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The Disrupter Cometh

The Disrupter Cometh

Arguably the biggest disruptive technology of the 90s was the World Wide Web. Koff points out that the Internet had been around for quite a while before the convergence of graphical user interfaces and the ability to do collaborative connectivity - along with the availability of both to millions of people - created the ultimate disruptive technology of the last 10 years. Huge and rapid uptake of the Web has also led to the introduction of Net markets and collaborative commerce, which are both replete with disruptive possibilities for business.

Then there are the hidden ramifications of Moore's Law. If we're cramming twice as many transistors into the same physical space on a piece of silicon every 18 months, even as the cost goes down by half, we can expect increasingly to see more intelligence in everyday products like toys and door knobs.

"The car is a great example. I think it will be one of the things that will hold up as a prime example of a collection of technologies that are really starting to disrupt how we think about the car and its environment," Koff says. "A typical high-end automobile from General Motors or Mercedes or any of the big companies around the world has over 100 microprocessors in it. Not only are they in there, but they're also networked, and there's actually even a little bit of storage that collects information about what the car has done, typically for a two-day period."

Add in technologies like global positioning systems, which give the car a sense of location, and mobile phones, which give the car an ability to communicate with the world, and put them all together with a graphical interface and it begins to change the way people use their cars. "It allows a person to push a button in their car and talk to someone in the General Motors' call centre who knows exactly where the car is. They can give the people in the car directions; but can also tell them about where the next McDonald's is on the highway that they're on. It allows General Motors, because of all this other intelligence in the car, to remotely diagnose the car and what's happening with it in terms of its own technology," Koff says.

Separately, the effect of each new technology advance is evolutionary, but the cumulative effect becomes disruptive because the combination allows a wide range of new capabilities. Thus an insurance company in Ohio called Progressive Insurance is starting to offer new services to users of General Motors' OnStar system, in response to the new "smart car". When an OnStar customer is involved in a car accident where the air bag is activated the car immediately sends a signal to the OnStar system. OnStar instantly contacts emergency services and will also, if the car owner is a Progressive customer, immediately contact the customer's insurance company, so that their representative can show up at the accident site.

"That is very disruptive to the insurance industry and really changes the way that they do business," Koff says.

Likewise, a car that can always signal its location might give insurance companies an incentive to charge premiums according to where the car is habitually driven. Drivers who frequent badly maintained country roads or dangerous neighbourhoods, or who spend most of their time travelling at high speeds on freeways might be charged more than those who don't. (Koff points out that this may actually be illegal, but the point is well made, nonetheless.)In the US, some amusement parks are letting parents hire GPS-enabled tracking devices incorporating beeper technology so they can let the kids loose to explore at will then reunite with them at the end of the day, having used a kiosk to help pinpoint their location. Locally, the ACT Department of Urban Services is using a combination of technologies in its Rego ACT computer system that aren't disruptive individually, but may well be in concert.

The system is delivering vehicle and licensing information to ACT police via high-speed mobile network incorporating a wireless search application using both WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and the newly launched GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) mobile network. The system delivers real-time mobile access to vehicle and driver information held in police and motor registration databases throughout Australia. ACT police have two options for accessing the system: WAP access via a mobile phone, and browser-based access via a PDA connected to a GPRS enabled mobile phone.

Rego ACT lets police and other relevant authorities identify stolen, written off and "rebirthed" vehicles on the spot, within seconds. In doing so, it is dramatically changing the way they operate.

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