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Emerging technologies: how to catch the wave in time?

Marco van der Werf

Marco van der Werf


Technology lies at the root of many innovations. It got us from the combustion engine to adaptive cruise control, and from gunpowder to launching rockets to Mars.      

However, many exciting technologies are yet to be unlocked. Like quantum computing, synthetic biology, or autonomous vehicles.      

How to scout which technologies are relevant to your organization? And how to know when to jump in? The Bit Maturity Wave provides insights on how to value emerging technologies and their adoption within the context of your innovation goals.      

Bit_prototyping Emerging technologies: how to catch the wave in time?

How being an early adopter with new tech pays off

In 2013, Alibaba launched its first chatbot. By that time, researchers and labs had been experimenting with different forms of virtual assistance for decades. Yet commercial applications still had to prove its value. Fast forward to 2020, and it's easy to see Alibaba’s leap of faith paid off. Whereas 70-80% of companies had yet to adopt AI solutions in 2017, Alibaba’s chatbot now takes on 95% of all customer service requests: 9.5 million customers per day.      

Scouting and experimenting with emerging technology at the right time can create a major competitive advantage for your company. So, how is it done?      

Framing emerging technologies like waves

We look at tech-based innovation like surfing waves at sea; timing is the most important factor.

If you've ever attempted surfing before, you must know it includes a lot of paddling and what may feel like waiting around for 'the right wave'. Stand up on your board too early, before the wave actually hits, and you'll lose your balance and fall. Only to let the waves wash over your head. Stand up on your board too late, and there isn't much more than an echoing ripple for you to ride out.

To catch a good wave, you keep eye on the horizon to spot an opportunity. The earlier you anticipate the wave, the more surface you can catch. Tech-driven innovation isn't much different.

By focusing your innovation efforts on early stage new technologies, you have time to experiment and learn. The technologies that have been proven and are getting widely adopted, carry a lower risk, yet don't bring the same competitive advantage.      

The Bit Maturity Wave

An introduction to the Bit Maturity Wave

The Bit Maturity wave is a framework to map out technologies. Every maturity wave is built up by six key stages of technology proving value to science, business, and society. Its horizontal axis is relative timing towards mainstream adoption compared to today.      

  1. Sci-fi | 20+ years —  The first wave captures envisioned technologies. Just envisioned, there is no idea of how we would ever make this a reality. Think of the stuff you see in Star Wars or Jules Verne novels. Such as teleporting or Quantum internet.

  2. Lab prototypes | 10+ years—  The second wave comprises the first manifestations of what used to be sci-fi. These prototypes that emerge in research labs (MIT, Harvard) or R&D heavy companies (Google, IBM) have the function to show that it can be built in a controlled environment. Now we have proof that conceptually it can be built, but these prototypes are not built for scale. From these prototypes, it can take over 10 years to reach mainstream adoption. Examples are seeing through walls, EQ Radio or Qubits.

  3. First applications | 5–10 years —  Once a technology leaves the lab, it's exposed to the real world. Startups, prototyping studios and new ventures try to find the right applications for the newly available technology. For example, there is a lot of experimentation with blockchain in this wave, aiming to find a feature fit with existing problems. When this is found, it usually takes 5 to 10 years to reach mainstream adoption. A startup example is Lumineye.

  4. Potential unlocked | 2–5 years— Once an applied technology has found its place in the real world and starts to provide value, it has arrived in the potential unlocked wave. Note that for adoption to ensue, the value it generates should at least be on par for the competing solutions. This is the reason why blockchain in some applications is stagnating, as in many cases it isn't superior to a centralised database. However, when it comes to using it for smart contracts for transport, we see more traction. Understanding the difference between first applications and potential unlocked (the previous wave) is crucial in spotting early successes. Within 2 to 5 years, the technology will become mainstream. Other examples include computer vision and predictive maintenance.

  5. Mainstream adoption | 0–1 year —  When potential is unlocked, things move really fast. Solutions become easier to implement as technology becomes available off the shelve. Think of how easy it is these days to integrate a chat(bot) on your website. 10 years ago, this would've required developers to build it. When the technology hits mainstream adoption, being a forerunner is hard, as there is a lot of competition. It often turns into: you have to do it within a year, or you are out. Example: having an app as a customer interface.

  6. Total adoption + invisible | the past — Technologies that have reached this stage are an integral part of our everyday lives. Some technologies die out of obsolesce by newer technologies. Other technologies are so vital to us that they become deeply engrained in our society and lives. This is where we arrive at the last wave of technology. Invisible technologies are technologies we don't consider as such. Think of glasses, cutlery and even a car.      

How to use the Bit Maturity wave?

The Bit Maturity Wave offers a view on emerging technologies and their stage of maturity. It captures technologies from an envisioned state, in which tech is still science fiction (like teleporting), to an invisible state, in which technology is so deeply accepted into our lives, we forget it ever was a new invention (like glasses).      

The Maturity Wave helps us and our clients gain insights in:

  • Scouting tech — What technologies are promising for the context of your industry?
  • Planning innovation — What technologies to use for short- and longer-term innovation?
  • Starting experiments — What technology fits your challenge and offers potential of early adoption rewards?     

How can it help your company fast forward?

If you want to be leading your field, you need to be among the first to step into the unknown. Experimenting with technologies that are just out of the lab, gives you the best chance to uncover opportunities and propel innovation forward.

Using the Bit maturity Wave helps identify the most valuable technologies for your sector, plan your innovation strategy, define useful experiments for your challenges and build working prototypes as a proof of technology.

If you want a custom maturity wave research specialised for a specific industry or for your organization, get in touch. For more on the Bit maturity wave, we are sharing free ebooks here. For more of Bit, join our weekly newsletter :)