We are in the midst of a new era of innovation, and an entire generation of makers is emerging. These makers are enabled by direct access to a range of capabilities and building blocks that were previously only available to multi-million dollar corporations. They have unprecedented control over both the digital and physical world, access to unlimited computing capacity, and an entire Internet of data to exploit. These makers are reshaping not only the technology landscape, but also the practices and opportunities of traditional businesses. If you haven’t done so already, it is time to meet your makers.
Makers can instantly download free developer tools and advanced runtime environments to build new applications. They can spin up Cloud computing infrastructure in minutes to run these applications, accessing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computing infrastructure without any up front costs. They can choose from thousands of open APIs to add key capabilities into their applications, incorporating the best data and the best functionality available in the market without outlaying a penny of capital expense. Perhaps most amazingly, makers don’t need to be particularly sophisticated to take advantage of all of this – this is a mass movement, not an exclusive one.
The maker generation has been empowered by the removal of three key barriers that have traditionally kept this type of innovation in the hands of large corporations:
- Closed Systems
- Technological Complexity
The removal of economic barriers through the availability of Cloud computing has been a huge factor in the rise of the maker. Using Cloud services, developers have access to unlimited processing power, storage, and network infrastructure. They can also easily deploy applications across geographic boundaries, lowering the barriers to entering new markets. Pay-as-you-go models are standard, and elasticity is built-in, to allow makers to experiment at a very low cost, but easily scale to meet bursting demand when ideas catch on.
But the lowering of economic barriers has not been limited to Cloud. Universal mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, with commoditizing cost structures, has empowered anything, anywhere to be connectable. As they dream up their designs, makers can assume connectivity with a relatively high degree of reliability.
And perhaps the biggest and most current disruption is in the economics of microelectronics. Computers that would have powered businesses thirty years ago can now be shrunken down to postage stamp sizes. Battery technologies have evolved to remarkable lifespans, and energy to charge batteries can be collected from a variety of sources, including body heat and movement. And yet, with all this advancement, makers can buy an LTE capable microprocessor on the open market for under $10.
Closed System Barriers
While many of the early computing companies built their businesses on closed systems, computer systems have gradually evolved toward openness, inspired by Internet technologies like TCP/IP and HTTP, and communications technologies like Wi-Fi and GSM. Open programming frameworks like Java, and data formats like XML and JSON have lowered the barriers to interoperability, enabling makers to build new systems capable of interacting with the old. Open lightweight protocols like Bluetooth LE and MQ-TT have provided ways to easily bridge between the digital and physical world.
The most recent wave of technology innovation over the past ten years has produced advancements in open software technology like Hadoop, columnar databases, and document stores, all of which provide the tools for makers to manage and analyze huge volumes of data. And even commercial software companies now routinely offer their products through free download for development use, providing makers with limitless options without having to settle for second-class capabilities.
Technological Complexity Barriers
In my view, the biggest barrier to fall has been the one that has kept information technology in the control of a relatively small population of elite experts. The consumerization of technology, and the resulting simplification of its design, has created a huge accelerator for innovation, and vastly expanded the population of potential makers. Even 10 years ago, programming was mostly limited to technological whiz kids with advanced EE degrees or natural propensities toward mathematics and science. The barriers on the hardware side were even steeper, often requiring deep understanding of hardware architectures and embedded systems.
Perhaps most importantly, the drive toward simple Web APIs has inspired a whole new wave of Internet accessible capabilities with easy HTTP-based interfaces that can be learned in minutes. The result of this is a plethora of tools at the maker’s fingertips. Makers can combine data and functions from thousands of developers across thousands of companies, wiring together new applications in hours to achieve what would have taken weeks or months only a decade ago.
The reason why this is important is because these makers are driving much of the innovation happening in the technology marketplace today. These makers are changing business models, cross-pollinating capabilities and data into new markets, and opening up new channels. These makers are a potential innovation engine for your own data and capabilities. These makers think in new ways, find new uses for existing assets, and find ways to monetize things that were never thought of as valuable. Your competitors are likely dipping their toes into this innovation pool already, not relying on only their traditional IT teams to discover and drive innovation.
So where are these makers? With these barriers removed, they are emerging everywhere. Many of them likely exist in your own organization. They are out there thinking of an idea, perhaps searching for data, expertise, or capabilities that your organization could offer them. These makers are the people who will disrupt your market or lead your industry’s next great opportunity. If they aren’t empowered by your point of view, they will find other means to achieve their goals, many of which may directly compete with your own.
I suggest you make an effort to reach out and meet your makers and empower them before the opportunity passes you by.