Hypertubes, Red Tape, and Ecosystems: Getting Innovation into Existence
Welcome to the Think Tank with Frank Kenney
With decades of analyst and integration industry experience, Frank Kenney is a fountain of knowledge on all things tech. Now, he aims to share that awareness with you. Come back every other Thursday for your biweekly dose of thought leadership in this blog from one of technology’s most insightful thinkers and gain perspective on a variety of topics ranging from what’s happening in integration today to what’s on the horizon, poised to disrupt the integration space going forward.
There was a great article this week published by The New York Times titled, “A Real Tube Carrying Dreams of 600-M.P.H. Transit.” It seems like the wonderful folks at Virgin have been testing hyperloop technology in the middle of the desert, and in some cases achieving speeds of 240 miles per hour. All of a sudden, the once fantastical 30-minute commute could be possible for folks living 100 miles away from their places of work. Won’t that do something to the real estate market?!
I love reading articles like this – they take me to a headspace akin to the opening credits sequence of one of my favorite shows, “Futurama,” a frenetic sequence that zooms through a world of tomorrow filled with hovercars, larger-than-life electronic screens and billboards touting various alien advertisements, and a tube transport system.
It seems that every time I watch an episode, I notice something new and seemingly copied without shame from the animated show and thrown into real life – most recently, Virgin’s tube. There are a few other examples, but I won’t mention them here (this is a family blog). Where was I? Oh yeah, real life. The so-called real tube would transport me from Tampa to arrive in downtown Atlanta in about an hour. That’s city living!
Except that while the physics and limitations of the machinery have been figured out, there’s still that other real-life bother – all the regulatory red tape. The bureaucracy and regulatory mechanisms that need to be sorted out, implemented, and eventually enforced take time, perhaps a lot of time.
For human beings to go shooting through the commuter’s equivalent of the world’s fastest tube slide at 600 miles an hour – that’s three-quarters the speed of sound for those of you wondering – in a bullet-shaped pod, red tape should be a welcome necessity.
However, red tape is often synonymous with delay. That generally means we will be sitting on this technology for quite a while until we can prove that the measurement of acceptable risk to humans does not outweigh the potential benefits from such a profitable endeavor. This is kind of the problem that Elon Musk has been having with his proposed Hyperloop alpha system concept in California. Yes, it’s great to have a tunnel that would take hours off our commutes, but cutting through the red tape has thus far proven to be a nightmare.
Virgin has an answer for crippling regulatory slowdowns, dog-piling mandates, layer upon layer of officialdom, and a general hodgepodge of paper shuffling, pencil edits, and eraser shavings. Once again, the answer involves bringing ecosystems and B2B integration to the forefront. In terms of cutting through the red tape, ecosystem integration provides a pretty capable pair of scissors.
Three massive freight logistics hubs – Columbus, Ohio, Chicago, and Pittsburgh – can now be easily connected with high-volume, low-weight freight being shipped in a fraction of the time it would take to transport via conventional methods. This is when it gets interesting. This is when the long arm of business starts to translate risky technology into ecosystem expansion and value. It may take years to overcome concerns with human travel, but there’s a good chance Virgin will be sending these packages through within the next several years. The risk factor is lowered, and the potential value is just too high not to give it a go.
Further, this innovation put into practice is not about disrupting traditional supply chains. Loading a pallet on a truck is still a great way to transfer supplier X’s pallet of drywall screws to any of around 20 Home Depot distribution center warehouse facilities. But as the article postulates, local and regional factories and warehouses looking to increase operating margins by lowering warehouse inventory costs will embrace this opportunity.
The big point of the story and others like it is whenever you’re looking to justify any type of new technology deployment or implementation, tie those processes back to the ones that impact the economics of the business.
The conversation needs to turn from, “We could save a lot of money if …” to, “We could create new revenue streams if …” It’s a much easier conversation and one that will find its way up the decision-making tree and onto the desk of the purse holders.
Remember ecosystems are the best mechanisms for expansion, augmentation, and discovery of new business processes, business models, and revenue opportunities. So, while us humans might not get the chance to catch the news waiting to hop on our morning hyperloop anytime soon, everything from our personal electronics to the gadgets we find at home in our kitchens will have had the luxury of taking the 600-mph ride well before we do.