Microsoft Inspire is Microsoft’s big partner conference, and I’m beginning to wonder if these things make sense anymore. The reason is that with the advancements like Microsoft Teams, it is becoming far easier to integrate partners into day-to-day operations more deeply. And I expect at some future point, events like Inspire will become redundant, because if you are talking to folks regularly and keeping them informed, you don’t need big events targeted at filling the same need.
One of the interesting comments that came out of Microsoft Inspire this year was in Satya Nadella’s keynote. He said that every company will need to become a tech company. He shared a statistic indicating that non-tech companies hire tech employees faster than tech companies to support his point.
Let’s talk about this comment, because I think it was profound and requires some discussion to flesh it out, so let’s talk about why a non-tech company needs to become a tech firm.
The 4th Industrial Revolution
We’ve been talking about the Industrial Revolution we are now in for some time. The technologies driving this latest massive change are artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and even quantum computing. These new, and except quantum computing, invasive technologies promise to improve productivity massively if installed adequately by increasing volume and lowering costs.
But, because these technologies are so invasive, to properly implement them, you’ll need people who understand the business deeply and the technology used to improve it. This dynamic was also confirmed during the early days of the PC revolution. IT couldn’t deploy PCs, because they had no more experience with the technology than the user did. And the user was closer to the problem to spin up a solution more quickly. But the lack of PC competency in the 1980s had many of us talking about eliminating IT as redundant back then.
IT doesn’t, generically, know much about robotics, IoT, AI, or especially quantum computing right now. This skill gap will need to get corrected, or there will be many expensive mistakes traced back to this lack of understanding. These technologies will impact performance — positive if done right, harmful if done wrong. As we move to autonomous machines, the risk of a mistake goes up astronomically.
In past technological advancements, the firms that moved early with little experience or knowledge tended to fail. Those who moved late found themselves passed by more aggressive competitors, suggesting that the ideal path is to move as fast as possible after developing the required competence.
Back when I was in Competitive Analysis class, one of my professors pointed out that firms often apply technology at a high rate of speed during times like this but don’t determine the right direction until later. He argued that you need to get the direction right before you hit the technology accelerator. Otherwise, you’ll go straight in the wrong direction.
Microsoft made a big point about moving to the enterprise metaverse and using IoT-connected digital twins for simulation and site management. But suppose you don’t have the requisite skills in house, folks who understand both the related technology and your unique business imperatives. In that case, you’ll end up with a costly and likely unusable mess. Satya pointed out other places to apply this combination of focused technical competency and related technology, like supply chain and product planning, both of which will benefit significantly from ever more competent AI integration.
Most of you are at least beginning to get this, because you are hiring tech experts at a pace faster than tech companies right now, according to Satya.
Wrapping up: Close the Skills Gap
Satya Nedella is correct, as history supports his position. The most successful companies coming out of this latest Industrial Revolution must first establish reliable competencies in the critical growth areas of AI, IoT, and robotics and begin to develop a quantum computing competency. Microsoft and others are rolling out training for both IT people and the business partners needed to help define and execute new strategies and policies around these game-changing technologies.
The future is coming like a high-speed rail train, but we aren’t yet ready for it as an industry. Fixing that shortcoming is becoming a far higher priority than most realize, and those that get this pivot right should blow right by the competitors that don’t.