There are two articles on the front page of the WSJ today (13 June 2013) about technology adoption that struck me. They juxtapose a leader and laggard, two extremes in the spectrum of technology adoption. Both organizations are federal government entities with national security missions. Let me preface by saying that both are very sophisticated users of technology, although it may not always seem that way.
The first story is called “How the NSA Could Get So Smart So Fast: Modern Computing Is Helping Companies and Governments Accurately Parse Vast Amounts of Data in a Matter of Minutes”. It describes how far the NSA has come over 5 years in the application of 3 critical technologies - database, machine learning and Hadoop - to parse very large volumes of phone, text and online communications data. Their progress is generating an awful lot of attention, anxiety and congressional inquiry because it has critical civil liberty and national security implications. It’s also an illustration of the impact of innovation, the power of rapid adoption and the disruptive potential of technology when it encroaches on the status quo, in this case constitutional interpretation and our sense of privacy. In the commercial world, adoption and innovation at this pace would be a case study in technology-driven competitive advantage and enterprise value creation.
The second story hardly strikes me as sensitive or mission critical. The headline is “NOW HEAR THIS: NAVY ABANDONS ALL CAPS: Official Communications, Long Written Large, Can Use Mixed Case; No Shouting”. So the US Navy is abandoning a legacy practice of using the all-caps Teletype language in its official communications. What makes this story so fascinating is that the Navy could only MAKE THIS SHIFT NOW after adopting A NEW MESSAGE SYSTEM THIS YEAR and NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY with the change. Some Navy officials are concerned that characters like @ or % might creep into the an official message. This feels like a collision of naval tradition with social media. I wonder, would the Navy be better off if all orders were issued in Twitter-speak – 140 characters. All kidding aside, if this story was about your technology company, what would it portray to your stakeholders? What would it say about your cultural ability to innovate, reinvent and apply technology for competitive advantage? What might it imply about your enterprise value? Many technology companies get trapped, held back by tradition and technology infrastructure that doesn’t keep up. Are you the leader of one of these?