Tech Savvy

Steve Case on Surfing the Internet’s Next Big Wave

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

How to beat the Ubers of tomorrow: The book that every tech titan eventually gets around to penning has been a long time coming from Steve Case. “I am writing this book today,” explains the co-founder of AOL (through which half of the traffic on the Internet once flowed) and the co-architect of its jaw-dropping merger with Time Warner (condolences, Ted Turner), “because we are living at a pivotal point in history, and I want to offer whatever perspective I can to ensure a bright future.”

The perspective that Case offers in The Third Wave (with a bow to futurist Alvin Toffler) will be particularly interesting to the leaders of large companies that are well-established in their industries. He contends that we are entering a new phase of Internet growth. The first wave was focused on creating the infrastructure of the online world; it was dominated by companies like AOL, Cisco, and Microsoft. The second wave was driven by software as a service; it was — and still is — dominated by companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook. The third wave, says Case, will be “an era when the term ‘Internet-enabled’ will start to sound as ludicrous as the term ‘electricity-enabled.’” In this phase, the Internet of Things will become the Internet of Everything.

As the Internet permeates every product and service and spreads through every industry, it will create rich opportunities for established companies, says Case. That’s because there are high barriers to entry in many industries, and creating new platforms within them will require cross-sector partnerships as well as new governmental policies and regulations. An app created in a dorm room isn’t going to be enough to commercialize self-driving cars, for instance. That’s going to take a large-scale, concerted effort — the kind of effort that requires the resources and influence of large, established companies.

That’s the setting for The Third Wave. If you’d like to read more, Case describes what companies will have to do to successfully ride the next, big wave in the excerpt below, reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Robots need to be managed, too: Won’t it be nice to replace all those pesky humans at work? Well, maybe not. Robotics can appear to be a managerial panacea — lower costs, less backtalk, etc. But a couple of timely, new articles point out that they will come with their own set of challenges.

In the first, which appeared in Tech Crunch, Dmitry Slepov calls out the current infatuation with robots and reminds us that they’ve been hard at work doing complex tasks, like semiconductor manufacturing, for decades. The problem, warns Slepov, who is managing director of Tibbo Technology, “[is that] after watching numerous videos showing cool automation in action, it would be easy for you to get the wrong idea about how much effort it takes to automate anything.” Then, he proceeds to enumerate the many steps — and expenses — involved in putting robots to work after you buy one. Suffice it to say that the typical employee onboarding process looks like a breeze in comparison.

In the second article, in HBR.org, Michael Schrage points out that once you’ve got a robot on the job, your job is just beginning. “Brilliant, hard-working machines will require job reviews every bit as much as lazy and toxic humans,” says Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business and author of The Innovator’s Hypothesis. “Effective executives understand the productivity and customer loyalty future depends as much on motivating and managing their machines as inspiring their people.” So who’s going to be held accountable for the actions of, oh, a chatbot named Tay? Let’s just say, as Schrage does, “Empowering smart machines to — pun intended — live up to their potential may well become the essential new 21st-century leadership skill.”

Enhancing knowledge management initiatives: Social intranets, and their ways and means (wikis, blogs, microblogging, tagging, and bookmarking tools, file-sharing, etc.) are powerful enablers of knowledge management. But many large organizations are still struggling to realize their full potential. (For one thing, breaching siloes is easier said than done, as Gillian Tett recently showed in her book, The Silo Effect.)

A new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government offers some assistance with the challenge. Its author, Dr. Ines Mergel, a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, studied four governmental social intranets created to better share knowledge — one within the U.S. Department of State, one within NASA, and two cross-agency networks (one encompassing the U.S. intelligence community, and one across the Canadian government). She finds that initiatives have had mixed results, but she also uncovers three sets of insights regarding leadership, technology, and implementation that can enhance the success of large-scale knowledge management efforts.