Watch out, CIOs. Another buzzword is coming to disrupt your business—and apparently not many of you are ready.
The latest buzzword? Hyperconnectivity, or “the sharp increase in the interconnectedness of people, organizations and objects that has resulted from three consecutive waves of technology innovation: the Internet, mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT),” writes the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its recent report Hyperconnected Organizations: How Businesses are Adapting to the Hyperconnected Age.
In other words, hyperconnectivity is the umbrella term for the Internet, mobile phones, the Internet of Things, e-commerce, and big data.
It’s not a new term; the World Economic Forum has been talking about it for a couple of years now. “By 2020, there will be 50 billion networked devices,” the organization writes. “This level of connectivity will have profound social, political and economic consequences, and increasingly form part of our everyday lives, from the cars we drive and medicines we take, to the jobs we do and the governance systems we live in.”
The operative—and potentially creepy—part of hyperconnectivity is how much of it will theoretically happen without conscious effort on our part.
“For me, hyperconnectivity is very much like the human brain,” said Robert Madelin, Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission, in the 2013 WEF report. “Our conscious activity is a tiny tip of the iceberg of what’s going on in our head, we don’t know everything that’s going on every moment, we don’t have to think to breathe. And our vision of the hyperconnected world should be like that: that we are still in control, but good things are going on as a result of hyperconnectivity.”
While the concepts underlying it have been under discussion for a while now, the umbrella term itself is increasingly becoming part of the zeitgeist, threatening to disrupt everything from advertising to retail, not to mention being used as the proximate cause for social upheaval ranging from the Arab Spring to the 2008 U.S. Presidential primary.
“The sudden fall of long-lasting dictatorships in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya was accomplished with a new type of revolutionary ammunition: social media,” writes Adrian Cheok, author of Hyperconnectivity and the Future of Internet Communication, and City University London Professor of Pervasive Computing. “The fast-paced dynamic of the interactions between users involved in the Tunisian and subsequently, the Egyptian cyberspaces, was motivated by the time-independent, non-physical mobilization of people. These social networking platforms represent a new milestone of the globalization process and certainly a new and promising venue for collective opinion sharing.”
Part of the challenge in hyperconnectivity, though—and the reason the WEF is interested—is that by definition it transcends geographic borders. But issues such as data sovereignty and different rules on data privacy and data taxation are becoming more prevalent, not less. “You can’t hyperconnect the world technologically and divide it by imagining jurisdictional borders,” writes Madelin.
Interestingly, executives surveyed by the EIU noted that they considered existing competitors, not startups, to be their primary threat brought by hyperconnectivity. “Executives are more concerned with competition from existing companies than with being wiped out by a wave of new-tech upstarts,” writes the EIU. “Some 57 percent say that they have faced notable competitive pressure from digital products launched by established companies, compared with less than half who feel pressure from digital start-ups.”
Certainly, that goes against the conventional disruption wisdom: that two guys in a garage are going to develop something in their spare time that puts your multimillion-dollar company out of business.
But, this also demonstrates that larger companies have been paying attention to all the articles out there about being disrupted, the EIU explains. “While the likes of Amazon and Airbnb are highly visible owing to their novelty, in many industries established players remain dominant,” the EIU writes. “In these sectors, the main contribution of digital start-ups has been to force companies to adopt digital practices.”
Similarly, the Internet is still seen by survey respondents as having more potential to be revolutionary than mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), the EIU report notes. “This is true even among industries such as manufacturing, in which embedded IoT connectivity is expected to have far-ranging implications,” the EIU writes. “This suggests that companies expect the future impact of hyperconnectivity to be a continuation of historical trends, rather than introducing new and unprecedented changes.”
Another contradiction between views of survey respondents is that, on the one hand, “Six out of ten survey respondents agree that failing to adapt to hyperconnectivity is the biggest challenge their company faces,” the EIU writes. On the other hand, fewer than half of respondents said they had introduced digital skills training. “And while experts predict that it calls for deep organizational change, just under one in five (19%) expect to reshape their business ‘radically’ in response to hyperconnectivity.”
The EIU report ends with a pretty strong call to action. “The consensus among experts in the field is that gradual progress will not be enough to meet the growing competitive pressure that companies will encounter as hyperconnectivity intensifies,” the report notes.
“They believe radical restructuring is in order—and yet only one in five survey respondents expect to undertake such an endeavour. This implies a deficit in leadership. Whether or not they appoint an executive with specific responsibility for digital business, organisations will only effect substantial change if it is led from the top. The hyperconnected economy calls for hyperconnected leaders.”
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