If you’re like me, when you hear the drum beating for a new technology or application of technology, you have a fair amount of skepticism. There are lots of vested interest out there in keeping us on the bleeding edge of technology and those who would like to use us secretly as beta testers of new ideas. If we follow every over-hyped new idea we end up with both organizational cynicism and an empty checking account. I work in software sales and consulting, so I’ve seen it all…many times over. There are far more ideas than good ideas.
There’s a another important reason for my own skepticism. If you’re as old as I am, you remember being told that both the powdered drink mix Tang and the non-stick coating known as Teflon were created as part of the Space Race. Computers started as room-sized arrays of vacuum tubes long before I connected a Commodore Vic-20 to my TV. For most of my life, technology was designed, built and proven by enormous government and commercial R&D budgets. Innovation was owned by the few and shared with the many.
Both social and maybe even more, mobile, have taken a new route. In both cases, technology was in the hands of consumers long before getting the attention of business and government. This switch in paradigm is a relatively new thing that comes when so many people essentially participate in R&D. Anyone can build an iPhone app, and by doing so, personally innovate alongside millions of others. The Economist in October 2011 referred to the phenomena as “the consumer-industrial complex”.
I was catching up on friends’ blogs during the holidays and came across a new mobile app, CalParks, that provides detailed information about 45 of California’s state parks. Now I can get up-to-the-minute information on the nearest trails in one of the world’s greatest park systems. The app was developed in cooperation with EveryTrail, which happened to be reviewed on another blog I read. In a few minutes, I download both, signed in using Facebook and was marveling at my new mobile capabilities and looking forward to mapping and posting our own explorations Facebook on our personal site. In one moment, I saw the end of carrying a GPS, using my PC to download GPX files and posting them to our blog. Multiple devices and applications were now one, simple, mobile platform.
Leap to business
The leap to business from here is easy to make. My own company already has a process app that allows process to be consumed on the fly, a visualization app that significantly extends the reach of analytics, and a social app that provides Facebook-like capabilities but for the enterprise. Just as with EveryTrail, the abilities of these apps not only reduce reliance on built-for-purpose devices but also enable a mobile workforce like never before. The real proof to me is when old-school organization like the US Army decide that warfighters of the future will be equipped with mobile technology using apps. Keeping your iPhone charged will become life or death instead of just an annoyance. An interesting next step will likely be apps that are built on other apps, just as Facebook has become a backbone for authentication.
We’re about to see an explosion of mobile capabilities for the workplace. SAP, Oracle and others are working to make for easy development of apps for their products. Inventory, production and sales numbers are already found through apps. The PC is fast-becoming the factory, with the output being the ability to interact with people and systems anywhere and anytime. Business process in just a few years will be captured, understood, changed and communicated in a mobile fashion. Like other technology leaps in the past, there will be those who leap and those who quickly fall behind. I plan to leap. I will likely create my own apps to get my work done as will many of us.
Just for fun, here is my rough cut at a timeline of technology leaps that stand out in my mind. If you were born before these dates, you lived in a world without:
As each new technology creates a new way of thinking, the limitations created by our skepticism continues to drop. Teenagers today are able to envision things that their parents have a hard time accepting. This is a wake up call to be less skeptical and more open minded about how our personal and business worlds will be changed by mobile technology.