When it comes to thought leadership and technology pedigree, it’s hard to beat Jaron Lanier. Computer scientist, author, musician and more, Lanier is perhaps best known for coining the phrase “virtual reality." In his latest technology manifesto, “Who Owns the Future?" Lanier posits that the world of tomorrow will be dominated by those who leverage technology best.
“Those who own the future will be the ones who own the biggest, most effective computers who can gather everybody’s data, analyze it better than anybody else because their computers are so big, and use it to calculate little, tiny advantages," he said during an appearance on “The Colbert Report" in March 2014. Over time, those advantages accumulate, leading to wealth inequality and power concentration, among other things. In a candid exchange with host Stephen Colbert, Lanier likened himself to a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein who had returned to warn people of the potential monster that he himself helped create while working for Microsoft and others.
Depressing? Maybe not. Lanier believes there still is a chance we can avoid this fate, although he’s not sure how. Ironically, others believe the answer may be the very technologies about which he worries, at least for commercial enterprises. Thanks to advances in mobility, cloud computing, applications software and more, small and medium businesses (SMBs) can now leverage many of the same tools and advances that larger, institutional organizations do. The financial hurdles and organizational challenges that have traditionally prevented SMBs from embracing advanced or sophisticated technology essentially are neutralized in a world where outlays for cutting-edge innovations don’t require massive, upfront capital investments or legions of staffers to implement.
Today, SMBs can leverage virtually any technology they need to compete on a level playing field with their larger counterparts. Think scalable computing on-demand, world-class backup and recovery, and even complex applications such as ERP or business analytics. All of these and more are now available to SMBs. Paired with a solutions provider that can show them how to apply these technologies to competitive advantage, SMBs can compete effectively and even leapfrog larger, enterprise competitors in many markets (see “SMB Equalizers: Solutions That Level the Playing Field").
“Emerging technologies have truly become the great leveler," said Anurag Agrawal, CEO of Techaisle, an information and communications technology (ICT) market researcher focused on SMB trends. Just five years ago, keeping up with enterprise organizations would have required “substantial dollar investments and ballooning marketing budgets," he said. But not today.