The impending Digital Dust Bowl: Mitigation, survival and interdependence

Acts of nature helped create the Dust Bowl; AI-enabled acts of man will stir up the Digital Dust Bowl

Myriad developments such as inexperience with newly automated methods of farming, topsoil shifts, and periods of drought and high winds triggered the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which exacerbated the ongoing decline of the U.S. economy. Today, the high affordability and rapidly spreading use of analytics and machine learning software reduce the amount of labor necessary to perform complex tasks. In short, we are farming our labor pool in different ways and destabilizing our labor markets in a manner similar to the way automated machinery destabilized our topsoil and helped trigger the Dust Bowl, a calamity with far-reaching economic consequences that compounded the troubles of a country suffering through the Great Depression, cemented in history in the John Steinbeck classic “The Grapes of Wrath.”

We are, in essence, creating a Digital Dust Bowl of displaced manufacturing, clerical and middle-management workers whose jobs will be replaced by automated machines and different methods of establishing trust in a wide range of economic transactions. Technology executives and strategists comprehend this better than most other business and political leaders as we have lived in this world for decades. Ways to mitigate the disruptive economic and social impacts to these accelerations have yet to gain broad-based consensus within the policy making institutions as evidenced by the current political climate at the national level. It is this lack of consensus that hinders our ability to mitigate the impending economic impacts of the accelerating rate of technological innovation.

Major economic shifts pressure the interdependencies between citizens, businesses and governments

Figure 1 outlines the main intersecting domains of people (laborers and consumers), businesses, and government and trust institutions tasked with regulating and certifying the activity between individuals and businesses as well as with “protecting the commons.”

Oracle guides its customers into IoT

Oracle’s expanded IoT cloud

Oracle IoT Cloud focuses on offering easy integration with Oracle’s Business Intelligence Mobile Cloud and can be offered as both a SaaS application and a PaaS offering. Interestingly, Oracle did not highlight Amazon Web Services, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) or Google as partners, indicating the company prefers to keep data inside its own cloud. Oracle also announced, through the combination of Oracle IoT Cloud and its enterprise applications, the creation of new industry-focused solutions, such as digital field service, smart connected factories and digital fleet management. Oracle’s examples of areas where the company is currently seeing the most demand through its customer base include:

  • Digital Field Service: Showcases intelligent remote monitoring, failure prediction, over-the-air repair and dynamic technician dispatch. The solution features IoT Asset Monitoring Cloud, CX Service Cloud, CX Engagement Cloud and CX Field Service Cloud, plus the use of AR for guided equipment repair.
  • Smart Connected Factory: Demonstrates how incident detection, root cause analysis and smart resolution are performed within minutes in a connected factory. The solution features IoT Production Monitoring Cloud, SCM Cloud and ERP Cloud, and the use of VR to navigate the manufacturing floor. It can also be used for remote worker training.
  • Digital Fleet Management: Showcases real-time shipment tracking, risk management and logistics synchronization. The solution features IoT Fleet Management Cloud and Oracle Logistics Cloud.

Powering the company’s cloud offerings, and the enterprise applications, is the new Oracle IoT Cloud Applications. The first round of these applications includes asset monitoring, connected workforce, fleet monitoring and production monitoring. Again, Oracle is focused on where it observes the most IoT activity when developing these applications. Oracle also introduced a number of capabilities to Oracle IoT Cloud:

  • Digital Twin for Supply Chain Management: For creating a digital representation of a physical asset to deliver enhanced analytics
  • Digital Thread for Supply Chain Management: A way to connect business process frameworks and create a “system of systems” to join traditionally siloed elements in real time through a digital supply chain
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: These technologies are holistically integrated across Oracle’s IoT solution portfolio to assist digital twin and digital thread and produce overall insight from data.

These features show that Oracle has the capability to shepherd its customers though the more common vertical use cases at this time. TBR would not be surprised if Oracle were to release new industry-focused solutions and applications at a regular half-year cadence as it monitors the market and listens to its customers’ requests.

Successful companies will organize for continual IoT innovation

In the Internet of Things (IoT) era, successful companies will innovate constantly, at all levels of the organization. The most successful of these companies will change their culture and processes to foster this innovation. For many companies, IoT will trigger organizational change, which, in turn, will drive innovation in other areas as well as IoT. TBR believes that IoT is not a technology revolution, but rather a business revolution that will change how companies operate and evolve.

Innovation will occur at every level of the organization, and IoT and IoT-related solutions will proliferate. To prevent sprawl and consequent security and efficiency implications, IT will set standards and provide standard resources where practicable. At the same time, IT will facilitate innovation by being responsive, and by providing and supporting horizontal IoT tools. Successful IT vendors will serve the needs of IT departments supporting distributed IoT innovation. Dell EMC’s concept of “IT transformation,” which is one of supporting innovation, describes this model very well.

IoT everywhere

IoT and IoT-related solutions will proliferate because IoT offers many valuable potential solutions for many business processes, particularly as additional lower-cost solutions become available. Despite its long history, IoT is immature. The near future will bring many more prepackaged solutions, easy-to-use components and more efficient data utilization. These changes will lower costs, improve ROIs and make many more solutions feasible. Many new solutions will require no new data, but will integrate or analyze IoT-generated data to deliver more value.

IoT’s value potential is not confined to companywide transformative projects. There are opportunities for valuable solutions at every scale and in many different business units and departments within each company. Therefore, successful companies will enable the development and refinement of new IoT solutions throughout the organization, not just in designated departments or groups.

Quantum computing: Same plot, shorter film

TBR position: The path to quantum computing commercialization will follow a trajectory similar to that of classical computing, but much faster

IBM (NYSE: IBM) states that its quantum computing architecture will eclipse anything classical computing can produce once it can entangle 50 quantum bits (qubits). When IBM announced its quantum cloud service in March 2017, it sat at 5 qubits; by June it had reached 16 qubits. This development trajectory suggests the IBM Q Series will eclipse classical computing in two to three years. On the other hand, quantum pure play D-Wave recently released a system doubling the qubit performance from 1,000 to 2,000. The differences between the two architectures are nuanced and reminiscent of the high-performance computing development arcs of the past 40 years. In classical computing, niche vendors such as Cray and Tandem innovated around special-purpose computers addressing mission-critical, niche applications before general-purpose computing architectures could provide the same compute output at commercially acceptable price points. Quantum will likely follow the same path: niche innovation followed by general-purpose adoption.

The quantum computing landscape is not necessarily technology in pursuit of a use case, but rather it is technology in pursuit of a well-trained workforce that can translate its power into productive commercial outputs. Here is where quantum computing has the potential to extend into viable commercial use cases far faster than the classical computing advancements that have transformed the world over the past 60 years. The lessons on human interaction with technology, the capex to opex shifts cloud computing provides, and the successful pivot to ecosystem business models built around open standards and community-contributed IP will accelerate the commercialization of quantum computing technology, regardless of whether there is a comparable innovation algorithm to Moore’s Law.

Expensive innovation in technology often flows from the public sector quickly down to financial services and healthcare, given that preserving health and wealth are critical to consumers while “protection of the commons” allowed governments to justify costly investments in experimental technologies to protect their citizenry. This paradigm has shifted somewhat, with Moore’s Law economics applied to classical computing as well as the advent of cloud computing combining to dramatically lower the barriers to entry to begin innovating.

Quantum, in that scenario, represents a throwback to the classical business use cases of the past century. Similar to early classical computing instances, a typical D-Wave installation costs about $10 million to stand up.

IT incumbents beware: Startup disruption has only just begun

The Collision conference highlighted the dynamic world of startups, particularly those chasing growth opportunities around disruptive technologies — similar to the business strategies established IT players such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Accenture (NYSE: ACN) are moving toward. Though unequipped for enterprisewide, consulting-led digital transformation engagements, startups will likely increasingly challenge traditional systems integrators (SIs) for discrete digital projects by offering lower pricing, deep niche expertise, more agile delivery, and emphasis on solving clients’ business needs instead of upselling additional services. Startups also threaten larger vendors in the digital talent war by creating cultures that attract highly coveted design, technology and development talent with flexible work arrangements and accelerated career paths. We expect the trend of large SIs acquiring digital startups to continue for the foreseeable future. However, as the very best startups increasingly gain visibility through successful projects with high-profile brands, we believe SIs will need to work harder (and pay more) to persuade startups to become part of larger, legacy IT services organizations.



Collision was created in 2014 as part of a series of international events hosted by the founders of Web Summit, the Dublin-based event promoted as an alternative to large-scale technology conferences such as the International Consumer Electronics Showcase and the SXSW Interactive Festival. The conference acts as a forum for startup founders, executives of leading large corporations, investors and influencers to connect and network. In its second year being held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the conference welcomed more than 19,000 attendees from 119 countries. The 605 companies exhibiting products, services and technology solutions across three days included 480 “Alphas,” or very early stage startups; 88 “Betas,” or startups that have raised more than $1 million in funding; and 26 “Starts,” or growth-stage startups that have raised more than $3 million in funding. Interspersed with the exhibition booths were four stages hosting nine tracks of sessions with 357 speakers and moderators across a variety of topics, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, SaaS, design, the future of computing, marketing, sustainability, music, sports and startup best practices (termed “Startup University”). TBR also interacted one-on-one with several startup founders and speakers

PwC pivots to Asia

In presentations and conversations with PwC partners, PwC detailed significant investments geared toward expanding with the APAC market, including a Growth Markets Centre and Cybersecurity Centre in Singapore as well as new Experience Centres in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney and Melbourne, which add to a growing array of such centers across their global network. With the Growth Markets Centre, PwC set up a clearinghouse for information and analysis on maturing markets, addressing the need for unique and comprehensive local knowledge. The Growth Markets Centre provides analysis for clients and partners, supplemented by PwC professionals with direct experience in previous engagements. The firm assists clients with regional, country and city-level market analysis and, when possible, information from and the views of PwC partners who have worked in the selected cities with clients in the same or similar industries.

Building on lessons from the Miami Experience Center (see previous TBR reporting on PwC’s expansion in cybersecurity and the firm’s investment in client-centric co-innovation centers) and applying local experience, particularly around staffing and talent management, PwC described its new Experience Centers in Hong Kong and Shanghai as geared specifically for the local markets. According to the firm, the experience centers were designed, in part, to, “change what clients go to consultants for.” PwC anticipates clients, after visiting the centers, will see its broad, rich consulting skills and ability to provide more than just audit assurance and tax services to solve client’s most complex challenges. PwC executives explained to TBR that the firm believed in “agile consulting,” what they described as creating multidisciplinary teams as well as a leadership and culture around teamwork. PwC invested heavily in bringing Strategy&, digital marketing creatives, analytics geeks and industry subject matter experts together and building “agile” and efficient teams. Repeating comments made last year in Miami about the potential to use Experience Centers to cut across verticals, PwC executives added that the “richest form of conversation comes in talking about an adjacent industry” and discussing what other companies are doing to “be disruptive to their own market.” Overall, PwC made a compelling case it had successfully translated into the APAC region those elements that made the Experience Centers work elsewhere, even while still battling brand recognition hurdles or misunderstandings based on the firm’s legacy services.

Like we have seen at other PwC analyst events, PwC is walking the walk. Instead of sessions with PwC leaders telling us what they do with endless slide decks, 11 clients from China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia spoke about the projects they are working on with PwC. The projects demonstrated the broad set of challenges PwC is helping clients address, with engagements focused on corporate strategy, block-chain implementation, digital transformation, cyber and RPA, deals strategy, and more.



PwC Analysts Day 2017: PwC hosted more than 50 analysts and clients for a day-long session highlighting the firm’s recent investments in and commitment to APAC. Between client testimonials and panel sessions on PwC’s offerings, TBR met with partners and client executives, hearing firsthand accounts of PwC’s recent growth across the region, including specific examples from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan and Australia.