Fall 2000


Related links.

Read Path of the Master Facilitator: A Systems Approach to Learning and Teaching. An e-book by T.Loyd.

Visit Cultureshift.com

Read Wired Magazine’s 2000 Digital Citizen report

Some of Loyd’s favorite books

Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance. L. Downes, C. Mui

Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy. P. Evans, T.S. Wurster

The Social Life of Information. J.S. Brown, P. Duguid


The other day I was angry. My face was red as a sunset. Heat radiated from my body as if I had just finished the Phoenix Marathon. I’m not sure what chemical creates this rage reaction, but a blood sample would have found it screaming through my body.

What put me in this happy mood? A simple comment made by an unsuspecting coworker in a teleconference on eLearning. He didn’t know it, but he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “This idea just isn’t going to work” he started. “You don’t know what it’s like out there. The Salespeople just don’t have the bandwidth.”

This certainly wasn’t the first time someone had mentioned the bandwidth problem. Trust me, I know what it’s like to be on the slow end of a dial-up connection. I dial in from hotel rooms across the country and access everything from our corporate Intranet to courses from UCLA.

During the teleconference, I was glad that I was calling in from Minneapolis, instead of sitting in the same room with this person. My proposal: Dealer personnel access simple HTML pages. This person acted as if I was asking them to download the entire Internet straight to their hard drives.

So, what was it about this comment that angered me? He had one opinion and I had another. Wasn’t he entitled to his belief?

I’m concerned that this type of thinking keeps us from coming up with breakthrough solutions.

So, instead of holding on to that anger, I set out to do a little research about the status of the promised revolution in information technology. What is fantasy and what is reality? Where exactly is the bleeding edge and how fast is it moving?

A Slice of Internet Life

If I ask you to describe the “bleeding edge” of technology, the very thin line that separates fantasy from reality, the possible from the available, where do you draw that line? How far out is reality in the dot-com universe? What technology is out of the lab, but not quite in the social consciousness? And why would you care?

In this new economy, we are being asked to take our companies through exponential growth. You can’t get there on incremental breakthroughs. You have to take Quantum Leaps! And we can’t take those leaps unless we’re willing to embrace the latest thinking in technology, both information and human performance technology.

The time of idea to marketplace gets shorter and shorter. Someone in Pennsylvania has an idea for a breakthrough product, they hook up with a venture capitalist in La Jolla, California, form an alliance with MIT lab in Massachusetts and, POW! They come to market before anyone else has the time to think of the same thing. And if they don’t get to market quickly enough, someone else will.

Technology that was fantasy only a few months ago is reality today. Knowing the directions that technology is going, and knowing what can be leveraged for competitive advantage, will keep us ahead of the competition.

This article is a discussion of the bleeding edge of technology. It describes technology that is not just a pipe dream. It is reality. Here we will describe the technology that is available, so you can begin to imagine how to leverage it for competitive advantage.

We will talk about four trends on the bleeding edge that are shaping the fast moving e-conomy. Those trends are:

q      Networking (It’s a Wired, Wired, Wired World)

q      High Speed Data Transmission (Big, Bad Bandwidth)

q      Processing Speed (Processing Power)

q      Wireless Technology (Mobile Madness)

So, let's get started by discussing the increasingly wired state of our work and that of our customers.

It’s a Wired, Wired, Wired World

Networks dramatically increase in value with each additional node or user.
—Metcalfe’s Law, Robert Metcalfe, Founder of 3Com

How indispensable is the telephone to today’s business, or to your personal life? Can you imagine living without a telephone? Now, ask yourself, how valuable would a telephone be if only 3% of the people you know owned a telephone? The value of the telephone is in direct proportion to the number of connections you can make with it. More phones, more value. More connections, more value.

How wired are we? Well, let’s look at this historically. In 1984, there were around 10,000 network connections in the United States. That means you could walk up to a terminal on the MIT campus, and type “Telnet Stanford,” and you would be connected with a computer on the Stanford campus on the other side of America.

Six years later, in 1990, the greater Boston area had approximately 10,000 network connections. By 1996, six more years, the MIT campus alone had 10,000 network connections. Each six-year period found more and more computers networked together, adding to the value. By this time, the value of the network connections has become indispensable.

But what would happen if we moved another six years into the future? How many connections would we find? Well, MIT estimates that in 2002 the MIT media lab alone will have around 10,000 network connections. And not all these network connections will be hooked up to desktop computers. Everything from the light switches to coffeepots will be networked. And most of these connections will be wireless.

Everywhere we look, everything and everyone is getting more and more wired. For example, a few weeks ago if you had gone to Nike.com, you could have seen real-time updates from Lance Armstrong’s heart rate monitor as he raced in the Tour de France.

Nike has also released the sdm[triax 100 Pedometer. A shoe-mounted sensor sends data to your watch. The watch recalls lap, split and distance information for 100 laps, plus max and minimum speeds, time in training zone, and total distance traveled. Results can be uploaded to your computer and emailed to friends around the world. It is possible to do a virtual race with competitors all around the world, each racing on his or her own track in their own time zone.

One more trend in the “wired world” category would be file sharing. The real revolution that Napster started was not stealing music. It was the peer-to-peer file sharing revolution, a HUGE trend to look for in coming months. Imagine a network that does not depend on servers, but each computer on the network becomes its own server. Amazing things can happen from that.

People in every demographic category are becoming increasingly “wired.” According to Wired Magazine’s 2000 Digital Citizen report, 31% of the people surveyed were identified as “very wired.” In the same poll in 1997, only 2% were identified as “very wired.” In the most recent survey, 78% were identified as either “somewhat wired,” or “very wired.”

How wired are your customers? Are they more wired than you or your sales force, or your customer service? Do you want them to be more wired than you are? At the rate our customers are getting wired, we need to move fast to beat them to the punch.

So, would you consider running an office, a sales force or a customer care unit without a telephone? How useful would you be to customers who have telephones? If customers are accessing the internet for business, we have got to be there too. What can we put out there for them to find? And how about wiring out products to take advantage of the information on board?

Big, Bad Bandwidth

The preferred method for transmitting data over long distances is with light photons transmitted over fiber-optic lines. These lines carry data at rates of gigabits per second. Over the years, a colossal fiber optics network has been built all over the United States. This year there are 17.4 million miles of fiber optic line in the US. By 2002, there will be 26.7 million miles. The amount of data being carried over these lines doubles every nine months, thanks in part to the ability to squeeze more wavelengths of light into each fiber.

The problem with bandwidth usually relates to “the last mile,” the wires that carry information from the telephone switching office to your business or home. Data that has crossed the country on high-speed fiber-optic lines must be squeezed through cable or twisted pair (telephone) lines. Most homes can only achieve a baud rate of 56Kbps. Several alternatives to this last mile problem are now available.

One solution, satellite technology, can currently deliver download speeds of 400Kbps, though the upload is still only through telephone lines, usually at 56K. By 2001, the iSky satellite systems will offer download speeds of up to 1.5Mbps. From 56Kbps to 1.5Mbps, that’s 26 times faster… that’s speed!

The speed of satellite downloads, however, pales when compared to laser technology. Airfiber.com is debuting a wireless optical network of rooftop nodes using lasers carrying voice, data and multimedia at speeds up to 622Mbps. That’s 400 times faster than a telephone T-1 line. Smokin’!

If you are waiting for the bandwidth to arrive, don’t wait too long. DSL lines, frame-relay and cable modems are already opening the way with more bandwidth promised in the near future. Agilent Technology has developed an “optical switch” which negates the need to switch from fiber optic to electronic switching gear. Imagine. Soon you could have data carried at the speed of light from a networked computer to your PC.

By 2010, even your PC processing power will probably be fiber-optic instead of electronic. This should make for some great processing power.

Processing Power

Every 18 months, processing power doubles while cost holds constant.
— Moore’s Law, Gordon Moore, Founder of Intel

How much processing power is enough? How much longer will Moore’s Law hold true? According to The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, you can expect to be able to buy a desktop computer with the processing power of a human brain for $1000 by (are you ready for this?) 2020. That’s just 20 years from now! And, even more shocking, by 2060 you should be able to buy a desktop computer with the processing power of a trillion human brains! Yikes!

So what happens when computers start designing the computers? How fast will they be? How much processing power will we have at our disposal then?

Last Christmas I bought a new 500Mhz machine. By this Christmas, the 1.5GHz machines will be available. Technology eventually becomes ubiquitous. Even today, the child’s toy Furby has more processing power than the Apollo Lunar Landing Module. Technology is everywhere…and I do mean everywhere.

Mobile Madness

According to Strategy Analytics, $17.3 billion worth of personal digital devices (cell phones, MP3 players, cameras and portable computers) were sold in the US last year. And these devices are getting smaller and smarter.

Imagine a service technician under the hood of your car, and instead of hooking up to a laptop, he connects his PalmPilot, which runs a pared down version of a diagnostic program, shoots the results up to a web page, and downloads a CPU adjustment. What if, instead of a service technician standing there, all of that is done via cell phone, with the call initiated by your car? And, what if the solution to this one car’s problems is evaluated and if it works, the web program spreads the solution like a vaccination to other cell phone-equipped cars with similar problems. And why not? It’s not some pipe dream we are all waiting for. It’s all doable with today’s technology.

What else is possible with today’s technology? A digital phone could integrate with sales force automation software, and prioritize your weekly schedule. Forget where your customer’s office is? No problem. Give a voice command to your cell phone and it will use a map downloaded from the Internet, along with up-to-the-minute traffic information and a GPS, to give you the fastest driving directions. “Your exit is coming up in three miles. Remember that Tom’s wife’s name is Jane, and they are both avid golfers. The PGA Tour tournament tickets are now available.”

You order the tickets via voice command and receive an electronic confirmation before you get out of the car. By the way, the device you used to do all this was on your wrist.

Mobile phone use will go from 11 million in 1990, to 500 million in 2000, to 1 billion by 2003. In 2003, 61.5 million people will be accessing the web via handheld wireless devices. In Finland, 1 billion text messages will be sent over cell phones this year.

Personal data assistants (PDA’s), cell phones, compact computers, are all merging into single devices that can do many functions.

Wrapping Up the Rant

What is the point of all of this? We tend to grossly underestimate the “wired” factor of our customers, suppliers, and employees. In doing so, we allow our paradigms to keep us from break-through ideas.

Do you think Internet start-up companies have the same self-limiting beliefs as traditional brick-and-mortar companies? No way. Somewhere out there, teams of people are coming up with the next breakthrough idea, which will launch four months from now. The only question is, will they be part of our enterprise, or will they be our competition? The answer is up to us.

When not working at the bleeding edge, Tony Loyd is the Manager of Learning Technology at John Deere in Davenport, Iowa. Write to him at LoydAnthony@JohnDeere.com.



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