Preparing for the Future: Operating in Three Time Dimensions

The better we are at understanding the future, the more value can be harvested from it today. ~Kevin Benedict
It's important to recognize that not every part of an organization can or should operate in the same time dimension. Humans are slower at many things than computers. Humans might take 5 days to process a business loan, while a computer only seconds.  With the addition of AI, automation, and predictive analytics a digital solution can even leap forward into the future to create value, and this is our topic for today.

Let’s consider the concept of having three time-dimensions inside an organization.

1. Human-time – time governed by our physical, biological, and mental limitations constrained within a 24-hour cycle.
2. Digital-time – time governed by the speed of computer processors, cybersecurity systems and network speeds operating 24x7x365 days a year.
3. Future-time – the ability to reach deep into the future for value.  It is achieved by using predictive analytics, planning solutions, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

Human-time is often the slowest time dimension among the three when it comes to completing a business process.  Humans are biological entities that operate at a pace governed by our biology, the sun, moon, and the physical requirements that keep our carbon-based bodies alive and functioning.  These requirements and our mental and emotional limitations make scaling human productivity beyond the limits of the 24-hour Circadian Rhythm nearly impossible without assistance.
 
Digital-time refers to the speeds at which digital systems operate.  This includes computer systems, software, sensors, data storage, cybersecurity, and networks, etc.  The goal of most business processes operating in digital-time is to reach speeds as close to real-time as possible.  This is accomplished by optimizing each connected system, component and process that touches data.  A good example is online commerce.

The Future-time concept enables processes to fly right past the real-time benchmark, and into the future. It’s the ability to travel forward in time, set up an outpost, and find insight that should inform behaviors and decisions today. Based on an outpost's findings, actions that need to be done in a particular sequence between now and then can be recommended.  Future-time outposts can inform simulations, and possible scenarios that might be useful in the future.

Future-time systems are proactive, rather than reactive.  It’s a website providing a personalized recommendation for equipment you will need next month.  It’s recommending the purchase of materials at a discount today that you will need next quarter. 

A solution running in future-time, utilizes predictive analytics and planning solutions, algorithms, simulation, and AI to anticipate future scenarios and the needs of an organization.  Real-time data captured and processed in "digital-time" is used to select and activate scenarios that have prepared in "future-time" and reviewed by humans operating in "human-time." Three different time dimensions all working together to optimize an organization's processes.

The challenge, of course with this multiple time dimension concept, is to use the right time-dimension in the right processes. Problems arise when time-dimensions are misunderstood, and/or mismanaged.  You can’t include human-time dependencies in high-volume online commerce transactions.  It would fail.

On the other hand, leaders wouldn’t want a computer system automatically changing their company’s strategic partnerships, relationships and brand strategy  – this is a process best reserved for thoughtful leaders operating in a human-time dimension.

Military leaders historically had weeks or months to watch their enemy, anticipate their intent, and prepare a response or countermeasure.  Today, however, hypersonic weapons exist that can travel at 20,000 MPH.  This means that an attack by hypersonic weapons would permit only seconds to analyze the threat and to design and execute a response.  This is an impossible environment for human-time operations.  It is also not a good fit for digital-time operations.  Complex and instantaneous responses require the benefit of pre-made scenarios created in future-time.  A time dimension where predictions and practiced response scenarios have been rehearsed and are waiting.  These scenarios that were rehearsed in advance of need, are now the blueprints for instantaneous and automatic actions that will intercept the future.  

The hypersonic weapons example demonstrates the need for anticipation, simulation, automation, rehearsal and speed.  Adding human decision-making friction inside a process that demands instantaneous responses would not work.  Increasingly leaders will have to recognize each of these time dimensions and design systems and scenarios to optimize them.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

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