The Post-Computer Age

Just when we thought statistics had lost their power to shock, along comes this one: More people on the planet have mobile devices than have electricity or drinking water. That means there are untold millions of humans who can text friends, access unfathomable amounts of information, and shop for shoes – all from the comfort of their lantern-lit, unplumbed houses. The opportunities for products and profits are astounding. The numbers tell the tale: In 2010, sales of smartphones overtook those of computers. By 2012, global sales of smartphones and tablets totaled 775 million units; sales of PCs were 400 million. Internet analytics leader comScore reports that mobile commerce now accounts for 10 percent of all online sales. Mobile advertising revenue doubled in 2012. And the trend is only accelerating. Simply stated, we no longer need a computer to access the Internet - we can take it with us wherever we go. And that changes everything. In two words: mobile first.

We have entered the post-computer age. The once almighty PC is fast losing relevance for both personal and business use. What’s driving this change, of course, are mobile technologies. This mobile revolution has two components: personal mobile use, and the Internet of Things. We all (literally) grasp the first component – our smartphones and tablets. The second describes the capacity of things - including networks - to gather and communicate data that triggers actions, at times without human participation. These two fascinating, concomitant developments hold enormous promise and profits for businesses everywhere. Simply stated, we are in the midst of a great technological leap that is enabling a wide range of new products and services.

Enabled by the confluence of mobile, big data, and cloud computing, the Internet of Things is about gathering and sharing information in radical new ways; often this flow is between machines. If, for example, a commuter’s train to work is going to arrive a half-hour late, this information is relayed by the railroad’s network to her alarm clock, which, as per her programming, extends her sleep time by fifteen minutes. The clock also turns on her coffee machine fifteen minutes later than it usually does, yet it starts her car at the regular time, giving it an extra fifteen minutes to de-ice from last night’s storm - which it learned about from its connection to the weather service’s network. All of this happens while the clock’s owner is sound asleep: networks and things (clock, coffee machine, car) communicating to make her life easier and better. Mobile first.

For companies in all industries, this radical breakthrough in technology - enabled by a global system of Internet-connected networks, sensors, devices, and just plain things - opens the door to an almost infinite number of opportunities. It demands that leaders look at their core offerings through a new prism: one that integrates mobile technology and the Internet of Things into all business processes and strategy, internal and external, but first and foremost into the search for growth. How can a business’ core offering become part of mobile revolution? For many companies born in the Internet Age, this question is redundant: They live and breathe online. But for many other companies and leaders, it demands redesigning established practices.

The Internet of Things has arrived. More than any other technology, it is driving business strategy. The question for leaders, managers, and developers becomes: where do my products and services fit in? As consumers become more comfortable with, and dependent on, smart things, they will demand them. A product without intelligence built in will have far less chance of success. The relationship between a company and its customers is changing: It isn’t selling just a discreet product or service, it’s selling a portal to the Internet of Things.