The road to the future is constantly accelerating.

That theme underlay two recent — and on the surface very different — events.

The Conference Board of Canada’s Council on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM) held it’s one and a half day event in Toronto, with KM practitioners, captains of industry and futurists all presenting thought-provoking topics. 

Then my division at work held our own two day event at our corporate university, with economists, experts on financial technology and other interesting speakers.

While seemingly disparate events, a common theme emerged — the importance of innovation and the importance of the technological infrastructure underpinning our business processes. 

Are the Robots Coming for Our Jobs or Aren't They?

At the CIKM KM2016 event, a futurist spoke of how society’s move from major revolution to the next is constantly accelerating. If you're reading this post on this site, I'd wager that you've heard of and understand this concept. 

In a highly expedient nutshell: it took us 10,000 years from the development of agriculture to the industrial revolution. The time span between the Wright Brothers first flight to the launch of the first reusable space craft — USS Columbia STS1 — was a mere 79 years. Development of the Internet, mobile access via smartphones (which also have satellite navigation capabilities, which required a backpack when I first joined the military) and cameras as good as my old SLR followed in short order.

Part of this trend is the so-called consumerisation of technology. Large organizations are finding it very difficult to keep up with the pace of change. People can be change averse, businesses invest considerable resources into technologies, only to find they are suddenly over-taken and out of date. As a result, younger workers turn to consumer tools, available via the cloud, to make up for perceived gaps in enterprise systems. 

Unsurprisingly, that leads to other problems ….

Recently a few people have told me not to send my child to law school, nor allow him to become a radiologist when he is old enough. Their reasoning is that by the time he has finished training, IBM’s Watson will have made humans largely redundant in both professions. 

Apparently Watson-based software can already read x-rays better than humans, and a University of Toronto based collaboration with IBM has it reading legal documents with the expertise of a second year articling student.

There is some hope however. One of our speakers pointed out that due to the rush to the cloud, the Internet of Things and other upcoming tech trends, the US alone will be short of an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 top notch IT security experts. Those are the real uber-geek experts, so we could add on another 100,000 average-to-good cybersecurity people who will be needed.

Trends like this is why Microsoft has gone “hybrid” after scaring everyone to death by previously suggesting SharePoint would focus on the cloud alone. People like me, who work in banks, did not like that much .... But who am I to say my perimeter security is better than an IT mega-corporation’s?

The Only Constant

At our internal event, an expert from KPMG in the UK made me laugh when he noted that North America’s apparently still high use of checkbooks was quaint. 

I don't think I'd used a check in the 25 years before I emigrated to Canada. So yes, in some respects North American financial institutions can be quite conservative. If banks and conventional financial institutions are in the middle of a spectrum, at one extreme end you'll find hundreds of small start-ups focusing on micro-payments, micro-financing, peer-to-peer loans and more, and at the other end, mega-corporations like Alphabet (Google) and Amazon focusing on leveraging their big data. 

Someone suggested that in the not too distant future, the surviving banks will become processing and process powerhouses, buying up the latest start-ups for technology but serving customers through their favorite big brands. 

Against this background, how do most companies keep up, let alone innovate? 

Unfortunately there are no easy answers to that, but let me posit this: technologies are tools. And as the lifecycle of these tools accelerates — and we move from creating gigabytes, to terabytes to petabytes of information per day — people will actually become more important. 

You will need to recruit and invest in people who have the skills to keep up, who treat change as the only constant. They will have to deal with information and data overload on a scale that would make us weep, in order to extract the valuable knowledge and apply it to innovate. 

The skills of your people to intuitively use data analytics, answer the difficult questions, to create and reuse knowledge in order to innovate will put knowledge management at the forefront of your ability to keep up with the acceleration of change.

Because knowledge management — like any other management discipline — is largely about people. 

But all bets are off when Skynet takes over ....