“Today we’re introducing three revolutionary devices; an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. These are one device and we are calling it “iPhone.” This is how Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007 and it perfectly encapsulates the trend that is changing our world: communications or technological convergence. Traditionally, we see many technologies as distinct silos. You received phone calls through dedicated phone lines. You bought a single purpose camera. You watched TV on something with rabbit ears. Now each of those things are done with “apps” and on a single device.
This is the reason why technology companies continually invade each other’s markets. It’s hard now to completely distinguish the markets Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants inhabit. Economist compared their competition to the HBO series, Game of Thrones. At the beginning of this century Amazon was a seller of physical books and other retail items and now it is the largest provider of cloud computing services to corporate America. Before it competed with Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and Target. Now Amazon has added IBM, Google, Microsoft, and others to its list of competitors not to mention Apple with whom it competes on selling media content and devices like the Kindle.
These examples show how technological convergence disrupts traditional silos. The process is now profoundly affecting government. Cloud computing and cyber security are now primary concerns of government IT shops. Most agencies are working to adapt to the changing way their customers and stakeholders interact and consume information with new digital initiatives.
For example, my company, Corner Alliance, does a lot of work in the public safety communications space. For many decades, first responders felt that voice was separate from data. The data services available were slow and of limited use. Now broadband networks and the potential created by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) are converging these technologies. Voice will soon be just another “app” that a responder uses. In fact, mirroring what is happening with the commercial Internet of Things, most “communication” for responders will be between devices or “things” like sensors, cameras, and analytical engines. That is not to diminish the importance of voice communications to responders. It is still essential that when a responder is in trouble they have the ability to talk. However, technological convergence and advancement will reduce the need, provide redundancy, and automate procedures to improve safety. Public safety communications is just one example of where the phenomenon of technological convergence is transforming government. As a government leader, it’s important to keep in mind that the traditional silos that kept IT issues separate from policy issues are breaking down. New players who you never considered before will suddenly become important parts of your stakeholder base.