When should you get really interested in new technology?

technology-readiness-levels.png

The pace at which technology is developing appears to be speeding up all around us – so what should we do in such an environment?

Technology developers and evangelists can have any number of brilliant ideas and solutions, but as buyers and users that may have to use the technology for a number of years, we need to be careful.

The Gartner hype cycle is a popular way of looking at different technology and says that they tend to pass through five phases:

  1. A new technology is created.
  2. We expect too much from it.
  3. We’re disappointed when it doesn’t meet those expectations.
  4. We learn and change and figure out how to use it properly.
  5. It helps to be more productive up to a point, and then the effects level off.

It’s a nice graph, but there is little evidence to say that is actually works or has any science behind it.

It’s more a picture of how industry insiders collectively think about technologies at a point in time than an accurate reflection of the journey technologies take from creation to mass adoption.

A more useful indicator, used widely in academia, is the idea of Technology Readiness Levels or TRLs.

TRLs originated in the aviation industry, where pre-flight checks are common before taking off – a process called flight readiness reviews.

Having a checklist to go through and check and double check critical elements is a major contributor to flight safety.

NASA took this one step further, and came up with the idea of checking whether technologies were ready to start being used in programmes – a technology readiness review.

This led to the idea of readiness levels – and a formal version of these are used by many organisations.

For those of us that need to make a decision about a specific technology option, the picture above shows an adapted version of the TRL framework that may be useful.

In essence, we go from low TRL levels, where a technology progresses from basic principles to a model that works in the laboratory between levels 1 and 4.

At the other end, at 9, we have systems that are proven, work in the field and are probably widely deployed – but that are also mature and perhaps need changing

The interesting stuff is happening between 5 and 8, and this is where we should focus our attention.

Take blockchain technologies, for instance.

The idea of the blockchain and demonstrators with code have been around for a while.

Bitcoin, arguably the first proper prototype that began operating on the web in anger, has been around for nearly a decade.

We are now in a situation where there are a number of prototypes being operated – we can create apps on ethereum now and test them out – but there are still challenges that need to be solved around scaling and power usage.

So, we might score blockchain a 7 with strong potential to go onto 8.

That might suggest that a good time to get involved is right now.

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