Think of this as a post on “retro innovation”. Those words aren’t often combined, but life has a way of reminding us of the importance of the tactile to Homo Sapiens (etymologically “Wise Human” – homo meaning man/human, and sapiens being the present participle of sapere, or “be wise”).
Which brings us to the Iowa caucuses, hanging chads, cash and checks, and your drivers license.
As you consider what “innovation” might mean for your business, you’d be well served to consider how to leverage data. Data, after all, is the “new oil” as they say. Vast billions have been generated through the gathering, storing, and analyzing of the ever-increasing pile of data at our disposal. However the same people who tell us that “data is the new oil” might also remind us that “shit happens” – which is to say, when the bits and bytes aren’t working properly, there has to be a default version of the truth.
But the debacle in the 2020 Iowa caucuses was evidently an implosion of a slapped-together software app that the organizers paid two installments of $63,000 to quickly (and without proper testing) build – the equivalent of a nickel, in terms of technology spend. Unsurprisingly, the results were sub-optimal. Cue the awesome satirical site The Onion to remind us of the benefits of old technology and the likelihood of new absurdities:
The reason why Russia was unable to hack the US voting system in 2016 had little to do with sophisticated cyber-defenses and everything to do with the fact our voting system is largely paper-based. It turns out it’s easier to pay Facebook to run misleading stories than it is to hack into paper ballots – although the State of Florida certainly pushed the envelope in 2000.
Mitek, the company I’m lucky to work for, has created technology that provides digital identity verification using the camera on your mobile device, a government-issued identity document, and a photo of your face (to match against the picture in your identity document). In a world where bad guys might have your Social Security Number, your passwords, and be better equipped than your memory to accurately answer arcane questions about the car you drove in 2004, the physical document you have becomes all the more powerful.
The physical ballots they counted in Florida in 2000, the written evidence of the 2020 Iowa caucus, and the government-issued identity documents in your possession are trusted, physical sources which humans depend upon to protect against all manners of criminal hacking and technical incompetence.
In related news, New York recently passed a law prohibiting cashless stores in their city, joining Philadelphia and San Francisco. While the move is designed to ensure people in the cash-based world aren’t shut out from local commerce, it’s a demonstration that physical realm will not easily give in to the cyber-only realm.
Even checks, though declining, still number in the billions annually – something that would have shocked prognosticators twenty years ago. Again, my employer Mitek has something to do with the continued relevance of the check due to our patented technology that enables you to deposit the check into your bank with your smart phone camera.
So as you consider your own path to innovation, you would indeed be a “wise human” if you were to consider how your innovation could revert to a universally trusted source of truth if needed.
Data is great, but when the servers go down and Murphy’s Law reigns, you better have a trusted source of truth people recognize. Because municipalities aren’t in the voting business, AirBnB isn’t in the room rental business, Visa isn’t in the payments business, and Lyft isn’t in the transportation business.
All of them are in the trust business. You’re likely in that business as well.