Tech titans tell Gartner symposium: be a ‘digital humanist’

We started the day with a keynote from Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft Corp. and we finished the day with the inventor of the Apple II – Steve Wozniak. A lot happened in between.

Nadella has talked about reinventing Microsoft as computing moves to the cloud. It’s fine to talk about this vision, but can a large legacy product company like Microsoft make that transition? We thought the best way to measure how Microsoft was making the shift was to look at Windows 10 as a litmus test of how Nadella’s vision for Microsoft was rolling out across the organization. After the keynote we were fortunate to get a private viewing from a Microsoft product marketing manager, which we can share with you in this sneak preview video.

Windows 10 – Has Microsoft turned the corner with an excellent design?

The key thing that struck me about Windows 10 was that Microsoft had gotten one aspect of cloud right. In the cloud, the customer drives the design. Great cloud companies innovate by listening better and paying real attention to the user experience. Under Nadella, Microsoft appears to have made this shift. Windows 10, at least from our early viewing is all about listening. It has brought back the best of the functions that users loved in earlier versions like XP. It’s added the best design elements from the new designs that have made their way to the Surface product and Windows 7. But it’s the fusion of these two that make the interface both familiar and innovative.

Check out our Windows 10 preview and judge for yourself. Has Microsoft finally got it right – have they pulled it all together? Have they really focused on user experience?

Time and again we would hear this message. Embracing the digital future isn’t about “gee whiz” technology and new features. The hallmark of the digital revolution is now focusing on how people use technology.

The Internet of Everything shows how to get real value from technology investments 

At Cisco Systems Inc.’s packed session on the Internet of Things (Iot) we got a similar message. Joseph Bradley, director of consulting services for Cisco talked about IoT not as technology, but from the idea of value.

The interest of both private companies and public enterprises in IoT is clear. There is a lot to be gained. According to Cisco’s survey of 7,000 plus companies,  there will be $19 trillion spent on IoT in the next 10 years.

$14.4 trillion of that will be spent in the private sector. That’s an amazing chunk of corporate profits. The public sector will spend less in real dollars – about $4.6 Trillion. But to keep that in perspective, by Cisco’s estimates, that’s about one-third of the expected productivity in the public sector over the next 10 years.

Why are they spending or investing this money? They are looking at the value that IoT can bring to both business and government.

The value, according to Bradley, is not in the number of connected things. Merely connecting things doesn’t add value. Value is created when the things that are connected give information that leads to insight and when that insight causes people to do something they would not have normally done. That requires data – but it also requires applications. Most of all it requires that people do something with the information.

Bradley gave a great illustration. He talked about a parking meter – a simple thing that we are all familiar with. The old parking meters were not connected. He called those a “dark asset.”

When you connect that parking meter and it starts sending data it’s no longer a “dark asset” but the mere connection doesn’t add any real value created. Who cares? It’s only when you add an application and convey that information to a human that we start creating value. So if a motorist can get that information to find a parking spot faster, time is saved, frustration is avoided and value is created. Or if a parking authority employee can use the sensors to find expired meters and be more efficient at ticketing for violations the government both earns and saves money. The motorist may not like it – but value is created.

This idea that value is created only when humans use information is a lesson for those of us in technology. Whether it be IoT, big data or the next big thing in technology, the real focus of the digital revolution is on humans and the value that they receive from technology in practical terms:

  • Increased productivity – doing more with less
  • Great customer experiences
  • Innovation – reducing time to market

Value occurs at the intersection of people, technology and information and it requires action.  It doesn’t take a digital transformation. Even when we only had small data – we still had big ideas.

The secret of Steve Wozniak’s success – nice guys can finish first 

Steve Wozniak proved that in his closing address. Wozniak, as you may know is the inventor of the Apple computer. Today this unassuming and modest man is a rock star. He’s joined icons like Steven Hawking on the Big Bang Theory – taking him into another generation who would regard the Apple II as a museum piece.

Wozniak talked about creating that first Apple computer with then partner Steve Jobs. The odds were not in their favour. Jobs and Wozniak weren’t the best students. They didn’t have huge amounts of money or the backing of a huge company like Gates had when he got IBM to buy his new operating system. Much of what was needed hadn’t been done commercially yet. The Apple computer was built in a garage with Wozniak creating many of the elements needed to make it work.

Why they succeeded contains lessons for us all as we develop technology solutions.

How do you sustain a relentless pursuit of something against all odds, with never enough resources and with an uncertain outcome. Sound familiar?

How to come up with that amazing design? Wozniak claimed it was a triumph of execution and design led by passion. We think of Wozniak as a genius – but if you listen to him, he doesn’t think he’s that special.   So how did this ordinary engineer come up with that amazing design? Wozniak says it was simple – he designed the Apple II for himself.   He designed it because he wanted a computer like that.  The designer of the Tesla – designed the car he wanted.  Jobs designed the iPhone that he wanted.  And it was Jobs who was famous for saying, “how can I expect our customers to love a product if I can’t love it.”

But design itself isn’t enough. Remember that value isn’t created by design alone. And value is created when technology – or the pursuit of it – allows humans to do something they couldn’t otherwise do.

So the second secret is that Wozniak values getting something done. He talked about being up for four days working on a puzzle – of getting his text books in university and being half-way through them before his courses started. He has respect for others, particularly engineers who do the same – get things done. He talked about joining a new and unknown company because a group of engineers he’d never met convinced him that they were fundamentally changing how servers worked.

How did these engineers manage to approach a man like Wozniak? It’s because he stays open. His advice on how we can all do that are worth listening to whether you are in business or technology.

“First, don’t take sides. A platform shouldn’t be a religion. Show respect – don’t call other people’s platforms bad. The only argument you have to win is with yourself,” he said. “Show respect for others. Don’t dismiss ideas as not good because they aren’t yours.”

His last point grows out of that respect and runs counter to the common wisdom that technology and business have to be hard hitting and aggressive. Wozniak says – be nice. “Make people like you. Getting it right is about getting the people thing right.  Empowering.  Enabling. Steve Jobs could have been nicer and still had great products.”

According to Wozniak – every step should let us live more like we do as humans.

You can disagree with Wozniak if you like – but you have to respect the technical genius, the accomplishments and the heart of a true digital humanist.

My takeaways from day three at the Gartner Symposium

These are my takeaways from another amazing day:

  • Design for people and the user experience.
  • Empower people to do things they couldn’t otherwise do.
  • Be passionate about technology and what it can do.
  • But never lose site of the fact that technology adds value only when it expands human capability.

Be a digital humanist.


Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO of a great company - IT World Canada - Canada's leading ICT publisher.

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