“Changing attitudes, fundamental demographic trends and the inexorable grind of new technology are conspiring to create a totally new environment.”
While Dr. James Bellini was discussing changes in consumer attitudes in the 2005 Global Future Forum survey “Pulse,” the same comment applies to changing employee and business attitudes.
I still feel nervous with an empty briefcase, one not stuffed with documents I might need on a trip. It seems only yesterday when paper was the norm. Then, for many, paper was replaced by a large, overweight laptop, entangled with yards of cables – power, telephone and so on. Today, the technically savvy slip a high capacity, universal hard disk (the size of a cassette) or a USB stick holding their office, into their pocket. Some carry nothing, instead using some of the clever, new, on-line applications and storage facilities to make the carrying of any data redundant. A mobile phone/pda and the use of any internet enabled PC, anywhere in the world, is their office. The fact that all of these changes have taken less than five years is testimony to the exponential rate of technological change.
The mobile worker is here to stay and his or her data has to be securely available wherever and whenever needed. In the future, as work itself becomes more mobile and working patterns continue to change, this mobility becomes both an enabler and a necessity.
But there are problems. A colleague of mine at the Global Future Forum (GFF) gave a talk to a group of chief executives. His question was “™has the technology engine that has powered business development for the last 50 years finally run out of steam?” The answer, of course is “No.” The real question today is “has business run out of the ability to exploit new technology?” 76 percent of respondents to a recent GFF survey agreed that “™organizations are unable to effectively manage and deploy new technology due to rapid change and constant innovation.”
In our move into a world of “always-on digital data” we must look to our children – tomorrow’s employees and customers. Today’s teenage population, the so-called “digital natives,” are selfassured and highly literate when it comes to technology. They embrace it as an essential part of their daily lives, just as we used to use pen and paper. Music, video, pictures, chat, text and the mobile phone, not tools but part of the fabric of their lives. When they come to make their decisions on where to work and who to work for, they will expect business to be using the technologies they use for leisure.
However, the very advantages that the mobility of digital data pose have their downside – security. It was recently reported that the average business laptop held about $1 million of commercial data! As business is beginning to take advantage of data mobility in many different ways – outsourcing for example, the daily war against illegal access to data intensifies. We, as individuals, are becoming increasingly sensitive to the security of our personal data and reacting against its indiscriminate distribution and use. People will demand assurances that they will retain control over their data and how it will be used. While technically data becomes increasingly mobile, so will constraints on its use. Data protection is today in its infancy.
There are countless technologies today on the verge of commercial use, many based on, or using, mobile data. Some are already used in military and security environments. Readers of near term science fiction will be familiar with some of these. Some indeed might sound like science fiction – wearable computing, nanotech applications, city and region wide WiFi are some examples. Tomorrow, these technologies will be on the commercial market and ubiquitous. All will add to the obility of data, making it ever easier to work and play on the move. How these (and other) technologies will come together to create commercial products is almost impossible to forecast. We know as well that there will be astounding new developments that today we cannot predict. It was Donald Rumsfeld who said “™.and we don’t know what we don’t know”– very true. The key will be how we (and more importantly our children) embrace new technologies and how they change their lives. Business needs to be watching this space, carefully.
If it is to benefit, business will need to understand far more than the mechanics of new technologies. hey will need to understand the way that people – their employees and customers, ill use and interact with them.
Alan Standley is Chief Executive, TASK Executive Communications.
This article originally appeared in “Organisational Lives – inventing the future with mobile technology” a report produced by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition.