The Good-Enough Technology Economy
In the opening vignette of this chapter, we described how digital cameras and phones with embedded cameras are outrageously correcting the camera and film industries. We noted that these new technologies are “good enough.” What did we mean? What does it mean to be good enough? While the answer probably won’t surprise you, the fact that good enough has become an important characteristic of today’s new economy may.
The good-enough technology economy is one marked by the lack of seeking perfection, focusing rather on getting “good enough” products out the door, often allowing them to evolve and improve over time through user feedback. It may sound rather nebulous, so let’s consider some examples.
Skype—If you use Skype’s service, you know that it’s definitely not perfect. But it works most of the time. And for pennies per minute, you can make international calls. See how that price compares to using traditional telephone service providers.
Cell phones—They aren’t perfect either. Sometimes the voice on the other end cuts in and out. Sometimes, calls are even dropped. But the technology is good enough because it makes you mobile.
Cameras in phones—Remember our opening discussion on the death of film-based cameras? Film-based cameras actually produce much better quality photos. But the phone in your camera is with you always and takes “good enough” quality photos.
Wireless connectivity—It’s good enough, again, because it makes you mobile. A hardwired Internet line is always much faster and less susceptible to interruption but wireless is good enough.
Let’s consider another example with which you are probably very familiar, Angry Birds. Rovio Mobile first released Angry Birds in December 2009. At the time we wrote this case study (July 2011), Rovio had released its sixth version, less than two years after the initial release. This is true for most smartphone apps. New releases are constantly coming out, each better than the previous version which was “good enough” to get out the door and in the hands of consumers.
Page 187If you explore the many examples of good-enough technologies, you can begin to extrapolate many of the nontraditional rules of this new economy.
Throw-away society—The average owner of a cell phone keeps his/her cell phone for slightly over 20 months before upgrading to a new one. The simple fact is that most people today don’t mind “throwing away” a perfectly good (or good-enough) product in favor of a new one. So, there’s no reason to seek product perfection (from a provider point of view) when most of your customers will upgrade to the next version without hesitation.
Focus on technology innovation failure—Innovation failure is not a characteristic of traditional business. “Old” business models focused on gathering data, holding numerous focus groups, launching repeated product betas, and seeking the golden moment of product perfection before market release. Today’s new business model focuses on getting something out the door, gathering data regarding its use, and then determining how to make it better with each new release. Because of this, many product releases fail. But they were cheap and time to market was short.
Speed of competitive innovation forces “good-enough” positions—The speed of innovation and change is unbelievable. In most industries, entry barriers no longer exist, making it possible for entrepreneurial efforts to penetrate markets overnight. Organizations today simply cannot afford to be in product development for years before releasing a perfect product. Amazon didn’t seek perfection for its Kindle. It got something out the door, and that something turned out to be “good enough” to transform the entire book publishing industry.
Perfection isn’t worth it—With the market moving so quickly and consumers being so willing to throw away existing versions in favor of new ones, it’s not worth it to seek perfection. In fact, you can probably make more money in the long haul by releasing an upgrade every year (that consumers can purchase) as opposed to releasing one really great version every five years.15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
1. As we alluded to, the outrageous transformation taking place in the camera and film industries is being caused by good-enough products, specifically digital cameras and phone-embedded cameras. Read the Outrageous Industry Transformation cases at the beginning of Chapters 2 through 8. Which corrections are being caused by good-enough technology products?
2. What does all this mean for systems development? In the good-enough technology economy, which will organizations come to rely on more heavily: insourcing, selfsourcing, or outsourcing? Can organizations afford to use the traditional SDLC and completely gather requirements before proceeding with development? For what systems can organizations still use the traditional SDLC?
Part 2 case study 2:
Tablets Take Their Place in the PC Market
The PC revolution changed the technology world beginning in the early 1980s. That was soon followed by the very bulky “luggables,” the first portable personal computers. Then, luggables became lightweight, ushering in the laptop era. In early 2000, Microsoft introduced the first tablet PC. Our society fully embraced Page 188the tablet PC concept when Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. Since then, the “personal computer” market has changed dramatically.
In March 2011, The Gartner Group downgraded its forecasted growth for worldwide PC shipments from 15.9 percent to just 10.5 percent.
Tablet and smartphone sales (in units) are expected to exceed PC sales by 2012.
By 2014, tablet and smartphones combined are predicted to represent 64 percent of all computers.
By 2017, approximately two tablet PCs will be sold for every three laptop computers worldwide.
Apple sold almost 15 million iPads in 2010, generating $9.5 billion in revenue. It is forecasted to sell 43.7 million iPads in 2011 and 63.3 million in 2012.
In August 2010, year-on-year growth of laptop unit sales went negative to [–]4%.
The tablet PC is no “flash in the pan.” It’s here and here to stay. With an ever-increasing focus on mobility and battery life, more and more consumers are choosing tablet PCs over their bigger, bulkier, and power-hungry desktop and laptop predecessors. Of course, Apple’s iPad is leading the charge, but others are sure to follow, creating a highly competitive market. Tablets are not just for personal use. All types of organizations are finding unique and innovative ways to incorporate tablet PCs into their operations.
The tablet PC is not much larger than the typical paper menu in a restaurant, but it offers much more functionality.
Flagstaff House (Boulder, Colorado’s best known restaurant) places iPads on each table to display its 2,500 1 wine list. According to Scott Monette, General Manager and Partner of Flagstaff, “When I saw the iPads come out, I thought it would be great to have our wine list on them. I was a little concerned that we should keep some paper lists around if people don’t want the iPad. But we haven’t had that happen yet.”
Food Well Built’s (a Southern California restaurant chain) tables come standard with an iPad so patrons can design and order meals, all without ever talking to the wait staff.
BJs Restaurants patrons can view menu options, including designing their own burgers and pizzas. Patrons can even pay for meals using the tablet PC.
Restaurants by Delta Airlines at JFK and LaGuardia airports provide tablets so patrons can order meals.
In Auburn, Maine, all kindergarteners now receive the Apple iPad2 as a part of their school supplies. The children use their tablet PCs to learn their ABCs, 1-2-3s, art, and music. According to Angus King, the former Maine Governor who championed the use of tablet PCs in the classroom, “If your students are engaged, you can teach them anything. If they’re bored and looking out the window, you can be Socrates and you’re not going to teach them anything. These devices are engaging.”
Not everyone shares Angus’s enthusiastic views. According to Larry Cuban, Stanford University professor emeritus and author of “Oversold and Underused: Computers in Schools,” there is no proof that children learn better in a technology-rich environment as opposed to by more traditional methods. He states, “There’s no evidence in research literature that giving iPads to 5-year-olds will improve their reading scores.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently approved the use of tablet PCs by pilots instead of paper charts and manuals. Many airlines, such as Delta, American, and Alaska Airlines, quickly made the transition to tablet PCs. Alaska Airlines is transitioning all of its 1,400 pilots to iPads. According to Randy Kleiger, a 15-year pilot for Alaska Airlines, “Now we have all the information in the iPad. And that makes it more efficient and safer.”
But again, some people believe that there may be downsides to the pilot-use of technology in the cockpit. For example, in November 2009 pilots of a Northwest Airlines flight flew past their destination while using a laptop and not talking to air traffic controllers. It’s rather like driving a car. The GPS system can be very useful, but something like texting can be a distraction.21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
1. Computers, using some AI techniques like those we discussed in Chapter 4, can learn. In the classroom while a child is using a tablet PC to learn the basics of addition, how can software Page 189be developed to aid in the learning process? Does this mean that teachers are no longer needed for some subjects? Are teachers needed in earlier grades while computer-based training can take over in later grades? Why or why not?
2. End-user systems, like those that allow patrons to order meals on an iPad, must be “idiot proof.” (We apologize for the crudeness of that term.) That is, systems must be usable without training and created in such a way, for example, that a patron at one table can’t accidentally change the order of a patron at another table. What does this mean for systems development? Can complex and complicated end-user systems be developed and deployed on tablet PCs so that people can use the systems without training and without intervention by a knowledgeable person such as a waiter or waitress?
Part 3 key terms:
1. Agile methodology
2. Analysis phase
3. Business requirement
4. Component-based development (CBD)
5. Critical success factor (CSF)
6. Design phase
7. Development phase
8. Extreme programming (XP) methodology
9. Feature creep
10. Good-enough technology