Legacy. At times it can be a boon, inspiring culture and rooting us with a strong identity forged in the fires of history. But it can also be a weighty anchor pulling us to the bottom. In business, there are no awards for being first out of the blocks; the gold medals are reserved for those first past the finish line.
This can be seen in the battle between Microsoft and Apple. Steve Jobs rebuilt Apple from a company facing imminent implosion into (for a brief period this summer) the most valuable company in the world (it’s currently second behind Exxon Mobil). Famously, he did so by simplifying and cutting features – Jobs was the first to drop the floppy disk drive, the removable battery and now the CD/DVD. The original iPhone lacked the majority of features (such as cut and paste) that competitors believed to be essential. This freedom from past conventions allowed Apple to flourish and grow.
While Apple steams ahead with innovative ideas, Microsoft continues to utilise its DOS features of the past, such as the command prompt, even though MS-DOS reached 30 years of age in July – practically an antique in IT terms. Last week, Microsoft demonstrated its planned changes to Windows Explorer for Windows 8, while Apple continued to question why we need a file explorer at all. Is Microsoft’s legacy also its limit?
We can liken this scenario to telecoms. It is effectively impossible to purchase an Internet connection without the obligatory landline, although landlines are used less and less, because the technology is becoming redundant. In developing countries, the development of cell phones has allowed users to gain ubiquitous connectivity in less than a decade, skipping an entire generation of infrastructure development.
With the tech world abuzz over India’s plans to spend tens of billions to expand its broadband network, there’s no doubt that the world is waking up to the power of connectivity to drive growth and development. In the UK, we have a huge network of dated copper and aluminium wiring that telcos (telecommunications companies) are still desperate to monetize. But our future legacy is not about metal and electricity, it’s about fibre and light. With current technology, fibre can already carry thousands of times more information than copper. The UK is already starting to lag behind our Western counterparts in fibre infrastructure, and there’s a lot of confusion amongst policy-makers, who are easily bamboozled by telcos with complex agendas.
Oldham’s council appear to have grasped the importance of being at the vanguard of fibre rollout and are campaigning to bring fibre down the tram lines to our borough. This is a laudable statement of intent and has huge potential to promote local growth. Of course, intent is only the first step on the road to delivery and there’s a lot of work to do still. While we may be out of the starting blocks, the finish line remains a long way off.