How organisations can amplify their Impact through Deep Tech

By Simon Robinson, CEO, Holonomics
Simon Robinson is CEO of Holonomics and the co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation. He shares insights on Deep Tech's benefits to business

I would like to start this article by thanking Technology Magazine for inviting me to become one of their monthly columnists. In this introductory article, I would like to provide a brief overview of my design and innovation background, and explain a little about what I hope to achieve and develop through these articles.  

Also included in this article, you can see my appearance on the Technology & AI Linked live show, where I answer questions from the Technology Magazine team on the kind of subject matter I discuss in this article.

At the genesis of the mobile big bang

I started work in the early 90s at BT Laboratories as a Human Factors professional where my work was focused on the user interface design of their telephony services, including CallMinder, the first speech recognition-based answering service. As the world wide web had just launched, the majority of my colleagues were focused on multimedia and the development of video-on-demand. Noticing an unmet need, I decided to become a specialist in the usability of mobile phones, evangelising the need for BT’s commercial and marketing divisions to understand the importance of customer experience. 

My contributions in this area led me to being invited to move to BT Cellnet as their business development manager responsible for smart phones in 1996. This was an amazing opportunity, allowing me to work in partnership with the likes of Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, and nascent startups such as Unwired Planet (now Openwave) who were developing the first mobile-ready browsers. 

My main project was working as the lead client for Nortel who were developing the Orbitor, the world’s first Java-based smart phone. In the same year, 1997, Steve Jobs famously commented at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference that, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it”.

With operating systems not yet powerful enough to support cameras, mobile networks still on 1G and social media and Web 2.0 years away from conception, we worried if there would even be sufficient demand for these larger and more expensive phones with their graphical touch-sensitive screens. 

Indeed, smart phones were a concept not yet ready for commercialisation. Our work in developing user scenarios and ideation though was not wasted. The first ‘smartphones’ to launch were in fact WAP phones with lo-fi graphics, and it would be downloadable ringtones which were the killer app. 

Genie Internet and the first wave of mobile internet

The mobile internet still lacked an adequate infrastructure. I joined Genie Internet, one of the UK’s first startups which was launched inside of BT Cellnet. I was responsible for music, games and entertainment, working with many forward-thinking media brands such as Virgin Music, EMI, MTV, Ministry of Sound, Endemol and Channel 4, all who were looking to grow through developing more meaningful connections with their audiences, not through the web but through their mobile phones. 

Genie Internet is where we developed new thinking around value ecosystems and platform-based business models. Because we were mobile network-agnostic, an extremely politically controversial business decision, these partnerships allowed us to develop cutting-edge services which could reach the entire UK population, such as G-Live Music, presented by radio DJ Jo Whiley, which gave bands and artists direct access to their fans years before Twitter had been conceived. It was incredible to have this opportunity in one of the UK’s first startups at the intersection of new technology, digital platform development and the design of trans-media experiences.

The level of growth in the global mobile phone market was truly exponential in the 1990s, exploding once SMS messages could be sent from any network to any other network in 1999. Data speeds improved, new value added services were launched, you no longer needed to be technically confident to configure the handset, and of course Apple would launch the first iPhone in 2007, having brought the Orbitor’s lead UI designer Don Lindsay  rom Nortel in 2004 to help develop the user interface. 

Companies still not heeding Steve Job's warning

The world of telecommunications, like every other technology industry has of course gone through a revolution since this first wave of mobile internet was developed. But even though the power of the technology has improved exponentially, our approach to design has not. 

Now that digital transformation is an imperative for every business or organisation around the globe, I see many leadership teams making the one fatal mistake that Steve Jobs warned about. They are starting with the technology, as packaged by vendors, and not with the experience they hope to offer to either their external customers or their internal employees, suppliers, partners and ecosystems. 

Secondly, while society has become ecologically and socially aware of the global challenges we now all face collectively, the conception of growth is still fixated on the singular dimension of financial results. While the financial side of any organisation still remains extremely valid and necessary for its sustained operation, for the last twelve years, my work has involved developing a new vision of organisations, one that we term the 'amplified organisation'. 

Within this vision, we seek to understand growth both qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Through this expanded view, growth, innovation and impact can all be developed through the three movements of elevation, scaling and amplification. 

What Deep Tech means

Holonomics’ Deep Tech Discovery process for example starts with the elevation of an organisation's core value proposition, by ensuring that it takes into account the organisation’s core values, future-fit ESG indicators and the five universal human values of peace, truth, love, righteousness and non-violence. The elevated value proposition is then located within a more systemic description of the strategy which is defined through financial, environmental, market, process and people dimensions. 

Deep tech organisations scale their value propositions through platforms. Their success comes from leadership teams possessing platform vision, the understanding of the architectures, enterprise operating systems and digital backbones necessary for platform-based business models to succeed.

And finally amplification of an organisation’s impact is achieved through new waves of innovation which are the result of deep thinking—an emergent design practice achieved through an expanded form of consciousness, valuing the lived experience of differing groups and communities, and the five universal human values. 

Innovation and technological progress based on this qualitative conception of growth result in inclusive and empowering solutions, rather than the proliferation of platforms and technological solutions which are designed to control and exclude. 

2022 will be the year of the metaverse but I can see so many parallels with the development of the first smart phones where the proposition and value to people was yet to be truly discovered. At this moment in time metaverse solutions are still based on traditional economic models of the scarcity of resources, despite being digital, and there are still questions of personal safety for children and adults alike. 

However, I see so much potential for humanity, and my work is dedicated to helping organisations achieve this collective vision through our expanded conception of deep tech. 

I am looking forward to sharing with you all much more of these ideas, vision and practices in these articles. As we co-create our collective future together, I thank Technology Magazine for providing the space to expand and amplify our thinking of what technology is and how it can develop in true service to humanity. 

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