January 31, 2013


Mobility – The Technology Tsunami

Mobility.  It’s simply the wrong word to describe a technology trend that is washing away decades of previous IT wisdom, strategy and investment.  All mobility implies is that you can do what you did before, but in a different place.  Whilst you’re out the office, on the road or at the airport.  However, the magnitude and impact of the change we witnessing right across the globe, is far more profound and far-reaching than that.

You can get a sense of the impact when you start with numbers.  Forrester estimates the total technology economy of the world will be around $3 trillion in 2015.  By that point in time, mobility will account for more than one-third of the predicted figure, or over $1 trillion.  The adoption rates of mobile devices and their counterpart applications are staggering.  In 2010, the value of the mobile applications market was essentially zero.  As an industry, it had barely been born.  By 2015, Forrester estimates that the market will be $56 billion. By the way, it is just $6 billion today.   That is an unbelievable growth in volume.  But when we look at some of the other mobile demographic trends, it’s clear to see why.

By 2016, the number of consumers with smartphones will cross the 1 billion mark.  There will be close to 6 million Wi-Fi hotspots for connectivity.  Over 350 million employees will use smartphones and business spending on mobility will grow by more than 100%.  The company that lit the touch paper for this revolution, Apple Inc, is the most valuable company in history, peaking above $600 billion.  It created two-thirds of that value in just 30 months - which is value creation at a rate of $3 billion per week, or a Fortune 1000 company every 7 days.   Not bad for a company that has just 13 products.  

So is mobility just fun for kids as they connect with their friends through Facebook, share photos and play games together online whilst being dragged around the supermarket by their mum?  Or is it just a new excuse for teenagers to ignore the people they happen to be actually sitting in a room with?  Is it just a marketing tool? A technology fad that will pass, or at least fade gracefully, into the very large stable of mature technology solutions?

No.  Oh no.  The change we witness all around us is not a passing fancy.  It is a once in a generation change that causes us all to completely re-think how we live life.  It changes our social , leisure ,  buying  and  work experience.  It changes the way we make and develop friendships, and the way we search and accept employment.  It even changes how we choose to remember and reflect on life. 

The numbers are massive.  But the impact on our social fabric, business operations and human engagement is much bigger.  These impacts are numerous, inter-linked and variable, but four stand out:


Collapsing the Consumer & Corporate Divide

For most of corporate history, there has been a strong divide between work time and private time.  Whilst most white-collar workers don’t rigidly apply the 9-5 rule anymore as e-mail changed all that; there has still been a strong wall between when we were on our employer’s dime, and when we were living free.  But mobility is causing all that to change, or perhaps just dramatically accelerating a trend that was already in motion.

At present, 49% of information workers use a personal mobile device for work.  Most commonly a smartphone or a tablet.  A quarter of these are even paying for it themselves. Now why would they choose to do that?  We call this trend the consumerization of workplace technology, and it is driven by the confluence of choices, capabilities and behaviours that the mobile revolution has brought.  Mobility has led to a more holistic, rather than compartmentalised view of life.  Businesses  benefit as employees are more and more comfortable engaging on work topics 24/7.  They suffer because  their employees are connecting with friends and family in the middle of a working day, reading tweets, responding to status updates and following whoever or whatever is their latest interest, in real time.

Most businesses have already twigged that if they want to continue to hire the best talent, having workplace strategies that leverage social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, is an important tenant of the overall plan.  But the full truth is more embarrassing than that.  For the first time, the average worker has better technology at home than at work.  They want to bring their home technology to work because it is better, faster, more user-engaged . . .  and well just plain cooler . . . and they’ve become attached to it.   Apparently most people sleep with it beside their bed.

We observe the emergence of ‘OneLife’ phenomena.  All work and personal e-mails, work and private photo’s, work and social interests are kept on our iCloud and accessed through one or more synchronised devices.  The days of the divide between work and play are over, and amazingly, it’s the revolution in play that is now forcing business to step up and tech up, or else they will lose the mindshare and the timeshare of their employees connected existence.


Transforming Activities To Do into Tasks Accomplished

The genius of Steve Jobs was not what he did for mobility, but how he could put himself into the shoes of ordinary people and think about how to design technology that really worked.  He was a technology chef; the nerd-world’s interior designer and his legacy is profound.

Before Jobs, business technology was fundamentally about activities.  Enterprise technology like SAP, Oracle, suite or tier 2 players, were all focused on end-to-end process steps.  Workers performed their defined activities against a set of policies and rules, often controlled and administered by the system itself.

Jobs realised that people want to get stuff done.  To accomplish things.  And that if you can break down activities into specific tasks that can be accomplished, the whole motivation and satisfaction of the user is transformed.  Today, we think of this so much in the consumer market.  I can book a flight, buy shoes, find a location, and diagnose my sleep patterns.  All with an app.  Business has forever been transformed by this shift.  We no longer want to fill in a holiday request form that workflows its way to a manager who will then take some action, send it on its way to its next transactional step, and hopefully in a week or three, I’ll find out if that was successful.  No.  We want an app that  allows us to book a holiday in 60 seconds.  And it is the same with everything else; travel arrangements, sourcing management information, communicating decisions, organising meetings, sharing strategy, trading with a supplier, closing a deal with a customer.  We want to accomplish things, in real time, not be the cog on the process flowchart of a very large machine.

A surprising shift has taken place.  Employees have more productive technology at home, than they do at work.  They can arrange to meet friends more easily than they can to set up a meeting with work colleagues.  They can jump on Skype and talk to six friends in four countries all at once, but at work they struggle through a cumbersome video conference process.  They can share documents, opinions and photos in real time and progress an idea collaboratively at home.  At work, firewall, age and speed of the infrastructure, uniformity of software versions and privacy rules, all conspire to make this difficult.  Hence, for once business has become the laggard, not the innovator, and it is to the consumer market that businesses must look if they want a lesson in process excellence.


Re-Defining Security & Privacy

In 2009, Sir John Sawers, the head of British Intelligence Agency M16, found himself in a highly embarrassing position of having his personal whereabouts broadcast to the world, because his wife put 19 photographs of their holiday on her Facebook page, with no security settings. This let every Facebook member know where the most senior member of the British spy establishment could be found.  

The legal systems in many major democratic countries are struggling to work out how to apply privacy laws, and even legal constraint to the mobile world.  When a celebrity’s identity was revealed through Twitter in breach of a High Court Injunction, the appropriate response was to arrest that individual.  But when it was tweeted and re-tweeted by over 100,000 people, what can you do?  You can’t arrest them all.   Does the law then become null and void?

However, the risks for businesses are much more significant than what these public anecdotes highlight.  Sadly, fraud has become an inherent part of most western cultures.  For example, in the UK, the Government estimated total fraud at £6.1 billion in 2006.  By 2012 it had reached £73 billion.  But surprisingly the biggest part of this is not fraud against the Government (tax evasion, benefits fraud, which accounts for £20 billion) or against individuals (credit card fraud, identity theft, which accounts for £6 billion), but the huge impact that businesses suffer at £45 billion.  And the bulk of fraud, surprisingly, is not committed by organised crime (this accounts for only £10 billion of the total £73 billion), but by employees, managers and small time thieves, resorting to all kinds of unethical practices, both large and small.

So when the CEO shouts at the CIO and says, ‘why on earth can’t I connect my iPad to our system’ and the CIO starts using words like ‘non-approved device, firewall and hacking’, a new way forward needs to be found.  Businesses need to get real about what really constitutes confidential information; IT departments need a robust security strategy that increases protection for what matters, and stop trying on the rest.  And what of the employee?  Can a police officer admit to a racist remark on Facebook whilst not at work and not have it linked to his day job?  Are you representing the company when you are slightly drunk after work?   Or is that purely a private matter?

You cannot stop the tide.  The mobility revolution is in full flow.  But finding a clear path on security and privacy is a much more important topic, than the debates about technology and applications which dominate today’s agenda.  Some firms seen as early adopters will find that they took grave risks at great peril.  Those at the back of the bus will be left behind.  A clear strategy on this and a strong grasp of emerging legislation will be critical.


Turning Function into Engagement

When you look at all the elements of mobility, it is probably simple to say that what mobility has done is created a new system of engagement.  Engagement with prospects, customers, employees, partners, friends and the world at large.  You can bring anyone, from any one of those engagement groups, into your present moment, present decision, and present location, whenever you choose.  And with the GPS tracker on your phone and the ease with which your electronic identity has been made available, most of them can barge into your current moment if they so choose.

You find yourself asking your best friend, your boss and a guy you met on the plane last week, about a business decision you’ve got to make, because you think that they might all have a useful perspective.   And you do it without thinking, because engagement is so easy.

Why is engagement so easy?  It’s fast.  You ping a question and get an answer from someone on the other side of the world in 30 seconds.  You share images and data in moments, so whoever you are discussing with is informed.  You execute decisions through apps . . . which we have already seen allow you to accomplish your task, not just perform another dreary activity.  It is motivating to be engaged and to engage.  At a more human level, we share worries, burdens, achievements, goals, with so many people, and so immediately, that it feels good to engage.  It meets a human need.

In their book ‘Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute’, Ken Blanchard, John P Carlos and Alan Randolph highlight three keys to make empowerment happen in an organisation:

  1. Share information with everyone

  2. Create autonomy through boundaries

  3. Replace the old hierarchy with self-managed teams

Well if mobility is driving one significant trend in organisations it is empowerment.  For years, empowerment has been talked of, but rarely enacted in any meaningful way because the ability to access information, accomplish tasks, engage others and feel that you have authority, has been missing.  If the desire was there, the tools certainly weren’t.  So the rhetoric of empowerment was always greater than the reality.  Today, as mobility takes hold, the reality is ahead of the rhetoric, perhaps even the desire.  And certainly beyond the controls environment.   A force for good?  Probably. With many dangers? Certainly.

In conclusion, mobility is not a trend, it’s simply the new normal.  In a few short years everyone will expect to use a highly interactive suite of several mobile devices to access all aspects of their professional and personal life.  Individuals will expect this to be the primary way they engage with any business, and they will be looking for companies to lead the consumer marketplace, rather than follow, with context-rich apps and products. Those companies who thought mobile was about a mini-me Web site, or a screen-scrape from their ERP system, have materially missed the point.

The adoption rates for mobility are the fastest ever seen and so time will be the essence.Are you ready?