I think we have all heard enough about unicorns for a while, companies with ridiculously fast growth valued at over $1 billion.

The Wall Street Journal Has this graphic that’s pretty cool – it’s animated to show you how we go to the 157 unicorns we have today:

As people talk about cloud, and IoT, the Sharing economy, the Gig economy, Agile, DevOps, and other areas, it seems that some of the more meaningful macro trends are not getting their due.

1. Identity-proofing – Logins and passwords are badly outdated and we are using them for things that don’t really make sense.  $16 Billion was stolen from Americans last year in identity theft alone partly because it’s so easy, it’s a surprise the problem isn’t much worse.   AuthenticID is a company that’s leading the way in a category called “identity proofing” and it’s going to make IDs and passwords obsolete very fast.  Facial recognition, fingerprints, and other simple non-invasive methods will help ensure we are who we say we are for everything from bank logins to car rentals.  It seems pretty obvious to say it, but it’s coming, and it’s coming fast.  The “so what?” here is it’s one of those technologies that in a couple of years we will be saying “remember when we had to keep track of all our passwords?”

2. Immediately Responsive– Speed, Continuous Delivery (Amazon, Google, Netflix).  Andy Singleton wrote this great piece on why continuous integration/continuous delivery works.  Massive testing models enables zero defects.  Some credit Amazon, Google, and Netflix for this, but what it amounts to the elimination of long term strategic planning.   You can be so responsive to customers and what they want and don’t want, that you deliver it in real time.  The not so secret trick to this from a software perspective is massive testing models – there is a picture of the Netflix model of integrated services is amazing (below). The answer to the “so what?” question is that you no longer need long term planning and strategy with this if you are that tuned into your customer right now – and the trust and security of point #1 is a key part of the long term success of this model.


3. Automated Complex Decisions – Repetitive Things, DevOps, AI, Bots.  Automation is a really old word, but what’s happening with artificial intelligence, DevOps, bots, and other emerging technologies is seeing patterns work, from server management, to how people respond to call center questions and automating all of that.  Legal contracts are a great example – they are highly repetitive and usually only need a few word changes for specific needs of customers and regions.  There’s a new startup that has scanned piles of legal documents to make all of that more efficient.  The trend here that wasn’t here before is in practical day-to-day tasks.  Chef is the name of a big DevOps company, and LawyerRobot is coming.  Forbes did this piece on bots recently and it’s very insightful.  The “so what?” here is that people need to plan their career path in a way that aligns with this so they don’t get run over by it.

4. Everything Explicit/On Demand – Services with Tech – SaaS, and People – Gig.  Though a bit dated, the notion of SOA – a service oriented architecture, where a function or service is defined with explicit start/stop boundaries and they can be defined for highly specific things, that’s a big part of what’s at the heart of Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offered by Azure and AWS.  Those businesses are huge and growing.  The yin to that yang is what some call the “gig” economy, where people also do very specific tasks, often for short durations (an Uber driver is a decent example).  Because people are aligning themselves with these explicit functions that can be done on demand, we are seeing people doing more contract (as-a-service) work, and less full time employment, and when people do take full time employment, it’s usually for a decreasing average amount of time.  Again this model, trust is an important element and having a look friction way to authenticate people is key to helping get on with what they are doing.  The “so what?” here is that it is changing the way people think about just about everything – there’s a reason the big software company SAP appears to be going down fast – it’s architected for a different time – people need all of these discrete services, not some monolith.

5. Free (and not just for consumers) 25 years ago not much was free.  Napster had a bumpy road with music, but over time, many people have come to expect a lot for free. Adobe acrobat reader seems like it was a pioneer in the “freemium” model, but Google Docs is among the really big crossovers where Microsoft Office had a corner on the market until Google made a good-enough-for-most product and gave it away for free.  Whether or not that was the tipping point for free things for business users, most products from DocuSign to DropBox have a free service.  On the consumer end, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Youtube and other giants have figured out how to make things free for the end user while trying to monetize it in some other way on the back end.  The “so what?” here is how everyone will continue to make money.  Some of the sponsored ads behind Facebook don’t seem likely to live on forever, but if everyone has to have a core service for free, then what?

6. Transparent Supply – People have talked about increased transparency for years.  But when you look at services like Airbnb, the WOW there is the increased transparency in the supply chain.  That’s the big deal about the so-called “Sharing” economy – which is a terrible name for it.  Giving the buyer much greater visibility into what their immediate neighbors have available in terms of products and services is a real threat to bigger companies like The Home Depot and Lowe’s, in addition to hotels and other retailers.  The achilles heel for this is trust and security (back to point #1) and soon we will see better methods of authentication to reduce the risk of so-called “bad actors” in these interactions.  The “so what?” there is that several big industries are threatened.

7. Linked – Things like LinkedIn, Facebook, and even the Nest home thermostat (more in the realm of the Internet of things – IoT) are all examples of the proliferation of linkages that weren’t possible even 20 years ago with the speed and ease with which they happen today.  Now that we have the foundation for the links that people want and need, we will start to see some really interesting applications of these linkages. Slack is a technology that seems to offer some insight into how modern communications (e-mail and texting) are combining with this notion of linkage at a group level and it seems likely to see more A+B=C combinations like that.  There are a number of “so what?” here is that with these new linkages, which are largely in place, we will probably see the pendulum swing back toward privacy and security, or see linkage-layers emerge where the more trusted/authenticated are the most valuable.