The Ephemeral Network
I just couldn't stay away from working a bit more on my ideas about ephemeral networks. I suppose it has to do with my dissatisfaction with today's earlier post. It just doesn't convey the full message.
I started installing telephone systems back in the mid 1970s. The technology was the same then as it was in the 1940s. We were even using the same telephone sets. I knew this because of the stories of some of the old-timers I'd worked with and because of some of the old movies I'd watched. Sam Spade was using the same telephones I was installing to work with the PBX going in at Evan's Advertising.
It must have been easy to be AT&T back then. Manufacture phones and switches without worry. If they didn't sell this month or next, just wait a while. Inventories could sit on the self because nothing better was coming along to make these phones obsolete. What a great business. No ephemeral network existed then.
In the early 1980s I moved to Buffalo, NY. The ITT warehouse was filled with rotary dial telephones. A full 80% of our business consisted of installing and repairing phones with rotary dials. We even had a nifty set with a Tele-pulse dial. This had a touch tone pad that converted to pulses. Wow! Touch tone didn't really take off until several years later. Why? Answering machines that were accessed and controlled by DTMF tones.
It must have been about 1984 or 85 when I purchased a useful little device that generated DTMF tones. It wasn't too expensive. I could hold it up to a handset transmitter and sent DTMF to control my new Panasonic answering machine. Even when I was on a rotary dial phone. The company who invented this little device was finding a way to capitalize on the market without having to devise a scheme to switch out the entire pulse infrastructure. Now that's ephemeral. I don't carry a DTMF generator today and I don't know of anyone who does. But I'll bet that quite a bit of money was made during that niche period when it made sense to have one.
Things change quickly today. No opportunity exists to manufacture equipment, put it on the self and be assured of selling it for a premium a year or more from now. Likely, by following this strategy, a technology company would go broke real fast.
The problem is that the ephemeral opportunities are not usually obvious. In fact, they are darn difficult to see pre or mid opportunity. But ephemeral opportunities always exist. And it's these opportunities that drive us crazy and cause many company failures.
What happens when an opportunity exists in a short window? It is my guess that most often it's missed. Why? Perhaps the solution window is bigger than the opportunity window. Or perhaps the solution itself is eclipsed by some other, better, solution. It certainly doesn't work well to get half way through creating a new application only to discover that the market has moved on to something else.
We miss many opportunities because of our inability to capitalize on them. It's not a UEN or even a government problem. It's more of a cultural, business problem. We are not equipped to move fast enough. We don't understand what we are losing by not reacting more quickly and we are busy with so many other things.
I'm reminded of Darwinian theory. Something about survival of the fittest. In the network world who will survive. It's for sure that we will need to have networks and infrastructure. Does it bother anyone else that we are seeing the systematic dismantling of our best networking businesses? What is the solution? Government subsidies? I doubt it. Subsidies just encourages weak companies to continue to do the things that got them into trouble in the first place. Not to mention the overwhelming temptation for executives to take the shortcuts to wealth by stealing from the till.
So is there an equivalent to Darwin's Theory for networks? Perhaps an Ephemeral Theory? If so it might be stated: Survival of the fastest. Well, that probably isn't good enough. It is important to be fast. And that might work. Just be sure you're right.
We must find a way to capitalize on opportunities. That seems to be couched in terms of what the user wants. But then there is that whole problem of the The Innovator's Dilemma. What if you take time to find out what the user wants only to be upstaged when something new comes along to shake the whole industry?
Well, cutting through all of the smoke here's what I think. Yes, we run risks every day out in the big, fast-paced business world. And yes, sometimes good companies fail even though they are listening to their customers and giving them what they want. It can get pretty confusing at times.
Bottom line for us network operators: We've got big challenges out there and the months and years ahead are full of uncertainties. I'm certain about one thing. There is an ephemeral nature to our networks. The best run networks will embrace, deal with and thrive from this ephemeral quality. How? That's what I'm trying to find out.