Monthly Archives: August 2017

Technology of Nations

In 1776, Scottish economist and philosopher, Adam Smith wrote the masterpiece, ‘The Wealth of Nations’- actually ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”. By coincidence, the United States Declaration of Independence was adopted the same year, making the American colonies independent and thus no longer a part of the British Empire.

America has since evolved to dominate the old British Empire in virtually every aspect of human endeavors, except perhaps, social welfare. The Yankees figuratively were discipled by Dr. Smith who believed in free market and made his argument that ‘capitalism’ will benefit mankind than any other economic structure. He laid this foundation at the onset of industrial revolution and provided the basics for modern economics.

Smith made his case about the ‘invisible hand’ and why monopoly and undue and unfettered government regulations or interference in market and industry must be discouraged. He was of the opinion that prudent allocation of resources cannot happen when states dominate and over interfere.

In that old time, America farmers could grow cotton, but would not process it. It has to be sent to England where it would later be imported into U.S as a finished product. Understanding that this decision was not due to lack of processing ability, you will appreciate Smith’s argument that market must be free.

His theses were clear and were very influential; they provided the same level of fulcrum to Economics as Isaac Newton’s Mathematica Prinicipia to Physics. Or in modern times, Bill Gates’ Windows to the information economy.

While reading Smith’s book and understanding the time frame it was written, one cannot but appreciate the intellectual rigor in that piece. Before technology was penetrated in en mass across the regions of the world, he noted that all nations could compete at par in agricultural productivity. The reason was absence of division of labor in any subsistence farming system in the world. A farmer does everything in the farm and is not an expert in most.

Discounting fertile land, rain and other factors that could help farmers, all the farmers, from Africa to plantations in Alabama, the level of productivity was similar. Why? No specialization was employed in farming business at the time.

Fast track forward when the industrial revolution set forth. The British Empire became an engine of wealth creation through automation. It was a quintessential period of unrivalled human productivity which resulted to enormous wealth created in the empire. Technology not only helped speed process execution, it helped in division of labor.

Interestingly, Dr Smith had noted that except agriculture where productivity was flat because of lack of division of labor, other industries were doing just fine. And in those industries, there were organized structures which enabled division of labor. For instance in the construction industry, there were bricklayers, carpenters, painters, and so on; but a farmer was a farmer.

As you read through Wealth of Nations and observe the 21st century, it becomes evident that technology was so influential in the last few centuries. It has changed our structures and created a new business adaptation rules like outsourcing which is indeed a new breed of division of labor.

From accumulation of stock and pricing, as explained by Dr. Smith, we see today a world where technology is shaping everything in very fundamental ways for wealth creation. In this era, it has become technology as technology translates to wealth. So, nations that focus on creating, diffusing and penetrating technology will do well.

Why? It is about national technology DNA. The more passionate and innovative nations are triumphing at the global business scene. Give me Japan and I will give you electronics. Talk about United States, I will share biotechnology and pharmaceutical technologies, and indeed every major technology. Give me China, and I will give you green technologies.

So, as nations continue to compete on the technology paradigm, we see at the highest level of success measurement an embodiment captured by technology capability. When nations are understood from the lens of their Technology Readiness Index, Knowledge Economic Index, we see that countries have become technology competing nodes. In some really poor countries with no (effectual) technology, they do not have a node and are unplugged in the sphere of global wealth creation.

Simply, it will be difficult to separate the health of any modern economy from its technology. It goes beyond the wealth of that nation to its survivability. The most advanced nations are the technology juggernauts while the least developing economics barely record any technology penetration impact. For the latter, it is like still living in the pre-industrial age Dr. Smith discussed on agriculture and division of labor where processes were inefficient.

Perhaps, this explains the efficiency in developed world in both the public and private arenas. The more technologies they diffuse, the more productive they become. In other words, show me the technology and I will tell you where the nation stands in the league of countries. Interestingly, the invention of steam engine changed the world and powered the industrial revolution. The invention of transistor transformed the 20th century and is fuelling the new innovation century.

It seems that major scientific breakthroughs bring major great countries. Let me emphasize here that some old kingdoms that ruled the world such as the old Babylon, Roman Empire, and Pharaoh’s Egypt; there have been associated knowledge base that put them ahead. You cannot disassociate good crop production in River Nile to the mastery of Egyptians in inventing some sections of geometry for farming. Some of the old wars had been won by developing constructs that enabled efficient transportation of soldiers to battleground. There was science and nations were winning by using that knowledge.

In conclusion, the world has been living on technology and it is indeed defining our competitive space. As nations compete, it is technology that shapes the world with wealth as the major byproducts, in some cases. I make this case because some of the best technologies had been invented for non-wealth reasons (yes, directly). Examples include Internet and radar technologies which have created wealth and spurred commercial innovations but have military origins.

There could not be any more powerful way of examining national competitiveness than understanding the technology of nations. Yes, wealth has since morphed to technology and all competitions and wealth creation could as well be seen from technology viewpoint. And in this piece, I aptly replace Dr. Smith’s ‘wealth’ with ‘technology’ to have The Technology of Nations.

March of the Green Technology

Technology has been defined in several ways. The simplest is the knowledge of using tools and techniques to improve the working condition, organizational management and artistic perspective in order to improve the efficiency of product, machine or human efforts. The primitive man is known for intelligent use of stone to convert it into weapon and shelter houses. The use of animal skin and bark of trees for covering body was a step towards fabric technology. The knowledge of technology to control the fire radically changed the status of man learning to add new items in his food menu and getting warmth in a cold climate. The wheel has brought us to the present state of global conveyance Flinging of leg bones into the space after a good and hefty meal inspired space odyssey. Information technology spear headed by internet has its origin in smoke signals and more recently to printing presses. Now we have industrial, educational, information, medical, visual, micro, nano, and domestic technology to name a few.

Technology is not singularly applied by human kind to give impetus to his objectives. The animals and birds have also excelled in carving out technological wonders comparable and sometimes better than us. The nest of the weaving birds, signals from dolphins, breaking of coconut shells by monkeys, domestic technology of ants, technology of descent from an acute slope by elephants, migration of birds to places akin to their need and requirements, waiting for air to become hot before taking to a flight by kites and other heavy size birds and dropping of stone pallets to raise the water level in a narrow necked pitcher by crows are some to refresh the memory. Look towards the sky in the evening. You shall find ducks flying in inverted V formation, giving others the advantage of vacuum and stream line motion.

There is a difference in how the primates of yester years behaved, how animals and birds around us make use of the technology and how we are using it. The difference is great. Their efforts were and are always in improving their living condition compatible to the environment. Our efforts are diversified in many ways. Some are good, some are bad and some are ugly. Lately, with the onset of industrial revolution, we have mostly added to pollution load of the environment or developed weapons of mass destruction. Technology which used to improve machine efficiency has focused its attention to human efficiency. We call it productivity. We pretend to exploit it as outsourcing. Green technology had no option but to introduce it and take charge of the entire state of affairs created by the human kind.

Green technology targets for an appropriate, equitable and sustainable environment by interlacing all known technologies and human involvement with environmental science to conserve and upgrade the environment and bringing it back to the quality available some 300 years back. Green technology could be termed as a refinement in the available technology in as much as, it helps in managing pollution of all kinds in such a way that these turn out to be ecological and economically friendly.

Technologies that are green are rated by their carbon footprints. A competitive and successful green technology has a low set of greenhouse gas emissions from persons, product, process, event or organization. There are two ways to achieve the objective. The first which may be termed as green acts, is to recycle the waste, reuse through reconditioning and other alternatives, reduce resource consumption and to conserve available natural resources. The second which is creating a green conditions, is to evolve technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions thus reducing carbon footprint. These measures have proven effect on global warming reduction.

The first category of green technology is to encourage and redefine the conventional ways of keeping carbon footprints at a low level. These are recycling and its extension to water and air purification, solid waste treatment including sewage treatment.

Recycling defines environment by conservation at its best. Used materials generally thrown as waste is recycled into new products. Composting is an age old concept of recycling green waste into manure. Recycling plastic waste into new plastic products is most prevalent now. Recycling reduces fresh raw material consumption by utilizing middling and scraps. It reduces wastage of energy that is required to convert fresh raw material into end products It reduces air pollution as waste is now recycled instead of incineration. It reduces water pollution as there is less land filling thus reducing leachate reaching water bodies.

Waste water is purified by chemical, mechanical and biological processes to convert it into drinking and other usage. Air is purified both in industries as well as places of human habitation in closed spaces. Industrial air pollutant such as Sulfur oxides gives back Sulfuric acid, particulates such as fire ash is converted into cement and bricks. Solid waste generation from human habitat is segregated into bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable waste. Bio-degradable waste is composted into manure and bio-fuel. Non-bio-degradable waste is further separated into metal, glass, plastic etc. The first three are used as intermediate raw material and recycled into the production pipeline to get useful products. Hazardous waste materials are suitably treated to non-hazardous entity and then most of these are also recycled. Sewage treatment has acquired a state of the art technology. It is treated to make it free from parasites, bacteria, fungi, algae and viruses. Treated solid waste is used as manure and the treated waste water is either used for irrigation or further treated to make it fit for domestic use.

Green technology that creates and sustains green condition has focused its attention primarily on renewable energy resources. Renewable energy such as solar, wind, tidal, nuclear and geothermal have been identified as having minimum greenhouse gas emission and has tremendous potential to replace the conventional energy providers such as fossil fuel and petroleum. The latter are non renewable energy resources that are major pollutants and major reasons for greenhouse gas emissions.

Green products are a category in itself as it has both the properties of reducing greenhouse gases and replacing highly polluting non-renewable energy resources. Fuel cells are one example. It eliminates air pollution from automobiles and it replaces hydrocarbon fuel. Plastic cement manufactured from waste plastic bottles is another example. This product takes less energy for its preparation than the conventional cement manufactured from iron slag, lime and sand. Moreover, this plastic cement has more permeability and hence can breathe better. Rain water can filter through surfaces prepared from it and hence enrich the water table beneath.

These days, market is getting flooded with toxic plastic toys which are highly injurious to the delicate and tender toddlers. These are being replaced by toys made from recycled plastic bottles. The latest innovation in this segment is fabric made from used plastic bottles material. Dress material for Cricket India members are made from this fabric.

Green technology is catching fast the computer software segment too. Now there is software which shall alarm you from wastage of electricity while you are in your home or at the other side of the globe.

There has been a lame excuse floating around that shifting to green technology requires too much research and development and the cost of implementation is very high. It may be appropriate for some such endeavors such as technology for geothermal energy usage. It is also argued that it takes lot of time to break even. Here, people fail to compare such logic with technologies that are in use and later revised to green technology. An instance in case is the steam engine which saw transition to diesel engine and now almost replaced by electric engines and in near future with electromagnetic induction forces and magnetic forces. A time cycle would show that invention and commissioning of coal driven steam engine took a far longer maturing time than electric engine or the future versions. All such transformations are far too profit friendly. Break-even time has also been quite low.

You may expect wonders in the future with the advent of nano technology. Imagine a chip grafted in your brain to replace computers which are one of the major consumers of electric energy and are generating huge electronic waste. You should start dreaming of recharging your space vehicle with universally available solar energy replacing high cost, highly pollutant and heavy weight, cryogenic fuel. You may have the pleasure of travelling in identified flying objects to several light year distant part of the universe.

The Importance of Technology

Technology refers to the collection of tools that make it easier to use, create, manage and exchange information.

In the earlier times, the use of tools by human beings was for the process of discovery and evolution. Tools remained the same for a long time in the earlier part of the history of mankind but it was also the complex human behaviors and tools of this era that modern language began as believed by many archeologists.

Technology refers the knowledge and utilization of tools, techniques and systems in order to serve a bigger purpose like solving problems or making life easier and better. Its significance on humans is tremendous because technology helps them adapt to the environment. The development of high technology including computer technology’s Internet and the telephone has helped conquer communication barriers and bridge the gap between people all over the world. While there are advantages to constant evolution of technology, their evolution has also seen the increase of its destructive power as apparent in the creation of weapons of all kinds.

In a broader sense, technology affects societies in the development of advanced economies, making life more convenient to more people that have access to such technology. But while it continues to offer better means to man’s day to day living, it also has unwanted results such as pollution, depletion of natural resources to the great disadvantage of the planet. Its influence on society can also be seen in how people use technology and its ethical significance in the society. Debates on the advantages and disadvantages of technology constantly arise questioning the impact of technology on the improvement or worsening of human condition. Some movements have even risen to criticize its harmful effects on the environment and its ways of alienating people. Still, there are others that view technology as beneficial to progress and the human condition. In fact, technology has evolved to serve not just human beings but also other members of the animal species as well.

Technology is often seen as a consequence of science and engineering. Through the years, new technologies and methods have been developed through research and development. The advancements of both science and technology have resulted to incremental development and disruptive technology. An example of incremental development is the gradual replacement of compact discs with DVD. While disruptive developments are automobiles replacing horse carriages. The evolution of technologies marks the significant development of other technologies in different fields, like nano technology, biotechnology, robotics, cognitive science, artificial intelligence and information technology.

The rise of technologies is a result of present day innovations in the varied fields of technology. Some of these technologies combine power to achieve the same goals. This is referred to as converging technologies. Convergence is the process of combining separate technologies and merging resources to be more interactive and user friendly. An example of this would be high technology with telephony features as well as data productivity and video combined features. Today technical innovations representing progressive developments are emerging to make use of technology’s competitive advantage. Through convergence of technologies, different fields combine together to produce similar goals.

Managing Technology Within An Organization

When it comes to technology solutions for your business it is easy to get carried away with the latest-and-greatest gadgets and solutions. Everyone wants to have the latest shiny thing. In larger organizations, managing technology can become burdensome due to competing and duplicative technology requests. Left unfettered, the company technology platform can resemble a “spaghetti bowl” over time. Often is the case, new technology requests are submitted without any business case to support their investment.

I am a big proponent of having non-technology business leaders play an active role in the determination of the technology solutions utilized at an organization. While it is critical to include an IT perspective from a technical interface standpoint, having non-IT personnel drive technology solutions often lead to decisions based on thebusiness needs of the organization. As such, any technology request would require a business plan to support the investment.

Form A Technology Committee: This is the start of your technology approval process. Create a technology committee that represents various personnel from cross-functional departments. Consider selecting an operations, marketing, accounting, technology and finance member to this team. This committee is charged with creating the process for submitting technology solution requests for the organization as well as providing the prioritization and ultimately, approval of the requests.

Develop A Submittal Process: Inherent in a well-thought through technology strategy for an organization is developing a process for the submission of ideas. Following the “garbage-in, garbage-out” mindset, developing a detailed process for submission will help weed out the “nice to haves” and focus the committee on real, tangible solutions. This process should not only include the technology solution identified, but as importantly, the business case for its justification. For approved projects in the queue, a monthly communication should be sent to the organization recapping the activity of the committee.

Focus Your Projects: A technology committee creates focus throughout the organization. While it would be great to have every new iteration of technology that gets released, that is impractical and costly. The committee can help with providing a high-level perspective on the entire enterprise since it is considering all requests. All to often, departmental requests have a tendency to be created in a silo, with only the impact on that department considered.

Need To Have Vs. Nice To Have: This is a biggie. It is easy to feel that an iPhone 3 becomes obsolete as soon as the iPhone 4 is released, but when the technology is run by the committee, the “nice to haves” usually fail due to a lack of business case. The committee allows the organization to run with an unbiased interference with respect to technology. The committee is charged with improving ROI on technology solutions and since it is comprised cross-departmentally, there should be no “pet” projects.

One Project, Big Picture: I have headed a technology committee in the past and the greatest “aha” moment for me was the amount of similar technology solutions that were being presented from different departments. Had all of these requests been accepted, the organization would have overspent IT dollars as well as created duplicative solutions to the same issues. The committee allows for its members to “rise above” the fray of the organization and view the technology requests in the big picture. The committee’s goal was to ensure that any approved request was accretive to the overall company.

Create A Business Case: This is the best way to clear out the clutter. Ask employees what they need from a technology solution and the committee will be inundated with ideas. Ask them to submit in a business case (cost justification for the investment) along with their solution and ideas are significantly reduced. The business case for a technology solution not only helps in identifying whether the investment is worth it, but also forces the author to think about how this solution interfaces within the existing platform.

Post Analysis: Lastly, carefully measuring the business case proforma against the actual cost/return of the projects not only holds the submitter responsible, but also the committee. The goal with the post analysis isn’t to “call people out”, but rather provide an unbiased financial review of the project. Without this type of post analysis measurement to hold this team accountable, the committee eventually will serve no purpose.