No, I’m not talking about the impact of global warming. The snow pounding the Midwest and West (snow in Las Vegas?!) makes clear we’re not done with snowstorms quite yet, as you can see from this pic I took during a stroll to the mailbox this morning.
What I’m thinking about is the impact of web-based communication and collaboration technologies. For office workers in cold climates everywhere, a dirty secret is that adults are often keeping their fingers crossed for snow days just as much as their kids are. When I was a programmer in a large financial services firm, I remember listening carefully to the radio after a big snowfall to see if my building was one of those announced as closed. But many digital nomads today can take an occasional work at home day without their laptop because files are stored online and the workers have basic productivity tools at home.
If you can work at home, how can you have a snow day?
Meetings may already have conference call-in numbers because one of the participants was working at home, so they can go on as planned with everyone calling in. It is now rare that an organization doesn’t offer web access to their e-mail and calendar. With the increasing affordability and necessity of having a computer, you’d look like a Luddite if you proclaim you can’t work at home because you don’t own a computer with basic word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software at home.
For example, when it snowed about 8 inches in one day in Chicago last year, my wife stayed home, made hot cocoa, and we sat by the fire. Since then her workplace has put all their documents on to a server with web-based access. If she has to stay home this winter, she’ll be sipping her hot cocoa in front of a nice warm monitor instead.
So enjoy what may be your last winter snow days. By next year, your work at home dream may become your snow day nightmare.
If you haven’t seen the video of a woman opening her 300 page iPhone bill, check out the article and link here. I’ll admit – I’m not currently a fancy phone kinda person, so you won’t see me commenting a lot on the mobile industry unless I get assigned that as a research topic. However, brand management and information management are passions of mine and in those terms I consider this a minor disaster.
From my view it’s a cautionary tale in 3 ways:
- The potential for collateral damage to brand image from partnerships. Manufacturers of products endorsed by athletes have often had to deal with this type of problem. In fact, it has become so prevalent that some companies and sponsors of events have decided the risk of collateral damage outweighs the benefit and now avoid such spokespeople. Now it’s Apple’s turn. Apple has earned a strong brand image that associates them with sleek, streamlined, innovative (not tied to legacy), understanding young people, and hip. But their relationship with AT&T has resulted in a brand management issue that is getting heavy exposure (including CNN Headline News) that will associate “Apple” and “iPhone” with something non-sleek, tied to an old way of doing things, unhip, and abhorrent to the values of many young people.
- The Web 2.0 generation has massively greater power to embarrass large organizations than previous generations. Accordingly, large organizations need to allocate budgets massively greater than those of a generation ago to mitigate this risk through continuous monitoring of legacy and Web 2.0 communication channels as well as a general PR contingency plan for unpredictable disasters.
- Old information dissemination practices must be reviewed in light of new information demands. When the only thing a cellphone did was make calls (and expensive ones at that), a paper itemized bill made sense. Text messages are far more numerous (an astounding 30,000 for Justine) so the same format will be practically useless. Even if one was interested in the information on those pages, they would have great difficulty finding and using it.
And to those people who say it’s her fault for not selecting e-bill, you should have to opt-in to a bill that may require being shipped in a box, not opt-out. And I don’t think one would reasonably expect that their paper billing would result in a few redwoods worth of itemization.
The case for utilizing portals on mobile and pervasive devices is a good one. First, consider the driver of portals on the desktop. In a standard web-based portal that is accessed from a desktop PC, the portal helps pick out and display the several applications, pieces of content, and navigation links that are useful for the user out of the huge number of sources the portal has access to. It’s a great answer to the problem of information overload. And, even if you know where all your content and applications are, it is a big timesaver to have them all in one place with single sign-on in front of them. It keeps the user from having to hunt through a “web” of pages (ah, that’s where that word comes from!), scanning them all and clicking in and out of them to get to the needed pieces of content.
That same set of drivers goes double for mobile devices. With smaller screens on PDAs and smart phones it is even tougher to scan through web pages. Combine that with slower access times and it is even more painful to load large web pages to view bits of content and click through several levels of pages to get to it. And that’s why mobile use of portals is going to take off …
… At least, that’s what I was told in 2002. I saw some impressive technology for it as well, mostly from Sybase but also from IBM and Oracle. The technology went beyond simple transformation of pages into WAP and actually provided design-time selection of deprecated page elements, matrices of style sheets for different devices (many pre-provided), and emulators for testing the pages.
The problem is in practice it just hasn’t caught on. Vendors I spoke to a few years later were a bit peeved that significant development effort was spent on features that wound up not being used very much. Mobile portal features appeared as needs on lots of RFPs, so maybe the vendors won some deals they wouldn’t have otherwise, but this code was supposed to be actually used, not just artwork.
There have certainly been inroads into mobile access to information in certain industries, like utility field service and medical. But those are mobile applications and don’t need to leverage portal infrastructure for personalization, application integration, single sign-on, and page assembly. There is a lot of room for inroads in mobile computing separate from portals.
I think this is a case where it just takes time to catch on and the vendors were expecting a big bang. The drivers are still valid and while I haven’t seen stats, I’m sure mobile use has increased slowly but steadily, although it’s still at a low percentage of overall usage. Maybe a better browser like in Apple’s iPhone will be the breakthrough. Salesforce.com is designing for it successfully. And once the AT&T network that Apple uses upgrades to a higher speed, the improved web page viewing with better resolution and gesturing may be the catalyst for mobile portals finally taking off.