Re-defining the Last Mile

I found a recent post by the Dodgy Goatee quite insightful, particularly this quote:
We tend to think the problem is solved when we solve the technology problem but the human innovation, the human problem, still remains...
I mistakenly read the 'Last Mile' as a social science comment on the techo-term which usually refers to the medium that connects the end-user's big screen to the provider's big pipe.

Late last year, I worked voluntarily with a Jordanian business to help them enhance their use of Facebook. While the workshop was a success, I had this lingering feeling that there were many deeper issues to comprehend. Indeed, access to high speed Internet in Jordan was less of a hassle than here in Gungahlin - so why was it so hard to find information online?

With all the hype about innovation, I wonder if the situation in Australia is really that different. Sure, having a website now might be no different than having a fax machine in the 80s - it is a necessity for businesses and governments. But is that enough in a Web 2.0 world?

I am tired of thinking about the lost opportunities from the finance and resource gatekeepers who assess the risks of implementing new technologies, waiting and waiting until the last possible moment before giving the go-ahead for technologies that are really yesterday's next best thing. By the time the previous innovation becomes commonplace, there is always somewhere new to be.

It would seem to me that the real last mile is not the wire or airwave that connects the big screen to the big pipe, but the mindset that prevents the opportunities from becoming realities during their heyday. While the momentum needed to bring an innovation to fruition might be fraught with transaction costs which are too much to bear, it would seem that those who are able to adopt new technologies faster than others would experience a window of competitive advantage.

The most important last mile, then, is that big obstacle between the big screen and the big open mind - the end-user. Yet many end-users wish they had the skills to implement the big idea, only the transaction costs appear to be too high.

Is there a solution? To me, the start point is to understand why humans do what they do, but more importantly, why they don't do it. The social sciences provide us with the tools to answer such questions, something which the last few decades and their focus on behavioural economics have had little to say other than how to encourage users to purchase the elusive physical last mile.

To make matters worse, the research culture in Australia was set back decades by previous gatekeepers of research funding, who deemed the humanities and the social sciences to be a waste of time and money. Little wonder that social scientists have been reluctant to step outside the so-called non-economic areas to challenge the status quo.

But if history has taught us one thing, it is that history tends to repeat if we refuse to learn the lessons of the past. If we take any other network technology developed over the last two centuries, we see technological innovations hindered by human obstacles which eventually gaive way a generation or so later to large-scale take-up and sighs of 'I wonder how we ever got along without technology X'.

The minefield of obstacles between innovation and implementation are the real last mile, and this is the area most worthy of further research.