Mobile computing isn't just here to stay -- you could make an argument that it's what we've been waiting for since computers became smaller than basketball courts.
Mobile data traffic increases at more than 70% annually, and the total traffic in 2012 was 12 times the data traffic for the entire Internet in 2000. Almost nine out of 10 American adults own a mobile phone; more than three out of 10 own a tablet. And last year the number of mobile computing devices surpassed the global human population.
In the business world, desktop computers are rapidly becoming an endangered species: The total units shipped annually has dropped to half of what it was in 2004, and mobile computing devices now out-ship desktop computers four-to-one.
All of this has an inevitable impact on the way we work together.
Mobile's impact on business
There's a reason everybody is buying mobile devices: We've transitioned into real-time data flow. We want to immediately know -- we need to know -- what's changing on our professional (and personal) radar. It's become not only desirable but prudent to have on-demand access to the information that flows through our lives.
For business, it's more than prudence, it's survival. The Internet has accelerated the speed of business by several orders of magnitude, and we increasingly need to have immediate access to our colleagues, our partner businesses, and the changing information that drives business processes and decisions. And decision making itself is increasingly mobile -- as business processes de-silo and become automated, we must issue approvals, respond to notifications and make decisions on demand, rather than when it's convenient.
Put simply, "When I get back to my desk" is no longer a phrase we can afford to use.
In the ongoing mobile transition, a surprise has emerged from nowhere: It can be much easier to contribute to a business process via a mobile device than it is in one's office, on a desktop.
Why? Because mobile process interfaces must be bare-bones, or they become too cumbersome to use. Tinier screens and stripped-down keyboarding create a need for austerity and pure functionality in our business apps, in the spirit of Steve Jobs.
It's a default design goal in mobile app creation to minimize keystrokes. Bottom line, the trend in mobile business apps is toward a cleaner, simpler, faster user interface -- and that makes for a user experience that is not only more effective, but more convenient and enjoyable than using a desktop.
Notifications are a huge component in this new way of doing things. Knowing that decision makers and decision drivers are online outside the office, it becomes important that information and decision prompts reach them wherever they may be -- and as a result, most enterprise business applications have notification features to keep everyone in the loop, no matter where they may be at any given moment.
Who, what, when and how
In business, another huge, largely unsung benefit of mobile devices is the boost they offer to peer-to-peer collaboration. Mobile computing brings the business to us in the field, a huge boon in itself -- but in the process, it turns the modern businessperson into a portable content management system.
What does this mean? By putting business decisions and the content that informs them out in the field, mobile computing empowers the mobile decision maker to transcend the perimeter of workflow. When critical real-time data flows into a remote tablet or smartphone, it pings the user with the possibility of sharing the information with more people or prompting ad hoc consultation with the click of a few buttons.
-- and where
The real-time data flow enabled by workforce mobility flows in both directions, of course, and many enterprise processes can benefit from knowing where field personnel are at any given moment -- which mobile devices enable by means of geolocation. In a faster-moving world, that kind of real-time awareness can become a profound agent of opportunity. When a problem emerges in the field, the ability to quickly locate someone nearby who can help, beyond what the house logbook says, can significantly improve response and bolster business relationships.
There remain a couple of prominent roadblocks to effective mobile collaboration. One can't easily be helped, due to the nature of mobile: It's difficult to participate in an online meeting via a mobile device. Typically we are stationary in meetings -- which is not a problem if you're sitting in front of a monitor-mounted camera, but more problematic when you're holding a mobile device.
But a bigger problem is the current trend toward bring your own device (BYOD). Compatibility between mobile devices is a major hurdle in implementing a BYOD policy. The simplest tasks can become cumbersome -- for example, when an important file needs to be converted to another format and the conversion software isn't on the tablet you're carrying.
Are we saying goodbye to desktop computing anytime soon? Maybe not soon, but a farewell may be on the horizon. Mobile computing is not only adapting to our need to collaborate, it's improving our means of collaboration, and with the right approach, it could bolster its quality.
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