Digital Transformation: A book review by Bob Morris

Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction
Thomas M. Siebel
Rosetta Books (July 2019)

Creative disruption and natural selection in the 21st century 

Years ago, Charles Darwin observed: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

My own limited research suggests that Darwin’s explanation of the process of natural selection was not based on being able to understand the way genes workgenes hadn’t even been discovered in Darwin’s time. Also, Darwin didn’t understand the physical mechanism behind natural selection. He didn’t know how traits passed from one generation to the next. That insight required Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. What Darwin did work out was how species changed through the natural selection of individuals who were better adapted to their environment. He explained how, through natural selection, species were orientated to their environment both physically and behaviorally.

All this serves as a context, a frame of reference, for Thomas Siebel’s thoughts about how to survive and thrive in what he characterizes as “an era of mass extinction” during the Information Age. He acknowledges the substantial impact of a book by Daniel Bell, The Coming Post-Industrial Society (1973) in which Bell identifies knowledge and data as the crucial values in the post-industrial society. “If tool technology was an extension of man’s physical powers,” he wrote, communication technology, as the extension of perception and knowledge, was the enlargement of human consciousness.”

Siebel wrote this book in order to share what he has learned about the evolution of various technologies (e.g. cloud computing, big data, AI, IoT) and their confluence in the 21st century as well as how they produced the current period of mass extinction and mass diversification in the business world.

These are among the dozens of passages in the book of greatest interest and valkue to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Siebel’s coverage in Chapters 1-8:

o Preface (Pages xvii-xxiii)
o Mass Extinction, Mass Diversification (3-6)
o Punctuated Equilibrium and Economic Disruption (6-10)
o Evolutionary Adaptation (16-17)
o Digital Transformation Today (18-23)

o The Future of Digital Transformation (27-30)
o The Challenges Are Daunting — But Proven Solutions Are Available (32-33)
o Machine Learning and Deep Learning (40-45)
o Additional Benefits of the Plastic Public Cloud (61-63)
o Big Data (65-68)

o Challenges of Big Data (76-81)
o A New Paradigm for Computer Science (84-86
o The AI Renaissance (89-90)
o Machine Learning: Development and Deployment Workflow (97-100)
o The Economic and Social Impacts of AI (103-105)

o Succeeding as an AI-Driven Enterprise (108-109)
o The Internet of Things: Potential and Impact (115-121)
o The Ultimate AI and IoT Computing PLatform (132-135)
o The Strategic Role of AI (139-144)
o Workforce AI Talent (152)

As a non-scientist with the technology quotient (TQ) of a muffin, I especially appreciate Siebel’s explanations that do not dumb-down concepts. The five structural changes cited by Bell:

1. Confluence of telephone and computer communications into a single medium
2. Replacement of printed media by electronic communications
3. Dramatic expansion of television enhanced by cable communications
4. Advent of the computer database as the primary aggregator of knowledge and information
5. Dramatic expansion of the education system through computer-aided learning about almost anything

Keep in mind, Bell foresaw these developments 46 years ago “before the advent of the personal computer, before the internet as we know it, before email, before the graphical user interface…Bell developed his theory in the cointext of the history of economic civilization, positing three constructs: Pre-Industrial; Industrial; and Post-Industrial.”

Siebel acknowledges that AI- and IoT-driven digital transformations are challenging “but they can unlock tremendous economic value and competitive benefits…New Business models will emerge. Products  and services unimaginable today will be ubiquitous. New opportunities will abound. But if the great majority of corporations and institutions that fail to seize this moment will become footnotes in history.”

A 12th-century French monk, Bernard of Chartres, once acknowledged that he stood on the shoulders of giants. Those who read this book will stand atop Thomas Siebel’s.




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