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The Vice President of Electricity was a senior-level management position that existed at many major corporations during the early years of the industrial revolution. Back then, if you needed industrial quantities of electricity, the best (and possibly only) way to get it was to generate it yourself. Next to the Vice President of Engineering, there was no executive at any of these companies with more technical skill and training than the VP Electricity.

As we all know, within a few decades this position was replaced by a line item on the P&L that simply said, “Electricity.” Complex generators and the technologists to run them were replaced by off-premises companies that provided all of the required electricity through a utility grid. On-premises, the only skill required was the ability to plug a machine or appliance into a wall socket.

We can think about the demise of the VP of Electricity in a few different ways. First is the concept that his position was equivalent to our current IT executives. If you follow that logic, and you spend any time thinking about the next generation of utility-grade grid computing schemas, you could posit that we are all headed for a day when every computer in America or possibly the world will be part of a massive computer grid and that there will be companies that harness, license and provide access to this grid for others to use. Grid computing is not new, but the reality of a utility-grid for computer power if realized, would change the world into an unrecognizable place. Access to that much computing power has never been in reach for average individuals. It may be the most exciting transition in the offing.

The other way to think about the demise of the VP of Electricity is to understand that it was not the advent or existence of utility electrical grids that ended his career, it was simplicity. As soon as there was a simple, easy alternative to a complex problem, everyone jumped on it. That is the lesson we should learn here. We are the architects of the future and, as industry professionals, it is up to us to shape the business the way we want it to be shaped. The sooner we make technology so complex that it disappears, the sooner everyone will enjoy the benefits.

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I coined the term Metamerica when I wrote a blog version of this section a few years back. To my immense disappointment, it has not caught on. What has caught on is the aggregation of data — now called “big data” so it sounds more important. Big data = Metamerica. Facebook Graph Search = Metamerica. Digital Healthcare records = Metamerica … I’m sure you see the pattern emerging.

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This is one of my favorite phrases. But I should really say it differently. I often ask my readers to substitute the word “tool” for the word “technology.” Tool sounds more accessible and less wonky. Either word works here.

I also need to qualify this phrase — necessity is the mother of invention. Just because it doesn’t change behavior on a mass scale doesn’t mean that the new tool doesn’t solve a problem — it just means that unless the problem is common to a fairly large or financially significant audience — as an investor, business person or general consumer, it is not something you need to pay much attention to.

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May 20th, 2013

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