Intelligent Automation and Five Disruptive Shifts of Control

You are at 30,000 feet and cruising. You are comfortably seated and enjoying your movie and a drink. You are not breaking sweat over the autopilot navigating your plane. Later, you are on the ground. You are driving. The car’s autopilot grabs control. You feel a loss of control. Elsewhere in our digital world, control is shifting in many different ways. Sometimes we welcome it. Sometimes it upsets us. In all cases it shifts power. Whether you like it or not, this shift in power could upstage your businesses if you don’t manage it carefully.

Here are the five ways technology is enabling the shifting of control, in their order of complexity:

  1. Ground to Cloud
  2. Distributed to Centralized
  3. Cloud to Edge
  4. Companies to Ecosystems
  5. Human to Machine

I’ll go through each one. The first four build on the previous and hence a superset of the prior case.

Control Shift: Ground to Cloud

Nearly forgotten are our Garmin and Magellan GPSs with their friendly (or annoying) voices directing our movement. Since those days, we have delegated control to a more intelligent voice from the cloud. The poor car GPS businesses have bitten the dust. Control shifted as a result of technology and it could happen to your business.

Axiom: If something can be controlled from the cloud, it will be and it should be.

Control Shift: Distributed to Centralized

This shift is similar to the previous, but is not limited to the cloud. In the telecom and networking world, control has been shifting for decades. It had been couched as “software-defined”. Distributed network decisions got centralized. In the networking and telecom world, they say, “control plane is separated from the data plane”. Once separated, the control can be on the ground or in the cloud. Meraki Networks that Cisco acquired is a good example of this shift and demonstrates the threat this poses to incumbents in any industry. More on this topic here (SDN and Biology).

If control shift happens to complex telephone networks and the internet, it will happen to your robots business or your land mower business.

If you think this happens only in some geeky telecom space, think again. The Meraki founders are repeating their cloud-controlled magic. This time in industrial IoT. Take a look at their new venture Samsara.

Control Shift: Cloud to Edge

In the world of industrial automation, control is shifting. No longer is your robot or drone some standalone endpoint. It is connected. It is getting connected to a central place, likely in the cloud. From the cloud you can orchestrate drones and droids to get work done, like surveillance and security. This is shown below on the left. But there is more…

When the volume of such endpoints grow or you deploy them to mission-critical needs, you will need to shift control to the edges of your business as shown on the right and as described here (Proximity Computing: Edgy, Edgier, Edgiest). This has huge technology and business implications for you, threats and opportunities to innovate.

Control-Shift: Company to Ecosystem

This is the Mother of All Control Shifts (MOACS?). It encompasses all the previous scenarios in to one macro shift of control. You digitized the human dispatcher. You orchestrated the ecosystem and then you are snipping away at the remaining humans with automation. More on this digital transition here (Uber and the Digitization of Louis De Palma).

Mock this MOACS (Mother of All Control Shifts) at your peril. If you do, you might find yourself dis-intermediated by the digital value chain.

Control-Shift: Human to Machine

This is the most sensitive topic all around this decade. While this is just a microcosm of the prior scenarios, it hits close to home. It features in broader socio-economic policy conversations and hence complex. However, scenarios to worry about for your business won’t be this “Look Ma, No Hands” microscopic scenario, but the ones above. This shift will be subsumed by the prior four scenarios of shifting control.

Control shifts enabled by technology will result in profound power shifts across the value chain regardless of industry or technology. Control shifts go hand-in-hand with considerations of autonomy. How you adapt to it and leverage it in your business will determine your success. If you don’t, your control over your business will be fleeting! (Yes, pun intended.)

Hari Harikrishnan

Hari Harikrishnan

Digital Business Transformer
As a digital business executive, Hari is passionate about creating and modernizing businesses by infusing data and technology in product and service portfolios. Hari has led businesses from startups to enterprise incubations to Fortune 100 business divisions.

Hari has commercialized numerous products and services in industries ranging from healthcare to high-tech to manufacturing. His career spans leadership roles in general management, product, marketing, services, and strategy.

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