How to Create Technology with Value

Hello World!

I want to begin by prefacing this article with a little background information on why I am even writing this to begin with.  During my daily job life I encounter a large variety of individuals.  These individuals range from experienced technologists, to business entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to students who have high aspirations and even government officials trying to better their region.  Through all of these interactions I have encountered a cross cutting theme of lack of understanding in how to map problems to technology and technology to problems.

Through this article I aim to discuss what is the heart, the very nature of technology, and why we have it.  I will also discuss current trends in technology, what problems they solve and how these problems and technology work together.

Let us begin with a simple question.  I have asked this question of many students from a variety of highly regarded U.S. Universities to only receive a blank stare or inadequate responses.  The question is this…

What is Technology?  Why do we have it?

I ask this to get to the core of what technology is.  How can you be a technologist if you can not answer the simple question of what is the value of your trade?  I spent several days pondering this until I finally came to an answer that I myself was happy with.

Technology derives its value from offloading complex process from human hands and minds.

This might sound abstract, but lets really dig into this.  One of the simplest examples I use is email.  Email brings together a marriage of hardware, manufacturing process, software and many other things such that you need write a letter on a stone tablet and have a carriage deliver it halfway across the world with an eta of, oh who knows, 1 year.  How can you conduct business in this manner?

Therefor we can define technology as “Anything that revolutionizes the way in which we live our every day lives.”  It is the combination of these two realizations that sets the framework for everything we will discuss in this article.

So how do we create technology that delivers on such a grandiose promise?  It might help to understand the current mega trends and opportunities of today.  If you read closely, these so called “current mega trends” are nothing more than old paradigms rebranded.

  1. Internet of Things (hereafter referred to as IoT).  Hardware that is connected to the internet that produces some form of data that is made useful by other hardware connected to the internet.
  2. Security both Cyber and Physical.
  3. Video Games.
  4. Big Data.

Big Data

I want to spend a paragraph speaking specifically about “Big Data”.  First and foremost, “Big Data” is often not large, and not a new concept.  It is purely at its heart and root the use of data from multiple sources to produce useful insight.  This concept was formerly known as Business Intelligence.  “Big Data” is wielded around as a buzzword these days to talk about things that are very often not large.  A big data problem, might be analyzing the genome from 100,000 people to try to detect Cancer patterns.  Big Data assumes extremely high quantities of data either static or real time that needs to be processed.  I believe the trend “Big Data” is really just Business Intelligence rebranded.  If your data is in fact big, you are simply doing Business Intelligence with a different tool set.  Big Data is analysis of data that is so large that you can’t use traditional analysis methods and must use distributed methods.  Big Data derives its value by delivering insight into data that we already have.  Big Data is often joined with the other mega trends and is the backbone of most solutions that deliver real value and I personally find to be a separator between the pros and the amateurs.

Video Games

This should be fairly self explanatory.  Mobile casual video games are a HUGE growing market.  Just think about the marketplace, the sheer number of people with cell phones.  The primary growth area here is just that, casual mobile video games.  These are games where a “session” can be completed in about 60 – 90 seconds.  Primary untapped market at this point is your non traditional gamer.  Think stereo types.  Value here is derived from the ability to have something to kill time, typically between meetings, waiting for people to arrive at coffee shops etc.

Security

Security is another one of those trends that is very important.  Think about the number of digital assets that have been hacked just this past year.  Cyber security is a huge thing.  The ability not only to protect your assets through in-crackable defenses, but also to deal with attackers once they breach your initial barriers.  Physical security as well, a local company in my area, Lobby Guard, does this very thing, protecting children from sexual predators and stopping child abductions before they happen.  The value here should be very obvious as well.

Internet of Things

IoT is a really interesting and fun new mega trend.  This is all about devices talking to each other.  A great example of a project that I actually built recently is an oil/gas pipeline that has embedded devices and sensors that can locally determine the mass flow of the fluids in the pipe as well as pressure, temperature etc.  All of these devices communicate together and transmit their information to a central server, which cross solves the data to ensure consistent results.  This system enables real time detection of leaks in pipelines in a new, revolutionary way.  The root of this trend is embedded devices talking to the internet to solve problems.

So how do we create technology that leverages these trends to deliver value?

I like to always start with something that is a perceived frustration or difficulty, either personally or externally.  I have a few examples that I use with classes that I teach at Wake Tech.

Example Problem:

I have a 13 year old and a 7 year old who want to play baseball and basketball respectively and meetings every Tuesday and second Thursday of the month. What is the best place to take my kids to sports and still make my meetings while staying under my budget of $200/month including gas expenses etc.

This is a fantastic problem.  Basically build me an app that can budget both my financial concerns as well as my time concerns.  To really take this to a real solution, you need to break it down and think about it further.  A user doesn’t want to type in everything all the time, so we should try to tie in to their cell phone, calendars etc.  This is a good Big Data problem.  But we can take this even further and add in IoT to deliver even further value.  What if I had a gps on my car (or phone) and it could give me reminders on when I need to get places.  What if every car had this built in?  We leverage that data for further intelligence.

Another Problem:

My sister is living in New Zealand for 1 whole year to backpack. She didn’t plan a single thing. What are the optimal things she can do for the least amount of money from an adventure standpoint. How much of what does she need to pack? Hiking, Swimming, Sightseeing, Spelunking etc.

Again, the root of this problem is big data, but I also have security concerns for my sister.  We should tie in the intelligence that we are building to gain further security for her going to these foreign lands.

Aggregation of trends and ideas

So I hope you can see from these two simple top of mind examples that value is derived by starting with problems and frustrations that people have and solving them with these mega trends in mind.  The goal is to offload complex process and thought.  By keeping in mind the root problem, the goal to reduce human workload and the mega trends that have survived, inventing ideas that deliver value is possible.  Once you can map to a mega trend it is typically straightforward to map that to an actual technology implementation.

Mapping Idea to Technology Implementation

Lets pick one example, the “My sister is living in New Zealand” example.  We need a database for storing users.  SQL Azure is perfect for this, we will definitely have a lot of relational data here.  I need to produce an app that queries information and does analytics.  The entry point for every cross platform app will be restful apis.  Web API 2.2 with OAuth against twitter, facebook, google, AD is a definite.  I need html 5/javascript for the user interfaces.  I probably need to mind the internet, so I will probably deploy to Azure Websites and use Web Jobs on a schedule for scraping data about the various geographic regions.  Probably post raw data into Blob storage and use Azure Data Factory to pipe that along to a new format, probably SQL or Document DB.  This can all get surfaced via APIs, and I can possibly even predict based on a rating system what other things my sister might like doing by using Azure Machine Learning.

At this point I have transformed my basic problem into a basic technology mapping.  It is now time that I can begin building teams around this.  My team format will consist of the following:

Engineering – 4 engineers

2 Engineers who are primary front end with overlap with APIs

1 Engineer who is primarily APIs with overlap in database.

1 Engineer who is primary Infrastructure and Database during development and shifts to operations after deployment (may need to hire 1 more here after first release)

Corp – 3

1 Sales/Marketing, Customer Outreach and product validation

1 Finance/Law

1 Product Management/Feature detail

Trust your Team

Each member of the team is assigned a task for research, understanding and product growth.  If each person does a good job and all trust each other, you have yourself a great machine.  At this point with a team assembled whom you trust, product development can begin.

Summary

So in this article I walked through “What is Technology and why is it helpful?”.  What the 4 mega trends are and debunked the concept that for Big Data you need Big Data tools.  We also walked through 2 sample problems that deliver value, how they map to those mega trends, and then mapped one of those problems to a basic technology map and boiled that down to a simple team composition for delivery.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need assistance with anything, feel free to tweet me @DavidCrook1988

 

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