As this is my first blog posting on our site, I thought it might be good to get on record my personal bias about what drives us on. So, I want to start with my thoughts on innovation and as a vehicle, how the evolution of the telephone went. It makes an interesting story…
|Date||What Changed?||How did it go?|
|1870||Telephone Service Offered||A pair of telephones were rented and installed, in two different locations. You wound your handle and the electricity passed via your single line, to the ringer on the other handset and, hey presto, it rang. This allowed a pair of modern gentlemen to look good and two butlers to arrange a brief conversation between their respective employers. Demand grew fast.|
|1878||The Local Exchange||Now a third-party was employed to have an exchange installed in his or her (well historically ‘her’ – see below) house. They would plug two lines together on request, typically 24 hours a day. You call them, they plug you into one of the other lines and off you go. Suddenly the phone was for speaking to one of several other people, but still likely in the same town.It is laughable now to read that to be such an operator, you had to be an unmarried woman between the ages of 17 and 26, have a ‘soothing voice and manner’ and have arms that could reach the limits of the switchboard.As time progressed, these exchanges became linked and you could be patched through to a distant exchange for long distance conversations. The model remained basically the same, although equipment improved and there was more centralisation of the exchanges.|
|1936||Speaking Clock||TIM was introduced in the UK. This is interesting as it is the first ‘new’ service since the initial introduction of speaking to another subscriber.|
|1951||Direct Dialling||Finally you could call a remote city and ask the operator there to connect you to the person you wanted to speak to!|
|1960s||IDD begins||Although many operators had been replaced by interesting arrays or complex switches and other automations, the conversion of the systems as a whole did not get underway until the 60s.At the same time, international direct dialling was also underway. Conversion took a long time in the UK, and it was really the early 1970s before you were pretty much sure to be able to dial directly to somebody in the distance. Dialling internationally was only available to a limited few.Numbers became longer and the trunk call were introduced. Nobody then sniggered about the use of STD as the standard way to refer to this.|
|1980||System X Introduced||True digital exchanges began their long introduction to the networks. Private circuits start a few years later.|
So what does it all mean, these 100 years of change? Is it innovation? The telephone was clearly quite an invention, as something new that did not previously have a true equivalent. Its uptake was driven by consumer demand and shaped by business, through years of commercial infighting. Standards competed and companies came and went.
Yet, the key lay with the innovation it brought. Innovation is not focused on invention, so much as being focused on what it lets us do. The business and the consumer were aligned in the need and desire for ubiquity of access to communication. Beyond that, the huge investment in shared infrastructure made new ways to communicate possible, way in excess of the original expectation of the original inventors, or indeed the investors. In all this, it seems clear that innovations, which do not provide value to a consumer, at some point along the way, are not innovation at all.
I see the Internet as having had a similar process of evolution. The cloud, itself already more of an innovation than an invention, is set to follow the same path. It frees business from the irritation of technology and allows new value to be the focus.
Innovation, at its best, is focused on the way the wider community responds to facilities that inventions offer. We have a whole field of open space to find that future, with more mobile computing, better communication and sharing across boundaries of function, department or even across companies. The future lies in that environment and we may well need further innovation to make that work. It is here that the focus of IT has value to add. Freedom for business to operate in innovative ways that are supported by technology, more than limited in what can be done by the technology we have in place!