Constellation Research’s R “Ray” Wang on Intelligent Automation, Digital Safety and How to Work with Analysts

Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s new Boundary Breakers series, an ongoing exchange with executives and industry observers on the business impact of new tech.

Veteran industry analyst and author R “Ray” Wang radiates boundless enthusiasm for emerging technologies and how they disrupt businesses. He is the founder, chairman and principal analyst of Constellation Research, a Silicon-Valley based tech research and advisory firm.

In pre-pandemic times, Ray flew 500,000 miles a year to keynote at conferences and to advise Constellation’s close to 1,000 clients. This global ubiquity along with a sizable presence on social media, and as a blogger and a webcast host, led to the long-running joke Ray must have at least one clone. While he doesn’t have a double—as far as I know!—along with decades of experience as an analyst, Ray also worked in public health, IT consultancy and enterprise software marketing. He draws on all of this experience in his lively insights on everything tech.

Read on for a recent chat I had with Ray about the latest emerging tech, a different approach to digital privacy, and his advice on how tech companies can engage with and benefit from an analyst relationship. What follows is an edited version of that discussion:

Which developments in infrastructure and software most excite you?

One of the most interesting things is where we’re taking analytics, automation and AI. Those three areas are very combinatory. We’re starting to see all the advancements emerge such as how we look at ambient experiences, what we do in terms of recommendations, and how we think about the world of relevance. It’s pervasive from IT operations to what’s happening in your payroll, to how you’re treating a customer or how you’re planning your financial statements.

We are all re-evaluating our business processes and will have to answer three questions:

  • When are we going to trust full intelligent automation?
  • When do we augment a machine with a human to make informed decisions?
  • When do we trust human judgment?

If we let automated systems make all the decisions, they’re going to determine that the human is the most vulnerable and weakest link in the whole system. If we want to make sure that we don’t have Skynet, that machines don’t take over the world, we have to start a process with a human and end it with a human somewhere along the way. It’s a balancing act in terms of how much we rely on and trust humans and machines.

If we let automated systems make all the decisions, they’re going to determine that the human is the most vulnerable and weakest link in the whole system. If we want to make sure that we don’t have Skynet, that machines don’t take over the world, we have to start a process with a human and end it with a human somewhere along the way.

What concerns you about technology innovation? What should we do differently?

I’m writing a book Everybody Wants to Rule the World: Surviving and Thriving in a World of Digital Giants. What we talk a lot about in this book are the guide rails required to maintain a fair and free market. The level of innovation we’ve seen over the last 10 or 20 years, even the last five years, is incredible.

You couldn’t imagine the stuff that is being dreamed up and then built. The challenge is making sure that access to innovation is not being stifled or blocked in any market. That is where we’re going to see regulation emerge. I’m not a fan of regulation; I’m a free market capitalist. But you can’t have free markets if they’re not fair and open.

Then there’s data privacy or digital safety. We want to give consumers more control over their personal data, but we don’t necessarily want them to have to navigate new regulations as all the U.S. states try to pass new laws.

One thing we can do which has been championed by a number of people is to make data privacy and your information a property right. We protect our physical property with land titles and we protect our intellectual property through patents and trademarks. Your data and your ‘digital exhaust’—all your data interactions—should also be a property right. We don’t have to create new legislation. We just need to think about treating data as we do property and ideas.

Which technology trends were you 100% right and wrong about? What’s coming next?

When we talked about pricing and licensing, I think we were ultimately right. Being transparent was important. I think we got the cloud completely wrong. We thought everybody would be in the cloud 10 years ago, and today only 20% of the world’s workloads are in the cloud.

We assumed a level of automation would have existed to enable migration to the cloud. It’s taken a lot more manual effort than we realized, mostly because we had very poor documentation. Also, there are just some programs that are not worth moving off of and we couldn’t find the inertia to make long-term decisions.

I’m probably going to get quantum computing wrong. I actually think quantum is going to happen earlier than we believe, so I give a ten-year horizon where we actually start seeing quantum applications. And it’s hard to say, it could be in five years where we’re doing more than weather modeling and financial programs, and trying to figure out scenario forecasting and situational awareness.

I think we got the cloud completely wrong. We thought everybody would be in the cloud 10 years ago, and today only 20% of the world’s workloads are in the cloud.

How should a technology company prepare for meeting an analyst for the first time?

Walk in there thinking it’s a long-term relationship, not just a hi and a bye. Share your origin story, why you are here, and what business problem you are solving. Help the analyst understand the people, the mission, the purpose, and the culture of your organization. Share your customers’ stories—share their successes and what you’ve learned from their failures to build better products.

If you have a partner ecosystem, help analysts understand your role and how you enable partners to be successful. Then, talk about where you want to go next, whether a product line or a market expansion or a different kind of endgame, such as a new business model. All of this helps set the stage for engagement and to build understanding at the human level.

What benefits should a technology company expect to gain from an analyst relationship?

It could be many things. It’s a referral to a deal. The analyst may have an insight for your product direction that you might not have seen before. It’s message testing—you want to understand if what you’re putting out into the market makes sense. It’s how your sales process is going.

It could be what the analyst is hearing about one of your competitors. It may be advice on how to react to a move made by another company. Sometimes, it’s having an ally when you’re being ganged up on by someone else. It’s feedback about what the future may hold. It’s really taking those years, sometimes decades of knowledge, that an analyst has, and bringing it altogether and sharing it with the technology company.