Digital Moves Faster Than the Speed of People

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
The speed of digital technology

The challenge for IT and business managers is to motivate people to adopt new systems. A good start is to ensure that a technology delivers value to everyone.

One of the remarkable things about information technology is just how fast invention and innovation now take place. In many cases, one generation of technology winds up in the dustbin before it reaches widespread adoption.

The latest example of this trend is the boarding pass. Most people continue to print their own documents or rely on kiosks at airports. Only about 10 percent use mobile boarding passes and about 6 percent use their smartphones to check in—despite the convenience of these methods. But now, even before mobile boarding passes hit the mainstream, Alaska Airlines is introducing biometric boarding passes.

Here's how it works: You enroll in the program, record your fingerprint and then, when you check in, use a biometric scanner to authenticate yourself. There is no paper to lose. There is no e-boarding pass to download and no worries about your smartphone battery dying. You are the boarding pass.

Disney is already using biometric fingerprint scanners at its theme parks to verify pass holders.  Hospitals, banks and others also are using these systems to authentication staff when they log into computers.

I have no idea whether the Alaska Airlines fingerprint scanner will gain widespread acceptance. Apparently, some people have concerns about privacy—though I'm not sure verifying a person's identity has anything to do with personal data or protecting it.

The bigger question is: Can people change their habits? Getting passengers—or people in general—to make a change is always a challenge. But when generations of technology pass by like a maglev train traveling at 268 miles per hour, the difficulty is compounded exponentially. Most people operate more like 19th century steam engines.

The task, at any level of business and IT, is to motivate people to change and adopt new and better systems. The pace of innovation will be what it is, and nothing will alter this equation.

A good start for IT executives is to make sure that a new technology delivers benefits to everyone—not just the company introducing it. It's also critical to ensure that the technology is simple to use, and that people have the tools and instructions to put the new systems to use effectively.

That's when new technology takes flight. I have a sense that in a decade, we will all be using biometric scanners. But, like many technologies before it—ATMs, mobile wallets and video conferencing—it's a long, slow and somewhat tortuous slog to the boarding gate.

This article was originally published on 2014-12-22
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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