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Keeping It Simple Isn’t So Simple

When I first started in the technology industry—more years ago than I’d like to think—it seemed that we spoke in our own specialized lexicon. Our conversations about “users,” “plug ins,” and “floppies” probably sounded like some sort of drug culture shorthand.

Fast forward to the present. Today, my morning paper—yes, I know, how quaint—is choked with advertisements for mega-this, multi-that, and iEverything. Consumers haven’t just embraced technology; they’ve taken it over. You can see the impact everywhere. Music and movies in the palm of your hand. Cars with more connections than a dating service. And social media sites for donating to presidential campaigns.

Those of us in the industry want to believe that technology is still in the driver’s seat; that technology leads and people follow. I don’t think so anymore. Technology may innovate but consumers are at the wheel. They decide who wins—even if it isn’t necessarily the superior technology. And, like it or not, the technology industry must follow that lead.

I’d even argue that it’s consumers, not businesses, that drive the demand for processing power. Look on your company laptop. It’s probably loaded with word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. Now take a look at your personal computer. Chances are it’s loaded with videos, song lists, and maybe even the latest World of Warcraft game. Which demands more processing power? Exactly. Your business programs may use the increased power to process a bloated list of features that you’ll probably never use. But they didn’t drive the need for power. The applications on your personal computer did.

Even though Cisco is not a consumer company, we know, ultimately, that our innovations are driven by the demands of the consumer. Video and multimedia demands are behind the increasing demand for networking bandwidth. Sure, there’s an important need for training videos and video conferencing in business. But it’s the consumers’ expectations and demand for online video that’s the real catalyst.

This trend is both a blessing and a curse for technology. The consumer embrace is why technology is more pervasive, more available, and more common. From books on our tablets and music on our phones to our favorite shows available anytime, anywhere.

The pervasive nature also makes technology more cost-effective. It’s simple math and economies of scale. The more people willing to buy a technology, the less expensive it becomes. That’s why high-definition televisions that used to cost nearly five digits now hover just over three—and with better quality and more features. Why? You guessed it. Because consumers demanded it.

Which brings us to another reason why consumer-driven technology is a good thing. Consumers continually demand newer, better, more. Sure, they’ll settle for a less expensive smartphone. But, start adding new features like voice activation, holographic images, and teleportation—and they’ll be clamoring for more.

It’s important to have more features, but only if they don’t lose sight of simplicity. Consumers want technology that just works—simple and seamless. Think about that HD TV. While consumers may be able to tell the difference between LED, LCD, and plasma, they don’t necessarily want to know how they work. They just want to know they do.

Or think about internet at a hotel. Most guests don’t care about access points, routers, and controllers. They don’t care about technical challenges and limitations. They don’t care if the ceiling is too high. Or if half the routers are running on an old OS. They just want it all to work when they log in. No more walking around the room to find where the signal is best, and there better not be elaborate login procedures that take longer than a SAT test.

So what does this all mean for those of us in technology? It doesn’t mean that technical challenges are somehow diminished. They’re not. In fact, the wizard behind the curtain has to pull more levers for the end experience to seem so easy. What it means is that the people who ultimately drive our industry, who push us to be more creative, who push us to do more with less, don’t care. They just want it to work. And, to keep growing, it’s our jobs to overcome the challenges.

Sure we don’t sell solutions directly to consumers. But the businesses we serve do. They live and die by their ability to meet customer expectations. The more we can help them do that—with products and services that support the highly personalized nature of consumer demands—the more successfully they’ll be.

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