I was recently added to the Emerging Media and Futuring team here at Resource. On one side, it’s incredibly shiny to have a company mandate to dig into all the newest and greatest stuff that’s coming out. On the flip side, I’m still responsible for my billable hours, which when all is said and done means an even greater work load… though much of it ends up being self motivated independent exploration.
Yet having said that, a few weeks of scraping the far corners of the web for information on what the next big thing might be has left me with one overarching impression: Wow, my skill set is way out of date.
Of course, that’s to be expected. There are many different levels of being at the forefront of technology: There’s the leading edge, where you’re using the news most broadly supported technologies. There’s the cutting edge, where you’re working on bringing a new idea to a larger audience. And then there’s the bleeding edge, where you’re wantonly investigating every last thing that sounds like it might have impact, but you really cannot tell whether it’ll sink or swim (hence the term ‘bleeding’). As such, trying to remain on the bleeding edge is a dangerous and ultimately frustrating endeavor, because by the time you’ve built up the skills to properly explore an idea either your goal is outdated, your skills are outdated, or both.
As such, it is very rare to see an Agency truly on the Bleeding Edge. Between often unrealistic delivery restrictions and the need to keep everyone billable, it’s rare to see pure technological exploration. In most cases it’s easier and faster to use established tools and technologies because they are known and thus allow us to estimate a project to within a reasonable margin of error. This, by virtue of my definitions above, places agencies as no farther ahead than the leading edge, because by that time the tool makers have come through and made things as easy to generate as possible.
Seems legitimate, yes? Certainly. And yet through my own recent exposure to the technological trends and implementations, I can’t help but conclude that the next iteration of “Really Cool Marketing Apps” are going to be well beyond the technical skill set normal agencies have access to. Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?
- Amazon’s iPhone application uses sophisticated Image Recognition to detect what product you’re looking at. These methods and algorithms are by no means easy, and usually require someone who is extremely well versed in computer vision (A skill rarely found outside of academic environments). Who, at your agency, can do that?
- QR Codes are prevalent in asia and are starting to make a dent in the US market for cell-phone based scanning. The QR Code standard uses Reed-Solomon error correction, which involves incredibly sophisticated algorithms that can support polynomial Galois theory. Do you have any experts in Computational Algebra at your agency? I thought not.
- Augmented Reality involves the manipulation of 3D spacial geometries that requires more matrix algebra and vector calculus than most developers are ever exposed to. While authoring tools are certainly making headway in simplifying that (Adobe’s “Postcards In Space” support in Flash Player is one of them), there will always be a disconnect between what’s embedded into tools and what isn’t.
While we’ll definitely see smaller specialty shops rise up to address
complex demand like this, it will still mean a sharp rise in demand for talent that’s traditionally only found in academic environments. In short, if you’re the Technical Director in an agency, and your talent pool is full of Software Developers rather than Software Engineers, you should probably start partnering with your local University to make sure you can source them at a moment’s notice.
More practically speaking, it also means agency costs are going to rise, and that many smaller agencies will be left in the wake because they can neither convince their clients that they have the talent nor can they retain it if they do hire it. This really isn’t news- there are plenty of Brochureware agencies out there that got into the web market and have been floundering since. The big players can afford to take a dive on a project just for the portfolio piece, and will thus gain poaching and award rights.
And yet, there is a ridiculous business opportunity here: If you’re the first agency who can pull off an AR or mobile piece convincingly, and are willing to monetize the expertise (via consulting or whatever), suddenly you’ve got the industry cred of being on the cutting edge. In essence you become the tool creator, with all the benefits and recognition that comes with it.