The next big thing is…big
According to IDC the next big thing is: Scale. Plain and simple: Get ready for unprecedented scale, whether things will double, quadruple or even grow to 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 times this can and will happen in the next 4-5 years…

The keynote at their recent conference in Boston, made me think back to Andrew Grove’s book “Only the Paranoid Survive” where he defines “Strategic Inflection Points” (SIPs) where things that used to work, don’t anymore. Taking action at the right time is the key to success in technological advancements. Being complacent with the status quo will result in failure. A bit of fear is healthy. In fact, the paranoia of a changing world helps protect against complacency.

I believe scale is a Strategic Inflection Point.

What is creating the Strategic Inflection Point?
It should come as no surprise that this growth in numbers are driven by adoption of SMAC technologies (Social, Mobile, Analytics (Big Data) and Cloud). But SMAC – which IDC calls the 3rd platform – is only the foundation that is now setting the stage for Innovation Accelerators (Next Gen Security, Augmented & Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, Cognitive Systems, Robotics and 3D Printing). I was lucky enough to sit down with Frank Gens, SVP and Chief Analyst from IDC who delivered the keynote at the conference. According to Frank, the Innovation Accelerators are those who are going to disrupt existing businesses models and create competitive advantage via digital transformation (DX) strategies and eventually the SMAC technologies are going to be table-stakes.

IDC predicts that just in the Cognitive/AI space we will see a 50-fold increase due to deep learning, neural automation and general machine intelligence. When this is combined with the Internet of Things, the numbers get even bigger. The biggest numbers that Frank presented were 1,000 and 10,000 and they are related to “Customer Intimacy.”

Hard to comprehend scale
Now these numbers are staggering for most people to deal with, the reason is that humans struggle to understand exponential or logarithmic scales very well. And there is an excellent and funny blog on Artificial Intelligence which is explains this in much greater detail (if you have about 30 minutes) but here is the gist of it:

When it comes to history, humans think in straight lines – how much has the world changed in the last 10 years is likely to indicate how much it will change in the next 10 years. However, the past decade has introduced radical technological advancements, with technology changing at unprecedented rates. Starting with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, to the advent of the sharing economy (Uber, AirBnB) and the proliferation of social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) businesses cannot continue to operate in their usual marketing and sales strategies.

Technology is advancing quicker than we can imagine
Technology is changing so fast that predicting the near-future accurately has become difficult. In 2004 the foremost researchers Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane published their research in “The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market” predicted that in the foreseeable future computers wouldn’t be able to drive cars. Yet in 2010 Google had been driving +100,000 miles in their driver-less cars. And last month, a convoy of self-driving trucks drove through Germany to Rotterdam.

So, if the experts can get it wrong, where does that leave the rest of us?
Fortunately, Andy Groove did offer one method for identifying Strategic Inflection Points in this speech: “Some key warning signs that hint that the change you are dealing with make a Strategic Inflection Point is when it is clear to you that all of a sudden the company or the entity that you worry about has shifted. You have dealt with one particular company or establishment as a competitor all your life and all of a sudden you don’t care about them, you care about what somebody else thinks. I have this mental silver bullet test. If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it? If you change the direction of the gun, that is one of the signals that you may be dealing with something more than an ordinary shift in the competitive landscape.”

Customer Intimacy @Scale
As mentioned, the biggest numbers that Frank presented were 1,000 and 10,000 and they are related to “Customer Intimacy.” IDC believes that by 2018 most B2C and B2B will overhaul their “Digital Front Door” to support 1,000 to 10,000 more customers and touch points. Now, how do you wrap your head around that? How can your organization handle 1,000 times more of anything? Imagine getting 1,000 times more email or texts and you start feeling like Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty” when he tries to answer all the prayers God is receiving. In the movie, he gives up and says ‘Yes’ to all the prayers, obviously resulting in 1,000s of people winning the lottery.

What to do?
Well, customer intimacy on this scale is not going to be managed with the same technology infrastructure used today and certainly not by using traditional customer service representatives and sales people. Whether companies choose simple ChatBots or more sophisticated cognitive technologies such as IBM Watson or IPsoft’s Amelia, re-imagining customer service will be essential in order to compete effectively with the immense scale that is looming.

And not to make you paranoid, but somewhere somebody is thinking about how to disrupt your business with new approaches and technologies.

So, how are you going to “overhaul your Digital Front Door?”