchID and FaceID, AR & VR, Machine Learning / AI, Voice products, and so much more have not just become available, but are cheap, widespread and very high quality. And the cheap, enterprise-grade services that support these technologies are no less extensive – just check out this list of Amazon AWS products by way of example. So how should we go about selecting which technologies are right for us?

This presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is sorting through this breadth of technology, as well as even more nascent tech, to uncover the genuine value. The opportunity is to seize the advantage ahead of the competition. And yet there’s a lot of hesitation to seize this opportunity.

There are several well-established design techniques for bringing emerging technology to life, where the choice of technology is made up front and where this choice is the driving force for the project (‘technology led”). But my argument would be that there are too many projects that start with a limited remit in terms of technology choice (“user led” or “business led”) – the technology constraints are determined too early, greatly limiting the potential for unusual solutions that could return much better results. We need a way to meet the needs of the end users, meet business goals AND consider how emerging tech could potentially serve both.

I believe that the role of engineers within these projects needs to evolve. Up until now, their typical involvement would be to validate a suggested approach e.g. “is this possible?”, and “how long might it take to build?”. But the problem nowadays is that designers – and even individual engineers – can’t be expected to have exposure to the full breadth of technology that could solve a given problem. Engineers with deep expertise need to become involved earlier in the process, and be asked far more open questions e.g. “how might we solve this problem?” before the solution has properly taken shape.

For example, we’ve been building iOS and Android apps on the SAP Cloud Platform, and it was vital that the engineers were involved from the very beginning, not just guiding designers on what was possible, but also highlighting platform features that could help us take a better approach. Another example might be that an engineer would be aware of AWS Sumerian or other Machine learning capabilities, and how building models and importing them into CoreML on iOS could provide users with unique value. Engineers often think in a different way to designers, and combining these perspectives is increasingly not just preferable, but vital – especially if it can happen before projects are too strictly defined or constrained.

In John Maeda’s excellent talk at SXSW, he talked about the need to find Computational Designers. This mythical beast not only has a deep understanding of classical design and Design Thinking, but also knows technology inside out – “has facility with representational codes and maybe programming codes. Knows what is easy and possible, hard and possible, difficult and impossible for now”. I applaud the sentiment, but believe this understanding can more practically sit across multiple people each with deep expertise to get the best results.

In addition though, there’s an obligation on the part of designers to actively invest time understanding the world of emerging tech, to bridge the gap with engineers in pursuit of the best outcomes, and help the team become greater than the sum of its parts. We’re lucky at Bilue having great engineers a shoulder-tap away, and for those who aren’t so fortunate there’s an ever-increasing gap to try and bridge. But there are plenty of resources out there for people who are willing to learn. Carpe Diem!

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