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June 27, 2014
Happy birthday, digital
By: Mark McDonald

Picking a date certain on when a trend started is likely to start a discussion as we all have our own ideas on the birthday of a new trend. Here goes.

Let's call June 29, 2007 the birthday of the broad based digital economy. The type of digital we know today. June 29, 2007 represents the launch of the iPhone and more importantly the app store distribution model. I choose this day because people can recall when they saw or used their first smartphone rather than out of any zealous devotion to a technology company named after a piece of fruit.

Recognizing digital’s rich heritage – the chickens before the digital egg

Digital is older than most may think, going back more than 30 years to EDI and digitization of corporate operations. More than 60 years of investment in corporate IT can also be viewed as digital. But digital in a different way than the broad based digital world we are coming into.

Prior IT related solutions revolved around increasing automation of back office transaction processing, so it is digital in the sense that it turned physical resources like paper into information based processes. This type of digital changed the way companies work but it had a limited immediate and visible impact on people’s lives and not reflective of the way we use the technology today.

Broad based digital seeks to capture the world we see today where technology is omnipresent, integrated, focused on people, and rapidly innovating the relationship between human beings, business and information.

The launch of the Mosaic browser, the dot.com boom, Amazon and others can all lay claims to being at the start of digital. Their claims are legitimate, but I will suggest not indicative of what we consider digital today. For one, these were called Internet companies applying web technology to perform tasks in new ways.

The internet and eCommerce are progenitors of digital as we know it today. They are critical for digital’s future, but they are less the focus of digital innovation and disruption.

A birthday denotes the start date for something different

Setting broad based digital’s birthday is an arbitrary exercise. It serves as a marker for digital’s growth rate and maturity. A birthday is a broadly recognized event and tied to a date certain. The iPhone and more importantly the app distribution model behind it changed the way we thought about the relationship between humans, business and technology
A period of time provides a ‘handle’ to talk about what has happened and to imagine what will happen in the future. The exact date does not matter, so if we all agree that this form of digital – broad based digital – is around 10 years old then we can look at what has changed and how things may change in the future.

So, Happy Birthday Digital!

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