It may seem counterintuitive to begin a discussion of the landscape for continuing and professional studies circa 2015 with a chart about the global growth of mobile phones and web technology, but it is important for setting up a discussion of knowledge flows and the impact they have on our educational enterprise.
Note that flows are not just about knowledge content. Flows are about how people go about acquiring knowledge, their reasons for gathering it, who they depend on to get knowledge, what they do with it or to it, and who they pass it onto and in what form.
The Apple iTunes store, with an inventory of 150,000 mobile apps, has already delivered more than 3 billion downloads and a Chetan Sharma Consulting study of the global apps market indicates a steep growth curve ahead for mobile apps (small fixed function software programs designed to enable specific types of activities using mobile devices in a broadband network).
Most apps are some type of “content aggregator,” designed to collect and sort web content according to some simple rule. Typically the function produces a simplified result (e.g., “given the current [GPS] location of this device, provide the address and directions to the closest Starbucks store and issue a 10% off coupon for purchase of a mocha frappuccino and activate the device alarm now).
Much of that growth will be in developed regions of the world, but the rate of growth in emerging markets may be even faster. To date, there have been nearly three billion downloads of mobile apps, valued at an estimated nine-billion dollars. In two years, the number of downloads is expected to grow 50 billion with a value in excess of $17.5 billion. Apple Computer currently stocks 150,000 apps for the iPhone, and Google’s Android boasts 30,000 mobile apps with more on the way. The number of “stores” offering mobile apps shot up from eight to 38 in just the past year…
Knowledge flows exist in every collaborative environment and are time-honored fixtures in organizational science. Workflows are optimized so that each person is in the right place, with the right skills and tools at the right time, with the knowledge to complete the appropriate task. Typically, there are just enough people in conventional workflows to get the job done. In the age of social media, however, there is the potential to have many more people in the flow. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Theoretically, it’s good if the people bring information, skills, or other properties that contribute to a superior outcome. Just as easily, however, these outsiders can breed confusion, conflict, and chaos.
There is nothing we are going to do to constrain the flow of technological advance. The genie is out of the bottle. Everything has changed. People navigate their way through today’s technical landscape as if it were as second nature. Very few people are standing about dumbstruck and motionless. It will take a great deal of discipline to avoid falling into the trap of merely accepting the future as a scene onto which our image will be added later. The role we will play depends on what we do, and not some invisible hand.
One consequence of flows, if we don’t learn how to manage them, is evident in the two-fold increase of the “topple rate.” (Powell and Reinhardt) It’s one thing to see depreciation tables shrink, but another to lose your market advantage because a late entry uses new technology to alter the competitive frame.
The top management consulting companies are testimony to the impact of “knowledge flows” on the economic sectors of global business. IBM Global Services, founded in 1991, has become the storied technology company’s fastest-growing business, while it has deemphasized its computer manufacturing business.
In recent months and weeks, the most prominent Silicon Valley hi-tech success stories have bumptiously adjusted their posture to pose as “services” companies. While the significance of digital engineering and technology remains enormously important, “technology” continues to put its emphasis on software more than hardware and, through “The Cloud,” has begun to replace a reliance on “boxes” with a reliance on “relationships.”
We are on the edge of “The Cloud,” a coinage meant to describe a not-distant future in which all that electronic stuff you own, will be junk. Everything you need to communicate, store, sort, and distribute—all known information—will be conveniently and safely distributed around the world on an infinite array of digital memories. All the hard logic you will need to use it, or to explore it, will be implicit in “The Cloud.”
This day is not very far off. Figures 12.0 and 12.1 map the landscape that technologists are calling “Unified Communications.” A lot of it already looks very familiar. When Gartner performed its survey in 2009, IT executives at Fortune 100® companies, presumably among the best-informed people on such matters, rated the technology they thought would have the greatest impact in the shortest time. One year later, note how much their perspective had changed.
Unified Communications, depicted in Figs. 12.0 and 12.1, is a “consensus” model of what the UC landscape might look like. At the current pace of development and engineering (in a dozen different fields) it is impossible to predict what the new landscape will actually look like by 2015 and how it might function.
By the same token, what may appear as “indecisiveness” is actually evidence of the increasing impact of “flows.”