Over the past few months, I had several opportunities to engage in the conversation about the role of Intellectual Property (IP) in the new world of Digital, and in so doing, I’ve managed to tease out certain key questions and concerns surrounding this topic, e.g.: What challenges and opportunities does IP bring to the Digital feast? How does the ‘sharing’ economy affect established notions of IP, and how effective are current efforts to update and harmonise IP in the digital age? The answers are slowly revealing themselves, but the following observation points will hopefully highlight the way.
What is Digital?
The term “Digital” means different things to different people, (including those that consider it an extremely irritating term for something old repackaged as a new ‘buzzword’). In my opinion, the term Digital can be used to describe various new and emerging products / services / processes / user behaviours etc., that are enabled by digital technology. It works equally well in describing innovative, disruptive trends (e.g. big data and predictive analytics) and / or re-imagination of pre-existing technologies (e.g. Cloud).
How does IP figure into it?
Intellectual property is the concept and mechanism through which creators and owners of “works of the mind” may derive economic benefits from their works (e.g.: inventions, designs, works of art, and trademarks). By its very nature, IP is constantly challenged by those self same things for which it was designed – e.g. printing press, audio-visual capture, playback and distribution technologies, and even this new fangled 3D printing. The Digital world merely amplifies an age old problem which reappears with alarming regularity with each new shift or breakthrough in technology. However, this particular incarnation also begs the question of whether the concept of IP is intrinsically flawed in a digital universe
Key Trends in society / technology / business
In any discussion on this topic (i.e. IP and the digital economy), you’ll invariably pick upon certain trends as key catalysts for change, which typically fall into any of following groups: socio-economic trends, technology trends and business trends. If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and give it a try with any of the following trends e.g.: social media, aging population, real-time dynamic pricing, predictive analytics, digital transformation, 3D printing, and even “sharing economy”. Such trends are redefining how we live and do business in a digital world, but are they all merely symptoms of the same phenomenon?
How will law and regulation keep up?
Not very well, I’m afraid. How can we best apply governance to emerging phenomena such as Digital? To say it is very difficult would be an understatement, considering that these changes also affect the law, and law makers, too. This is a perfect example of what city planners and business school professors consider to be a “wicked problem”. Existing rules of society and international law struggle to encompass the global reach and impact of digital technologies whereby information can spread, at the speed of light, to all corners of the world heralding the lofty dawn of unified global thought, sentiment and action, or anarchy. In order to remain relevant and useful, the concept of IP needs a major rethink and rework to align with a dynamic digital landscape. However, this is not the preserve of a few sovereign governments, and more needs to be done (at an international, collaborative level) to even begin nursing any hope of having an impact on Digital and human cultural evolution.
Digital transformation and business model innovation
In my opinion, the future of business lies in the ability to reinvent itself and take best advantage of the constantly emerging game-changing technologies, products, services, and usage paradigms. One such avenue is via business model innovation – a technique that makes use of a simple business model canvas to articulate any business model, in a fast and dynamic way. Technology is no longer a barrier to entry, therefore the true measure of fitness must have to do with a business model’s flexibility and adaptability (for competitive advantage) in the digital universe.
In summary, and regardless of where I’ve held these conversations (e.g. at the Copyright and Technology Conference, or Digital Economy and Law Conference, and even at the BCS, Chartered Institute for IT), these same questions and concerns have become a recurring theme.
Ps. I will look to delve into these topics at my next speaking event, on the 22nd of January 2014, and hope to provide further insight and provocative questions on digital economy and IP. Also, we’ll get to hear a speaker from one of the world’s foremost organisations at the forefront of Digital. Don’t miss it (or at least come by and say hello), if you happen to be in London on that day.
Digital technology has brought unprecedented change across all business sectors, and very few organisations can claim to be unaffected by the information age (e.g. via internet, mobile, social channels). However, this does not always translate to a need for that cause-all / cure-all catchphrase of technology or digital transformation.
Below are five commonly held myths associated with digital technology and enterprise transformation:
1 – Technology really drives the business
Only if your business is about creating and / or selling new technology, otherwise this is tantamount to placing the cart before the horse, or the tail wagging the dog – it may be possible, but not necessarily a good idea. The fact is that technology places way down the list of drivers for business change. Gartner’s Nexus of Forces which combine to impact businesses, although enabled by technology, relate mainly to changing paradigms (i.e. big data / cloud) and behaviours (i.e. social / mobility) rather than just pure technology
2 – Change technology; change your business
No, not really. Technology change is not the same thing as technology enabled change. The former relates to tools, whereas the latter is about the purpose for which said tools are used or acquired. For example, buying and using Salesforce will not automatically make yours a more customer centric organisation. Digital technology transformation is less about technology than the outcome of an architected approach to delivering fast, flexible and responsive services to customers
3 – Transform now or die!
Not all businesses will need to undergo an immediate or full blown technology change programme, as sometimes the only change required may just be around processes or service focus. A change in culture could have more significant and lasting impact in some organisations. For example, shifting from a reactive customer support environment towards proactive customer engagement will yield better results even if the tools remain the same!
4 – You need a team of tech-savvy whiz kids to transform your business
False. Most of the advantages of new digital technologies come from ability to provide fast and flexible services connected / delivered through standardised interfaces, which don’t require expert knowledge of the source system. The role of IT is fast evolving into an orchestrator and governor of the various external / internal services (including legacy systems / applications) that must work together to deliver said fast, flexible and responsive services to the internal / external customer
5 – The need for digital transformation will one day come to an end
No, no, no. There can be no real end to continuous digital evolution, especially when the rate of change is actually on the increase, no doubt spurred on by knock-on effects of fast changing technologies, user behaviours, customer expectations and competition. The ideal business lifecycle must embrace a process of continuous improvement with allowance for testing new business models, implementing changes (including technology related ones), evaluating the outcome, making further tweaks, and repeating the entire process all over. This cannot stop because as soon as an optimal solution is achieved the business environment changes again, thus necessitating another cycle
In summary, and perhaps somewhat ironically, digital technology is neither the root cause nor cure-all for many challenges facing organisations today. The need for transformation is often triggered by changing environments and / or behaviours (e.g. by customers, suppliers, partners or competitors), perhaps in combination with some innovation (technology based or otherwise), that ultimately impacts their bottom line.
Perhaps fittingly the real business impact of technology transformation comes from how it is deployed and used by the people within and outside the organisation. Each organisation must make the effort to understand its own particular situation, and to discover the right way forward. It is not an easy task, but with the right attitude and motivation from the top, it will be relatively less painful than just doing nothing.