This is something you see quite often as digital impinges on old-fashioned industries, that first of all digital makes the old product better, and then all of a sudden it creates a new product that kills the old product entirely. And so digital looks to begin with like everything’s going great, that it’s going to be wonderful, we’re going to make lots more money than we did before, and then all of a sudden, somebody comes along and crushes you.
That’s from Benedict Evan’s presentation, Mobile is eating the world which came out a few weeks ago and is as good as everybody says it is – well worth 25 minutes of your time.
The lines I have quoted (which come about twenty minutes in) are from a passage about the transition to digital photography, illustrated with data about camera sales. If you were making cameras in 2006, you were probably dizzy with the success of your transition to digital. But looking at the chart below, it’s hardly surprising that Kodak was getting out of the camera business altogether by early 2012.
The problem for Kodak (among others) was not, of course, that everybody had stopped taking photographs, still less that they were abandoning digital.1 The problem was that there was a different way of getting to a better outcome (and a very different sense of what counted as a better outcome), a problem which the traditional companies could neither recognise nor counter.2
The disruptive effect of digital on government remains much debated (as does the very concept of digital government). How much of the current excitement – and achievement – of digital government is about making the old product better? And what might the new product be which will change the idea of government altogether?
We may think that we are delivering digital transformation. There may be clear evidence of change in the right direction. But others have thought that before and found that the transformation they thought they had achieved was at best a respite, and at worst an illusion.
- The previous slide in the presentation shows that more than ten times as many photographs were shared on social media in 2014 than were taken in total by consumers in 1999. ↩
- The camera industry is not dead, or course – the chart itself shows that more digital cameras were sold in 2013 than film cameras were sold in any year ever. ↩