El.pub Analytic Issue Number 8
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In a recent article in IEEE Computer, Bob Colwell writes: "Even engineers sometimes forget that their real job is to drive development technology into new areas, combining past experience with present science to create future products and innovations". Outside of RTD, people often question technology push and suggest that it should be stifled or even stopped. In the market, people will buy products or services that offer some improvement whether it is:
- monetary - cheaper frees income for other uses,
- efficiency - quicker frees time for other activities,
- safety or pleasure - improve quality of life.
Very few people go out of their way to buy more expensive, less efficient, dangerous or boring products, just because they are from an earlier technical period. The RTD task is to identify how new and emerging technologies can create innovation and improvement. RTD projects must address questions of technical feasibility, cost effectiveness, acceptability and usability. If nothing else, the last few years should have shown us that rushing to market is an expensive and inefficient means of prototyping and testing new services.
Two particular areas of note are mobility and personalisation. In both of these areas, technology opened the way for innovative new products and services. Mobile phones offer an enormous improvement over fixed phones for straightforward voice telephony. In the eyes of some entrepreneurs they also offered the possibility of mobilising other services. An example was the idea that 'the Web' could be provided on a mobile phone. Rather than testing this idea for usability and acceptability, there was a rush to put services into the market. They have failed. Not least because the people who use the Web want bigger better and faster pictures, not tiny black and white slow images. It isn't an improvement. No doubt precisely focussed services for which mobility itself is a major selling point will be developed and will sell; they haven't been found yet. Personalisation is a similar failure. A failure to consider the requirements of the buyer, as opposed to the seller - a familiar problem to software designers - persuaded investors to create systems that offered no evident advantage to the buyer and were rejected.
RTD is needed to match technology to requirements. Generally this means a 'better' paperclip. Entirely new services that are enabled by a new technology, for example the railway at the start of the 19th century and the phonograph at the end, are few and far between. Sometimes the wrong technology is matched (e.g. Zeppelin, steam automobiles).
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Last up-dated: 8 February 2018
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