Mobility: Way More Than Connectivity

By  Russ McGuire, Sprint Nextel — May 19, 2006

If you're reading this article, you already have some sense that mobility matters to your business. But have you really comprehended how big a deal it can and will be once you've built mobility into every product and every process in your business?

Today, most businesses implementing mobility simply see the opportunity to extend the workplace to everywhere their workers go. Don't get me wrong, that's a great thing. It wasn't that long ago that the only telephone number on my business card was for the phone tethered to my desk. And for too many businesses still, the only place that e-mail can be sent and received is from a PC physically connected to the corporate LAN. Providing our co-workers with the power to connect into the enterprise and beyond while they are on the move is a wonderful thing that provides incremental value to the business.

But, extending connectivity is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of mobility. I believe that mobility will have as much of an impact on business as the PC did starting in the mid-1980s and as the Internet did starting in the mid-1990s.

Think about it. Before the PC, computers were the province of a small group of "computer scientists" cloistered in some remote region called the data center, performing mystical tasks that delivered tremendous value for large corporations. Thanks to the realities behind Moore's Law, that magical computer power could economically move out of the data center and onto the desktop of all knowledge workers across all sizes of businesses. This move dramatically accelerated our ability to create, analyze, and communicate information and ultimately to make better decisions faster.

Those businesses that grabbed hold of this new power quickly and effectively were able to outperform their competitors. The rules of competition fundamentally changed, and the ways businesses organized and operated internally were redefined around these new competitive rules.

Think about it. Before the Netscape era, the Internet was a boring research network used to connect universities and government labs. However, true to Metcalfe's Law, as soon as a critical mass of users discovered the 'Net, the value of being part of it crossed a threshold, where seemingly overnight virtually every business and every person saw being connected as a must. This universal connectivity accelerated access to information, enabled direct and instant communication to all employees and to trading partners, and is beginning to power machine-to-machine communications that are driving process efficiency and speed beyond what we could ever imagine. The Internet also enabled businesses to reach new markets previously too expensive to serve, and fostered the development of ad hoc communities to increase teamwork and breakdown communications barriers.

As with the PC era, businesses that rapidly saw the potential and figured out how to make it work pulled away from their competitors. The rules of competition were radically changed, and the ways businesses structured their value chains and managed their operations were fundamentally redesigned around the new interconnected realities.

So, welcome to the Mobility Age. The Law of Mobility (www.law-of-mobility.com) anticipates that, before we know it, mobility will be built into every product and every process. As that happens, the rules of competition will change, and those that figure out fastest how to win by the new rules will break away from the pack in their industries.

We can get a glimpse of what this looks like by considering an industry that has already made the first steps into using mobility and how mobility is redefining the rules of competition.

Before we jump in, let's start by defining what it looks like when mobility hits a company. In short, we know mobility is redefining a product or a process when something that previously was assumed to be fixed becomes mobile. This really only matters when the shift from fixed to mobile creates new value for customers.

Consider the rental car industry. Think back several years to what you used to have to do to return your car. You parked in the return lot, pulled out the folder holding your paper agreement, searched for something to write with, wrote down the final mileage, walked over to the lot office building, then waited in line to complete the return process with an agent behind the desk.

At some point in time, someone in the industry figured out that, if the "return desk" could go from being fixed inside that building to being mobile and able to come to you at your car, then customers would be thrilled. I'm sure it wasn't easy to find the best technology to make that work. The hardware might not have existed in exactly the right configuration. There probably were early issues with battery life and readability in different lighting conditions and operability in different weather situations. There probably were training issues and challenges dealing with repairs and asset tracking. There might even have been some early expensive devices that walked off the lot never to return.

But, all that trouble was worth it. The industry has been radically changed. Customer satisfaction undoubtedly is at new highs. People on the fence between rentals and taxis have one less reason to take a cab. The rules of competition in the industry changed virtually overnight. The needs of the business around systems and staffing and skills have forever changed.

Bottom line, mobility in the rental car industry is about way more than extending connectivity. Mobility is about fundamentally changing the customer experience and about all of the people, processes and systems that are involved in that experience.

Mobility should be a big deal to you and your business. How can you take the things in your business that are fixed, and by making them mobile, create dramatic new value for your customers and, by so doing, pull away from your competitors?

Feel free to let me know how it goes!

Russ McGuire is head of business strategy for Sprint Nextel Corporation and is eager to hear where you think mobility could most benefit your

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