Is the speed of change being overstated? We review the fast-moving technology world to find out that the speed of change is...not as fast as thought.

Just How Frantic Is Business Change?

One of the justifications for Agile and other such delivery methods is that the speed of change is becoming frantic. The assertion is that if you start a project at the beginning of the year, by the end of that year so much will have changed that you need a faster delivery method.


But is this a myth or true?

Let’s look at one of the most visibly changing markets – information technology. We can quickly point to the advent of ipods, iphones, tablets, ultrabooks, Facebook. Twitter and more as evidence of how fast things are changing.

But again, are they really?

In reality the technology landscape changes about every five years . Within those five years there can be many variants, initiatives and advances, but the overall theme stays the same.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s look at the past 25 years.

1987-1992 Client/Server era

Centralized computing became affordable and scalable. Mainframes, minis and micro-computers (remember that language?) were consolidated into client/server machines that allowed much lower (purchase) cost computing – and the software adapted.

1992-1997 The networking era

After promising much for many years, this was the time local area networking (remember that phrase?) and inter-company networks became commonplace. Islands of corporate computing were eliminated by hooking them up to the corporate network. “Communications” was the overriding catch word.

1997-2002 The PC era

This may sound far too late for the PC era, but in the early 1990s few staff had PCs. When I asked a CEO in 1995 if I should plan for all staff to have a PC I was given a resounding “No!” PCs were, up until the late 1990s, only supplied on a ‘need to have’ basis. During this period they became ubiquitous.

2002-2007 The Internet era

After the dot-com boom and bust, the Internet was no longer hostage to the idea of being a completely different business world and became part of everyday business. B2B, B2C and C2C transactions were developed, even email became ubiquitous. Every organization had to have a URL and website.

2007-2012 The mobile era

Kicked off by the smart phones and reinforced by tablets and services such as Facebook and Twitter, mobile computing became the driving force of technology. Even at the PC level, portable laptops became the norm. Organizations looked to see if they should be developing ‘apps’ and supporting phones inhouse.

In each five-year era although many things were going on and new products were being launched, basically, only one aspect dominated. A confluence of events and technologies occurred to enable one technology stream to dominate for a period until it became the norm.

So what will happen next?


2012-2017 The Cloud era

Despite all the current hype around ‘Big Data’ (being pushed by hardware companies with a vested interest in selling more hardware) I believe the next five years will be the Cloud era. More and more individuals and organizations will be interfacing with the Cloud. Individuals are already storing their music, books and personal details in the Cloud and over the next few years businesses will move at least their non-essential systems to the Cloud. In the future many smaller companies will not own any systems and operate entirely via their PCs, mobiles and Internet with the Cloud.

Any organization working in technology needs to be considering the impact of Cloud technology.

2017-2022 The Big Data era?

The capture of all of this information in the Cloud will then enable ‘Big Data’ for the few – those with access to the information in the Cloud. This will be those managers who are managing the Cloud services and are, therefore, able to look across organizations to identify the trends, patterns and consequent business drivers and sell this information back to the rest of us.

In Conclusion

The bottom line is that we should not get carried away with the number of new phone handsets being launched and their upgraded functionality. Instead we need to step back and take a more holistic view as to what the major trends are and plan and adapt accordingly.

Business change is not frantic, it is five-yearly.

Topics: Strategy Execution, Engineered Thinking/Ideas/Innovation, Change Management, Program / Project delivery, Mental Models, Beliefs and Myths

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Oct 2012) as "The True Speed Of Change"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections