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Dismiss technology at your peril

March 23, 2016

There is a tendency by many of us to view technology with a degree of skepticism. We have heard it all before – this wave of transformational change that never seems to arrive.

The truth is that technical advances tend to creep, rather than explode. As a result, they steadily insinuate themselves into our lives, in a way that we often fail to notice. It isn’t so long ago that there were no mobile phones; when contracts were produced on typewriters; when virtually all negotiation was face to face and there was no e-mail – most communications used a physical postal system.

Yet another large bank – this time HSBC – has announced the roll-out of biometric banking – the use of voice and fingerprints for customer recognition. I am sure many of us will welcome the elimination of today’s increasingly complex password systems. It has taken about 20 years for the banks t0 become sufficiently confident in biometrics that they are making this switch. I recall projects at IBM in the early 1990’s which failed because of the error rates – about 20% of people were not recognized.

So what, you may ask, has this to do with the world of contracts and negotiations? Well, biometrics is just one area of increasingly intelligent systems and collectively they will change our world over the next few years just as much as the advent of networked technology and email disrupted our ways of working in the 1990s. Certainly archaic concepts like signatures will rapidly disappear. One of my colleagues is meeting today with a voice recognition expert who has developed a matching system for negotiators – technology that helps you align with your counter-party, ensuring you have a negotiator who is most likely to build empathy and reach a more favorable outcome.

Nanotechnology also falls into this ‘intelligent’ category. I have written before about the FDA’s provisional approval of nanotechnology-coated drugs which transmit messages to their manufacturer. Similar technology is being embedded into packaging, so that we could, for example, charge on opening or use. Such developments will lead to a surge in contracts where the supplier takes responsibility for on-demand availability – once one product is used, it is automatically re-stocked.

There are even more radical proposals to use collaborative development systems in generating ‘contract standards’, similar to the way that open source software was developed. ‘Smart contracts’ using the blockchain sytems that underpin Bitcoin is another area of development.

As I have written previously, many providers of contract management software moved down a blind alley, led by  consultants and analysts who had little appreciation of the role of contracts in 21st century business. The issue is not automating what we have done in the past; it is about managing contracts as core business assets through increasingly versatile and intelligent systems. For anyone working in this field, it is essential that we start to understand the impact on job roles and future skills; we need to lead the transformation, not wait for it to overwhelm us.

One Comment
  1. Great article.

    This really reminded me of a quote from technology investor Ben Horowitz

    – “Breakthrough ideas usually come from guys who look like they’re hallucinating.”

    His point was that at the outset, great ideas look completely crazy. Technical advances then tend to creep forward until they reach a point where the crazy idea seems completely obvious. Sometimes this happens quickly, other times (like biometric banking) more slowly.

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