The Coordination Age Revisited
The meaning, origins, examples, and future development of the Coordination Age. Seeking constructive critiques, new angles, and exploring how to do it better.
What is the Coordination Age?
The Coordination Age is a concept we developed at STL Partners in 2018 to give a meaningful context to future developments and strategy in telecoms and more broadly in the global economy.
It’s based on the observations that:
The world’s main need is to make better use of its resources
Connected technologies (e.g., communications, AI and automation) present a wonderful toolkit to address this need
To create the outcomes that customers look for usually takes co-ordination between multiple parties.
To deliver healthcare, for example, takes pharmacies, nurses, doctors, hospitals, insurers, governments, etc. These parties need to share information and often collaborate directly to deliver an outcome.
This collaboration is nothing new. Health services and many other sectors have evolved over centuries working as elaborate, interconnected ecosystems. But they were often inefficient, slow, and had profound gaps and limitations.
The step-change innovation is that connected technologies can thoroughly revolutionise existing services and processes, and in some cases deliver completely new ones. For example, it enables information to be shared instantly, viewed by experts and processed by vastly powerful AI systems to spot new patterns, produce diagnoses and deliver new treatments.
The new connectedness makes a much higher level of co-ordination possible. This enables the collective application of resources to produce the best outcome at pace.
Who needs the Coordination Age?
Almost every sector, field, organisation and individual is seeking to make better use of their available resources.
Governments want to create better societies and economies but face both growing populations and declining economic resources. The only solution is greater efficiencies and new ways of managing e.g., security, identity, and administration.
Businesses of all sizes and sectors look to improve their returns and performance in an ever more competitive world. Again, this is nothing new, but the pace has increased along with the need to adapt to new technologies to keep up.
Consumers want to make the best of their lives, optimising their physical, psychological, emotional and financial outcomes. As of 2023, this is often in an environment which is challenging due to costs of living rises and other general economic pressures.
In all cases, we want better outcomes using less resources.
What are the resources in the Coordination Age?
Coordination Age resources include money, time, carbon, water, land, people, energy, and attention. With a global population of 7 billion people forecast to grow to 10 billion by 2050, the demand is increasing. Yet many of the planet’s resources are either finite or have a finite ability to regenerate. So, there is a double whammy: more people and more constrained resources.
The only solutions that can result in sustainable lives for 10 billion humans must be either more efficient or solve challenges in new ways that make better use of constrained resources.
For example, connected technologies should deliver better outcomes in in remote healthcare by improving services and reducing travel and other costs / sources of carbon.
(NB It’s fair to say that some progress has been achieved in this field although it has not yet reached its potential. It takes time for results to be proven, is expensive, and progress in healthcare is often slow because it’s fragmented, specialised, highly regulated, and understandably professionally conservative.)
What technologies are driving the Coordination Age?
The three generic forms of technology that have most impact are:
Communications: mobile, 5G, 6G, fibre, IOT nets, Wi-Fi, satellite, etc. - by making it possible for everyone and everything to connect programmably in the ways that they need to.
AI and analytics: artificial intelligence and machine learning make it possible to process the vast quantities of data and information sufficiently well and fast to deliver the outcomes needed.
Automation: the programmes, tools, platforms and technologies that make it possible to connect and direct the different processes, people, players and devices needed to deliver the outcomes needed.
Clearly, IT capabilities are a big part of this revolution. However, it is the act of connecting the IT, data, processes and services that creates the revolutionary change in the Coordination Age.
What examples are there of the Coordination Age?
Early examples of Coordination Age trends are:
The first waves of IoT and industrial IoT, now called Industry 4.0.
Cloud computing - the division of computing into smaller and smaller programmable units that enabled virtualisation and increased control of component elements. This is a key enabler for process automation and innovation.
Edge Computing - the trend to site distributed cloud compute nearer to the location of use.
The development of successful platform style business models, led by companies such as Amazon and Google, which engaged multiple parties simultaneously (including developers, who managed much of the detailed service innovation and customisation)
Internet based services such as Airbnb and Uber, which provided platforms for different types of party (home or car owner, renter, etc.) to exchange in new ways.
The rapid evolution of AI, ML and their application in tandem with automation.
All of this underpinned with increasing coverage and capability of more programmable communications services such as 4G, 5G, WiFi, IoT nets.
The value of the Coordination Age narrative is that it helps put these complex and seemingly diverse ideas within a relatively simple and graspable context.
This is useful because once the context makes sense, the environment, trends, opportunities and threats within it become clearer, and therefore more actionable.
Whether and how they are actioned well is a matter of good strategy, execution and, as always, timing and a degree of fortune.
Making the Coordination Age work better
So far, the industry response to the Coordination Age has been incredibly positive.
It seems fundamentally ‘right’, and sound in a logical sense. The drivers and the outcomes are consistent and observable, and new examples appear on a reasonably regular basis.
My current personal favourite example is Elisa’s DES (Distributed Energy Storage) which uses networked AI to manage the batteries in telecoms exchanges to act as as a vast distributed power reservoir to manage peaks and troughs of energy production and consumption. Elisa claim this is capable of delivering a 3% improvement in a national grid’s daily usage.
That’s not to say the Coordination Age concept is perfect, and I always appreciate further feedback and improvements. I would like the concept to be better known and more widely utilised for a start.
Beyond that, the key questions are:
How to get more outcomes, faster?
How do we ensure that the outcomes are positive? As with every technological step change, bad things are possible as well as good, and it can be hard to either predict or control them.
Looking ahead, quantum computing and connectivity are also now on the horizon, and promise increased compute and security capabilities, and is clearly an area to be watched.
Towards these ends, I will continue to promote and explore the idea of the Coordination Age. I will highlight the best things I find and point out those that I believe should and could be improved.
I also welcome any fellow travellers. Please get in touch and share your ideas, questions and feedback.
NB I would like to credit my colleagues and associates at STL Partners with whom I developed the Coordination Age concept. In particular David Martin and Paul Green, who contributed greatly to the thinking and tolerated my many dumb questions. Dean Bubley was a great contributor and the ideal critic who helped refine and sharpen many of the concepts. I am also grateful to all my former fellow Directors and partners both for their huge input and support at STL, and for allowing me to continue to champion the concept despite now having left. It shows you, again, what a great company it is.