Are Digital Technologies for Everyone?

Understanding Just How Well They are Understood and Valued

Industry pundits have been hyping “digital transformation” and “digital technologies” for several years now. This hype tends to make ample reference to the consumer technologies that are indeed making an impact on our personal lives: connected homes, self-driving cars, wearable fitness devices and every kind of “app” you can think of on your smart phone or tablet. That’s easy. The hard part is connecting this transformation to the workplace and the enterprise in a way that seems to bring real value. The pundits make the assumption that these technologies are well-understood and perceived as valuable. But are they?

I don’t make any such assumptions and the results from questions on digital preparedness in my annual enterprise solution study last year confirmed many decision makers are fooling themselves with a false sense of security. While 88% agreed that embracing digital technologies was necessary for survival, the majority still rely at least in part on spreadsheets for something as common as the system of record of business transactions. That contradiction led me to investigate just how well understood various technologies are, and whether value is perceived as real.

How Well Do You Understand?

We are still actively collecting data from this year’s study, but at this point in time we’ve captured over 500 responses – enough to make some early observations. Participants represented a wide range of industries and companies of all sizes, from small to very large.

We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally.

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

There is a lot of data and insight buried in this table and there are countless different ways we can cut it and present it. One way of analyzing the data is to divide participants into two groups: those that have no familiarity or are only somewhat familiar with a technology, and those that understand it well. We presume those that have deployed or are deploying it fall into the latter category. Figure 1 depicts this dichotomy graphically.

Figure 1: Either you “get it” or you don’t

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We seem to be all over the map here, with those that utilize increasingly large volumes of data to provide intelligence most well understood. And yet we don’t see a big uptake in terms of deployment (Figure 2). Only 10% to 20% have even begun deploying the technologies that are most well understood and many just don’t see the applicability to their business.

Figure 2: Deployment Lags Understanding

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Is this due to a lack of education or is it because they really don’t apply? I think it is a little of both. While I still want to do a deeper dive by industry, two preliminary data cuts told me a whole lot. First of all, those that fall into my category of “World Class” have a far greater knowledge and appreciation for these technologies. Just look at the difference in adoption rate (Figure 3) between World Class and All Others.

Figure 3: World Class Deploy More

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that I define World Class (the top 15%) through the results achieved since implementing the software that runs the business and progress against company goals. This is not a “world class company” as much as world class use of technology, although better use of technology very often correlates with better company performance in terms of growth and profits. So we’re not surprised to see a higher level of understanding and more adoption in companies that have achieved World Class status.

However, we also recognize that while deployment is about the company, understanding and perception of value is more about the individual. And this is where the second data cut was quite revealing. I looked at levels of understanding based on the age of the survey participants, the vast majority of which fell into the categories of Baby Boomers (23%), Gen Xers (53%) and Millennials (23%).

Figure 4: Millennials Understand Better

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

It is quite clear that the level of understanding of these technologies is inversely proportional to age. This doesn’t mean Millennials are smarter. They were simply born in an age where we rely on technology to make life easier, while Baby Boomers grew up doing things the hard way. In terms of seeing the value, Baby Boomers are definitely harder to convince.

As a Baby Boomer, I am skeptical of technology making us stupid and lazy. I see many examples of this in consumer technology. Smart refrigerators are the perfect example. A simple, online search came up with this:

The Samsung Family Hub fridge has a giant touchscreen built into one of its doors, complete with an app you can use to order groceries online. A line of cameras on the inside will send a picture to your phone when you’re out shopping. An app on the fridge for Samsung’s SmartThings smart home service will let you control your lights, your thermostat, and other connected products right from your refrigerator door.”

My reaction: Really? You need this to manage the inventory of your refrigerator? Are you constantly running out of milk? You can’t flip a light switch or remember to turn down the heat when you leave or go to bed? You want your refrigerator to do that? You really think you’ll save a measurable amount of energy by not having to open the door?

The reaction of my 28-year-old nephew? While he didn’t spring for the Samsung $5,000 model, he did buy a smart refrigerator.

The risk I face is overlooking something that will make a significant impact. The risk my nephew faces is spending too much for too little real value… while perhaps becoming stupid and lazy. But there is hope for both of us. I did invest in a video doorbell this past year, resulting in improved security. Not to mention the fact I actually know when someone is at the door even though my hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my nephew never runs out of milk now and still saved enough money to renovate his kitchen, increasing the resale value of his home.

The lesson for businesses to learn: educate yourself on the real value, but scrutinize the return on investment. Over the next few weeks and months, look for me to dive deeper into these different technologies for help in both areas.

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The Force was Strong at Autodesk University (#AU2015)

Attending Autodesk University (AU2015) is a pleasant change for me. First of all, it diverges a bit from my usual focus on ERP. But as I have been saying for years now, the footprint of ERP has been expanding to the point where it is hard to tell where ERP ends and other software categories begin. Indeed, many ERP players have ventured into design software (largely PLM solutions), data management, and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which lie squarely in Autodesk’s wheelhouse. And of course, while I don’t limit my writing or research to a particular industry, manufacturing (a key industry for Autodesk) is “home” for me.

I came to “know” Autodesk better a couple of years ago when I worked on a project with them as they partnered with NetSuite, integrating ERP and PLM. That partnership is still strong today, expanding into the area of configure, price, quote (CPQ), as well as IoT. AU2015 is a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge of and my relationship with Autodesk itself.

But that’s not the only reason why AU2015 is a pleasant change for me. Even more appealing: Being surrounded by a vibrant crowd of innovators that see technology as a potential game changer. It seems I spend a lot of my time these days convincing business leaders of that potential. Even those who might be innovators in their own fields seem to undervalue and underappreciate what technology can do for them in terms of the (back office and front office) software that runs the business. Even as their current software might keep them locked out from this competitive advantage, because they spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) getting it up and running, they are simply reluctant to rip it out and replace it, often convincing themselves “they can’t” or “it’s not worth it.” It’s my job to convince them otherwise, showing them the potential for game-changing results. Innovation can’t reside exclusively in a silo all by itself. It needs to connect back to the people and the software running the business.

Many in the Autodesk community have already made the connection between technology and innovation. So it is very refreshing to see and hear so many business leaders chomping at the bit to take advantage of these new technologies in order to accelerate innovation and really change their own game. Company after company came on stage during the Innovation Forum within AU2015 with bright new ideas and applications for technology.

Companies like…

LMN Architects that actually took it upon itself to develop software to use in validating designs. Turning to its in-house LMN Tech Studio for its Cleveland Civic Center project, it developed a 3D digital model of the façade, using parametric modeling techniques to help them convert a hand sketch of the window pattern into a set of fabrication-ready glass and precast-concrete panels. The team used a 3D printer to print out the basic panel form, then used this as the basis for a plaster mold to generate its own complete scale model. Tech Studio set a new standard for team wide collaboration and completely redefined the role of technology in design. As a result, they were able to complete the Cleveland Civic Center project in just 3.5 months (a typical project is 13 months).

JE Dunn Construction also developed a tool in house (called LENS), not for design, but for estimating. LENS allows you to develop a full estimate based on a simple sketch.

GE FirstBuild (yes even old dogs can develop new tricks!) is a partnership between GE and Local Motors formed to “create a new model for the appliance industry, engaging a community of industrial designers, scientists, engineers, makers and early adopters to address some of the toughest engineering challenges and innovations. FirstBuild will then manufacture those designs in its Microfactory for rapid product introduction and iteration.” Its first ever Appliance Hackathon developed 5 new prototype appliances. And as GE’s product evangelist Taylor Dawson (@J_TaylorDawson) said on stage, “A prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” Amen!

These are just a small sampling of companies, ranging from very small, early stage startups to large enterprises taking an innovative approach to using the software, services and platforms Autodesk provides. And it’s not just companies that are innovating. Matt Flail and Tim Ganter, industrial design students at Philadelphia University’s masters program came on stage to describe how they are taking a giant step beyond custom orthotics (the kind that fit inside shoes.) Instead they are making the whole shoe, using 3D scanning and 3D printing to create completely customized footwear that is made to conform exactly to the wearer’s needs. Their thesis project is called FOOTPRINT: 3D Printed Custom Algorithmic Footwear and their goal is to produce cutting edge shoes by incorporating 3D scanning, algorithmic model development, rapid manufacturing, and advanced textile technologies.

And Autodesk itself is no slouch when it comes to fostering innovation. There were several themes interwoven throughout the event to prove that. The overriding theme was “the future of making things.” To this end, Autodesk is on a mission to fuse three components that have previously been treated separately: Design, Make and Use. There are a lot of technical components here. We heard about generative design, and building intelligence and machine learning into smarter products. We heard about 3D printing, not just for printing trinkets, but some really valuable industrial and medical uses, from body parts to tooling. Attendees even assembled 3D printed hands with e-NABLE, a non-profit that provides customized 3D printed prosthetics for children.

So what is this fusion of design-make-use really all about? I think a quote from the stage really sums it up: “Stop trying to make people want what you make. Instead make what people want.” And recognize that people sometimes don’t know exactly what they want from a product until they use it. Therefore what people want continues to evolve as products are used. A smart product, connected through the cloud, can indeed continue to evolve even as it is being used.Storm-CHRON

This philosophy fit nicely into a fun kind of theme at Autodesk University – Star Wars. Complete with Storm Troopers!

Always drawn to fun analogies, I’ve picked up on the anticipated Star Wars craze in some of my recent writing (contact Lisa Lincoln at if you are interested in learning more). A couple years ago I had fun with a Star Trek theme as I wrote about “Next Generation ERP” moving into the final frontier. But that concept of next generation software can be applied to a lot of different software categories.

Star Trek was all about sleek and futuristic technology, including starships that could travel at warp speed, transporter beams, (wireless) communication devices, weapons that could be placed on “stun,” and other electronic gadgetry that might not seem so futuristic today. But all these pieces of technology had something in common. They weren’t just cool to have; they served a real need -solved the right problem, perhaps?

The Star Wars franchise was (is?) better known for “the Force.” The Force was an energy that could be harnessed to perform supernatural feats and to amplify other common physical traits of speed and reflexes. Of course the original movie relied on some futuristic technology at the time, particularly in the use of robotic droids and space travel, but it was more about enhancing human performance. While we haven’t yet achieved the same level of progress in space travel, robotics don’t seem so futuristic today and in fact we saw them featured prominently on the AU2015 show floor. More importantly, the Force at AU2015 was really about enhancing the performance of people, products and organizations.

This supports a concept Autodesk CEO Carl Bass (@carlbass) emphasizes – one of “reframing.” He encouraged his audience to ask themselves: Are you solving the right problem? The example he used: Did you know there is a higher energy impact in making a car than driving it over its lifespan? So is reducing fuel consumption really the right problem to solve? I guess it is for the consumer paying at the pump, but maybe not so when you consider the greater good. But just asking the question is a giant step in the right direction.

But solving the right problems is going to be a group effort, which is why Autodesk is relentlessly building out the ecosystem, with more than just software and design tools.


Its cloud-based Forge ILogo_Colornitiative, announced during the event, is a three-pronged effort to transform how products are designed, made and used. The three major components include a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund. The components:

  • Platform-as-a-Service – The Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that span early stage design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production and operations. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) enable small and large software developers alike to build intuitive solutions to real problems.
  • Developer Program – The Forge Developer Program will provide ongoing training, resources and support to the developer community. Autodesk will host an inaugural Forge Developer Conference next June.
  • Investment Fund – The Forge Fund will provide up to $100 million in funding, as well as business and technical support to start-ups that are working to deliver innovative solutions and services on or connected to the Forge Platform. This investment will be made over the next several years.

But of course for the Force to be strong, there must be at least the implication of some magic – remember those seemingly supernatural powers? For a company like Autodesk, I think the keys to unleashing this “magic” lies in harnessing data from the Internet of Things (IoT). As Mr. Bass points out, we are rapidly approaching a time when everything will have an IP address and everything is addressable. This opens the doors to a whole new level of understanding of how products perform and how they are used.

IoT is not a foreign concept to manufacturing. Manufacturers have been collecting enormous volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for many years now. But much of that data has lain dormant because these manufacturers didn’t have the tools and technology to really harness it. Of course the most intuitive use cases for harnessing that data has been in maintenance. Don’t schedule downtime for unnecessary preventive maintenance. Don’t wait for products to fail. Predict failure and perform maintenance optimally based on data collected by the product itself.

In the future of making things, we need to apply this same concept to any kind of consumer, medical or industrial product, move it beyond maintenance and harvest that data to help us improve the products themselves, along with efficiencies that measure human performance. That means we need tools to make it easy to connect all these addressable sources of data. I think this must have been at least part of the consideration in Autodesk’s acquisition of SeeControl last summer, which resulted in the announcement of Autodesk SeeControl at AU2015.

From Autodesk:

The Internet of Things refers to the growing ecosystem of physical things embedded with electronics, software, and sensors that are connected to the Internet and to each other. When these things are products sold to end customers, manufacturers can gather and stream data about how they are being used to offer valuable insights, allowing them to respond to the needs of their markets and individual customers. Connected products also create new insights for the people who design and make them, helping companies better understand their use and improve them over time.

Autodesk SeeControl allows manufacturers to monitor how their product performs in the real world and use live data to optimize future versions. They can keep products running at peak levels, identify potential for failure before it happens and schedule maintenance downtime when it is least disruptive. Ultimately, manufacturers can bring their customers a level of enhanced services based on information about real world product performance and consumption.

Autodesk SeeControl is absolutely native to cloud and device agnostic. Most any protocol you encounter has been accommodated, but if you find a new one, Autodesk can add it generally within a couple of days. But even better, it requires no specific technical or programming skills to connect new devices. Most any business analyst or product manager can get in and do something meaningful with hardly any keying. Just point and click.

The connected product journey has begun – the journey to customer discovery, better next design, advanced services and product as a service.

In conclusion, whether you are looking to

  • Re-imagine the future of making things
  • Fuse the design – make – use processes with connected products
  • Solve the right problems or
  • Simply bring innovation to your business and your customers

…Know that the Force is strong at Autodesk. May the Force be with you.









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