When I talk to folks about why the Law of Mobility matters, I often start by explaining how the last two technology eras have dramatically redefined business communications, and that the mobility age will similarly radically change how we operate our businesses and how we communicate.
If you’re old, like me, you can remember what business communications was like before the PC and Internet eras. If you’re too young to have seen it, you probably won’t believe it. To me, business communications in the pre-PC era was characterized by two artifacts.
The first was the pad of pink paper that was on every secretary’s desk (we called our assistants secretaries back then). If someone called, and I wasn’t at my desk, the secretary would answer and would write down a message for me on that pink pad. I would get my messages when I returned to my desk, whether that be an hour later or a month later. I know - it’s hard to believe - but it’s true. Voice communications was entirely tied to a physical location - my desk - and a specific time - now.
The second artifact of this time was the routing slip. I had two metal trays on my desk, one was my In Box, and the other was my Out Box. All documents came to me as paper in my In Box. If there was a letter or magazine that I thought some other folks needed to see, I’d staple a small piece of paper on the front with their names on it, and stick it in my Out Box. Some time later that day, someone would collect everything in my Out Box and probably the next day that routed item would find its way to the In Box of the first person on the list. After they read it, they’d cross their name off and stick it in their Out Box. If that stapled paper didn’t get accidentally knocked off, and if no one on the list was on vacation, then usually within a month everyone who needed to see the document would see it. I know - hard to believe - but it’s true.
The PC era’s huge contribution to redefining business communications was a shift from analog to digital. Processing and storage costs plummeted, enabling broad adoption of digital communications technologies including voice mail, the fax followed closely by e-mail (within a single company at first), conference calling, and video conferencing.
The Internet era took this redefinition even further. Depending on how much of a geek you are, you can think of the Internet-driven shift as being from point-to-point to multipoint communications, or from circuit to packet, or from connection-oriented to connection-less communications. Or really, it’s all of those.
This shift enabled things like Intranets for communicating within companies and Extranets for communicating between companies - where lots of people could efficiently get information at the same time. It enabled things like Instant Messaging, where communications could be opened instantly and multiple conversations with different people could be active at the same time. It also enabled new, more collaborative forms of communications such as web logs and message boards.
Think about how radically different - and better - business communications is today because of these advances. Think about how it has changed and improved how businesses operate. Consider how those businesses that have adopted these technologies faster have been able to outperform their competitors.
Now think about how the mobility age is going to take us to the next step.
The obvious shift that the mobility age is introducing is from fixed to mobile. At its simplest level, this is merely taking the things we already do and moving them from our desk to whereever we are - our mobile device integrated with our company phone system - mobile e-mail integrated with our business e-mail. But I think it will go much further than that, and ten years from now I’ll be able to describe it clearly for you…
But to give you a glimpse of where we’re going, consider this quote from a large retailer I visited yesterday. “It’s all about the law of mobility. How do we take the things that are fixed in our business and make them mobile to better serve our customers? Instead of spending millions to upgrade our point of sale terminals at the front of the store, why don’t we focus that investment to give every employee in the store a mobile device that makes them a point of sale?”
As a retailer, their “product” is the customer experience in shopping for and buying stuff. Since all of us shop, I’m sure you can see how building mobility into this “product” would increase its value. What in your business that’s fixed would better serve the customer if it were mobile?