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What Technology Revolutions Have in Common

Appian Contributor
April 3, 2019

There's something interesting about technology revolutions, and in this blog post I will talk about two of the most profound technology revolutions in human history. I'll also touch on an emerging catalyst of the computer technology revolution ñ low code.

Oil Technology Revolution

oil revolutionOne of the most important technology revolutions of the last several hundred years has been the oil technology revolution. This technology has literally changed the world. When oil was first discovered and used, the "killer app" for oil, and by far its biggest use for the first 60 years, was for the production of kerosene for lighting as we moved away from candles. Next, we used oil for electric power generation. We moved from kerosene lamps to electric light bulbs. Soon, oil became diesel for railroad engines. The great expansion and higher levels of mobility started. The revolution in mobility continued with horseless carriages and then airplanes. Plastics and a thousand other products weaved its way through society.

What made this revolution so powerful was standardization and distribution. Every major industry ñ manufacturing, transportation, utilities ñ either transformed or perished.

Computer Technology Revolution

technology revolutionAnother revolution in technology started several decades ago, and that is the revolution of computer technology. At first, computers were calculators. Data was built faster and with more accuracy. Then computers became information processors. Soon, information derived from that data was processed at higher speeds, and became the back office for the modern enterprise. Manufacturing saw the rise of computer-controlled machines which improved safety, accuracy and the economics of consumer products. It was at that point that ñ like automobiles became "personalized" trains ñ computers became personal. Then mobile. Then social. And soon to be intelligent.

What made this revolution so powerful was, like oil, standardization and distribution. This time, that distribution was called the Internet. Every major industry has transformed--or is in the process of doing so--or will perish.

What Technology Revolutions Have in Common

So, there's an interesting thing about technology revolutions: they have several things in common. At first, there's discovery. Then there's early adoption. Next, we see a virtuous cycle of standardization driving broad adoption (and vice versa). And before you know it, the world ñ with its industries, and conveniences and people ñ looks very different. That is transformation. It's amazing what a carbon molecule, some silicon and some electrons can do!

The Computer Revolution is Still in Progress

Without a doubt, the Internet ñ the distribution of computer tech ñ has had an incredible effect on our world. But how about standardization? This is still a work in progress. On the one hand, there are some fairly standardized apps, such as Gmail, browsers, word processors and even, to some degree, more sophisticated apps like CRM and ERP. (Your clue that there is some standardization is that there is a standard abbreviation.) On the other hand, you have standardized infrastructure upon which you can build what you want. This goes by the name of "cloud" and is provided by Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and the list goes on. So you have completely canned apps on one hand (with some configuration options), and standardized infrastructure where you can build what you want on the other.

But what if you need something between a fully canned application and some standardized infrastructure upon which you can build anything? That's where "low-code" fits in and why it is an important part of the revolution. As it turns out, there's a lot you don't need to build over and over like much of the user interface, simple branching workflow, etc. However, you still need to build what you need and what you want that is unique to you.

So low-code is the transformation that every company and industry needs. Embracing low-code is essential to every company that will prevail in this revolution. You can build "low-code" into your Digital Transformation plan, or your Innovative Technology plan, but reallyÖ. It needs to be part of your Business as Usual plan.

Tahl Milburn

Executive Advisor