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Ten strategic questions to ask about technology

So often conversations about technology tend toward the obvious and taken-for-granted, riddled with assumptions and unsupported conjecture. This post challenges you to think. Think different. Ask the difficult questions. Create interesting insights for yourself. Let me know what you think.

    1. You don’t have the right to choose: Why do you have a mobile phone, an email address or a computer? Can you choose not to have one? Understand the power relationships between actors in the value chain. Technology is spread because of unequal power relationships. For example, a company forces its suppliers to engage it through its electronic procurement system. Technology then, is often enforced and held in place due to unequal power relationships. If you want a successful technology, the question to ask is: How do you remove choice?
    2. Divided we stand: Is access simply about putting a device in someone’s hand? Giving people access to technology goes beyond putting a device within arm’s reach. You need to focus on access beyond a simple technological view, but from a broad social perspective. How do you create value by understanding technology from the three-capitals perspective? 1. Economic capital: Time to use it, place to use it. 2. Social capital: Who else encourages its use; with whom can it be used? 3. Cultural capital: Can users manipulate and express themselves using the technology; can they use it to their own advantage and make bigger things happen for themselves? I’ve written more about this here.
    3. Price is a red herring: Is affordability the reason that people don’t acquire certain technologies? Affordability is an important consideration, but a rational cost-benefit analysis does not always apply. A good example is prepaid vs contract mobile telephony. The latter is much cheaper than the former, but price is not the reason for the choice that most consumers make, and other considerations are more important than price, such as control over spending or even simply the inability to get the necessary credit approval to secure a contract.
    4. Create value through social velocity: How can the network effect help create value for users of your technology? Enable the network effect by increasing numbers of people in the network, and as a result the value for each member increases.
    5. The world is not flat: What information is kept out of the public domain, by whom and for what gain? What information can be codified and what information do stakeholders want to keep tacit or undocumented? How does this affect your ability to create certain technologies?
    6. Protect your turf: What can we learn from insurgents, or how can you lock out insurgents? How can your technologies disintermediate some actors, or reintermediate your business? Can you secure patents to ensure that you enjoy your position in the market?
    7. We don’t only work for money: What can be learnt from the open-source movement approach to creating new technologies in a commercial environment? How can the open-source movement contribute to the development of new software? What are other incentives for effort such as status and recognition or belonging and inclusion, instead of just money and bonuses? I’ve written more about this here.
    8. Context matters: Would Google have been the success it is if it were from South Africa? The social, cultural and political context of a technology can determine its success or failure.
    9. Regulations can be an enabler: Who holds the licence to operate? In any regulated environment, the incumbents enjoy a protected space. For example, the mobile network operators in South Africa operate as a relative monopoly held in place by telecommunications laws and licences.
    10. The merits of an idea rest in the messenger: Who is the champion of your technology? Executives set the agenda in organisations and they choose the technology projects that get attention and the resource support. How can you make them look good as a result of your technology’s success?