I recently met up with a former uni friend who now owns a medium-sized company specialising in mobile application solutions. The purpose of our meeting was driven by my role as a Digital Transformation Consultant. Ahead of our meeting, he requested a virtual introduction to his number two, the Head of Sales. This initial session seemed designed to assess my capabilities, experience, and vision. During our discussions, we delved into various options related to the company’s staffing needs, technical requirements, and opportunities for transformation. In the subsequent meeting with the owner, he explicitly expressed their admiration for my accomplishments. Our conversation traversed old times, industry insights, transformational approaches, and potential future directions. As a forward-thinking consultant specialising in digital transformation, my approach centres on offering comprehensive digitally-oriented solutions that stand the test of time i.e. future-proof. I made it clear that I steer clear of outdated approach and mindsets that have been proven to impede progress and innovation. He was somewhat taken aback by my candour, in which he replied, well in that case.. You’re not in my picture.
This isn’t the first instance where, as a forward-thinking Subject Matter Expert, I’ve encountered industry players who tightly cling to their legacy systems and solely focus on creating solutions within that framework and blame the external players and environment instead. It’s akin to Captain Ahab’s unwavering grip on his harpoon, even after Moby Dick claimed his leg. My former uni friend might be just one of the many execs and operators swayed by the notion that the future remains an uncertainty or unfair, making legacy systems the only dependable constants – a safer bet. This situation prompts critical questions: What does Digital Transformation truly entail? And more significantly, what form of transformation is our world currently undergoing? In the realm of organisational change initiatives, especially within intricate structures involving diverse shareholders, arriving at a consensus is imperative. In today’s landscape, the realms of business, politics, technology, and climate change are all interconnected. Global collaboration and competition have the dual effect of fostering unity and division. While mainstream media covers much of ongoing events, it’s widely acknowledged that concealed elements like historical contracts and secret treaties are also still in play. Nonetheless, one fact remains certain: global dominance hinges not on volume, but on the possession and access to the most advanced technology. Three main technological factors stand as the decider of such dominaton: Chipsets, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Space Exploration.
The emergence of the first publicly known semiconductor chipset took place in the United States during the late 1950s. Over the subsequent decade or so, its application was largely confined to governmental domains, particularly in military, scientific, and space exploration sectors. Some historical accounts even suggest that the groundwork for the chipset’s development was laid decades earlier, with Germany and Japan, usual participants in World War Two, making notable contributions. Moving into the early 1970s, a collaboration between Intel and the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation (which later evolved into NEC Corporation) gave rise to the MCS-4, a highly efficient set of four chip, renowned to be the first and best of its kind. This commenced the inception of an era defined by integrated electronics, fundamentally shaping the global landscape. Chipsets significantly hold the role of the brain and central nervous system of electronic devices, spanning both business and household realms. In mid 1970s, commercialisation begins. During this phase, Western nations, including the US, Germany, the UK, and Nordic countries, surged ahead and established themselves as leaders in the global chipset manufacturing arena. However, this dominance experienced a shift as the Cold War drew towards its conclusion, resulting in the restoration of relations between the West and China, and China’s entry into the global economy in 1979. Leveraging its cost-effective resources and a geographically neutral stance, Taiwan emerged as the prime location for the semiconductor industry. Presently, Taiwan with its TSMC holds 65% market share in global chipsets and serves as a key supplier to tech giants such as Apple Inc. and Nvidia gaming. Following Taiwan, South Korea’s Samsung, along with US-based Intel and Texas Instruments, assume following positions. Remarkable advancements in miniaturisation have been achieved, with chip dimensions now reaching an astonishingly diminutive scale of 2nm (IBM) and 3nm (Samsung). As the global geopolitical landscape dictates a souring relationship between the US and China, major nations find themselves once again the need to establish self-reliance. Countries like the US, alongside a handful of others, are strategically investing billions of dollars to rekindle domestic chip manufacturing capabilities and construct advanced fabrication facilities.
The year 2017 is the start of a tech industry narrative proclaiming the dawn of a fierce AI global supremacy race between the United States and China. Fast forward five years, and the consensus now leans towards China clinching victory in this race. Demonstrated by various use-case studies, China’s unique combination of accessibility to chip manufacturing hubs and its distinctive blend of capitalist-socialist governance has enabled a swift integration of AI-driven cutting-edge technology into the everyday lives of its citizens. This is due to high level of acceptance with minimal resistance, possibly stemming from the less open and autocratic nature of the society. Meanwhile, in Western counterparts, AI technologies have equally established their significance across a spectrum of applications, ranging from communication, entertainment, predictive analytics, to scientific breakthroughs. How this landscape is truly perceived is a matter veiled by closed doors, but some suggests that China (along with the UAE) leads the AI-driven domains of robotics and military engineering, whereas the West primarily channels AI towards enhancing quality of life and environmental well-being, often through conscientious AI algorithmic solutions. Remarkable achievements adorn both sides. In the grand scheme of our planet’s concerns, the focus rests on propelling the world forward in tandem with Artificial Intelligence as an ally. This journey must navigate challenges and regulatory intricacies that inevitably arise. The emergence of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and the Metaverse has led into new avenues of immersive and extraordinary experiences that were once confined to the realm of imagination. Amid the array of disparate visions that persist, the quest for resolutions takes on significant importance, steering what could otherwise turn into chaos. The UK has proactively initiated a slew of AI-centric events, with the upcoming AI Safety Summit scheduled for early November this year, inviting participation from likeminded nations. China, having displayed a proactive stance in regulating Generative AI domestically, should not be isolated from Western AI initiatives – particularly when it comes to regulations. This collaborative approach should seek to align the upcoming AI landscape.
Rocket propulsion field officially emerged in the early 20th century, heralding the start of a novel scientific journey. Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union entered a competitive sprint, each forging robust space programs. By the 1960s, both nations had achieved groundbreaking strides in rocket engine technology, enabling the launch of satellites and astronauts into the cosmos. The trajectory of spacecraft evolution has been truly astounding since the advent of the Space Age. Profound revolutions have unfurled across communication, navigation, computation, and design principles. From the inaugural flight of Sputnik 1 to the pinnacle of the Apollo Era, space missions advanced from rudimentary rockets and orbital capsules to intricate three-stage rockets and sophisticated spacecraft that triumphantly conveyed astronauts to the lunar surface. Following this epoch, further metamorphoses have unfolded, encompassing the transition from expendable launch vehicles to the development of reusable space planes and rockets designed for multiple flights. Within these domains, innovation and progress have surged, pushing the boundaries of what is attainable. Nonetheless, certain sectors have remained entrenched in a status quo reminiscent of the approaches employed during the Mercury, Vostok, and Apollo endeavours. In the 2020s, the dominance of space agenda transcends beyond the United States and Russia. Nations such as India, Japan, and China are dynamically initiating programs, vying to establish themselves as worthy space players. Their initiatives span the moon, Mars and asteroid missions. In parallel, the United States is on the brink of inaugurating the Artemis program—an ambitious venture set to culminate in a sequence of crewed deep-space odysseys. This program also encompasses the construction of a moon-orbiting space station in the forthcoming decade. Europe’s considerable involvement in Artemis is evidenced by its active participation, and soon, the continent will dispatch its inaugural robotic rover to Mars. Adding to this panorama, the UAE is poised to join the ranks of space-faring nations in 2020s embarking on an independent robotic mission to the Red Planet. What heightens the intrigue of these cosmic voyages is that they are not exclusively steered by developed countries and a few ambitious developing nations; corporations and private sectors have also carved their paths in the space exploration arena.
The dominance of the three main advanced-tech factors mentioned indicates that the US and its allies have led the course of global progression in the 20th century, until the emergence of China and Russia in the early 2010s, and the Middle East countries of late. This shift introduced a more balanced dynamic between the West and the East. However, due to events like the Ukraine invasion and the intense rivalry between the US and China, the year 2023 commenced with a renewed sense of division and hostility. As we approach the fourth quarter of 2023, we’re on the edge once again of the question, what is the world evolving into? The premise and preference of objectivity stands: until significant nations and the world achieve a level of democratic equilibrium, no groups or countries should hold domination of all three main-deciding factors in tech. Amidst this narrative, the strategy of digitalisation, particularly Digital Transformation, takes on significant importance in averting large-scale conflicts among entities and establishing a consensus on the optimal path toward a future-proof society. Consultants like myself commonly emphasise key aspects of transformational strategy, including identifying trends capable of rejuvenating industries, assessing core competencies and competitive distinctions, drawing inspiration from innovative approaches in other sectors, and challenging the objectivity of both established and enforced norms and the status quo. This strengthens the validity of what I conveyed to my former acquaintance. I firmly believe that when confronted with substantial obstacles impeding progress, legacy systems are often to blame. A multitude of case studies and the downfall of organisations of various sizes frequently trace their origins to legacy issues.
As long as an organisation reject the assessment of its legacy systems in order to open up possibilities of modifying, upgrading or replacing them – depending on findings, the following crucial elements such as: cultivating fresh ideas or platforms for business expansion, addressing genuine unmet needs in current and prospective markets, aligning with emerging or state-of-the-art technologies, and adopting new perspectives about the business’s essence, remain unattainable. Transformation mandates change, modernisation is inevitable. An entity that focuses solely on altering its external environment while neglecting to scrutinise its internal workings and existing systems and scan for toxicity, inefficiency, workflow sluggishness, security gaps, and the like, exposes itself to both crucial internal and external vulnerabilities. As a Consultant, it’s not in my habit to keep saying “I told you so,” but organisations of this nature are exceptionally vulnerable to becoming casualties of the “natural selection” inherent in intense competition, fierce screening and impact of an evolving tech-oriented ecosystem, thus becoming the weakest link. Any real robust, secure and efficient system will always cut off the nodes and connectivity deemed draining and compromising its highly-secure network ecosystem. It is based on the matter-antimatter principle of equal transaction. In light of the rise and proven efficacy of digital frameworks and technologies such as Blockchain and Quantum Computing, one certainty remains: next-gen systems that are aligned well with the future are inherently efficient and transparent. If the vision extends to securing an organisation’s longevity, accepting and embracing this non-negotiable truth becomes inevitable. Going back with the intention of changing the course is quite similar to the myth of Marty McFly and the Doc adventuring back and rummaging in 1800s wild west, without the fun bit but with extra-destruction mode as Thanos-on-steroids at his most bitter. Myth aside, it is a typical tactic done by those who already admit defeat but can’t bring themselves to accept it. Hence the need for buying time, only to repeat the exact same destructive cycle. On a lighter note, the entire universe knows Thanos only had one fate. Why would anyone ever want to change it?
In conclusion, to respond to my former uni friend who resentfully said “You’re not in my picture”, I am in a way thankful that anyone would be absolutely direct and honest with me and my approach, however dismissive and holier-than-thou the tone and manner were. Also the notion that I am not in his outdated picture, does give me a great sense of relief. I am resolutely moving forward, aiming for the future rather than regressing. So in essence, I can reciprocate: “Right back at you.. but it means you won’t be a part of my vision either”. And no, you can’t use my legacy. No pun intended.