The awkward, breaking-in decade is almost over and in a couple of week’s time we’ll have properly and comfortably settled into the 21st century.
I think I might describe the last ten years of business software as being like a mediocre sequel to a great 1990’s movie; new but not particularly fresh and its protagonists haven’t really aged all that well.
There have been some breakthroughs – obviously! – but speaking for the experiences of the majority over most of the last decade, I’d say that it’s been hum-drum. Certainly compared with the rapid pace of innovation we saw throughout the ’90s where we leapt from solitary, under-powered PCs running simplistic MS-DOS apps to the ubiquity of internet connected, graphically rich PCs and sophisticated software applications by 2000; I think it’s fair to say we haven’t seen the same shift in the most recent decade.
However, I think we will in the next.You wouldn’t get much change out of 30 years if you rolled farther back to the launch of IBM’s then groundbreaking PC. What IBM’s vision for the personal computer delivered (along with similar visions of others, including Apple & Microsoft) in democratising computing for the masses would transform our lives immeasurably. But as successful as it has been, the personal computer has never really been as personal as it was individual. But I suppose the IBM IC didn’t have the same ring.
And I think that’s the big change – to truly personal technology – we’re about to witness over the next ten years as contemporary new technologies like the iPhone, to emerging technologies for personal fitness, wellbeing and welfare begin to mesh deeply and seamlessly with with our social and professional lives.
While I respect the wariness some might hold for a societal slide into some kind of Gibson-esqe dark, tech-saturated dystopia – I tend to subscribe more to the utopian church of progress through technology. In fact, I’m very upbeat about the next ten years in a way I haven’t been over the last.
For example; my once dormant Future-Sense (TM) antennae now twitch like crazy every time I show someone the rudimentary but awesome rendition of Xero on a BlackBerry or iPhone. I absolutely LOVE the notion that today, new low-cost technologies like Xero can enable a small business owner to sit in his pick-up at the side of a road with a cheese and tomato sandwich in one hand, while using the other browse through live numbers on how his small business is doing, and if he wishes, to simultaneously dial up an errant customer on speakerphone using the same device and app to chase up payment of overdue invoices.
As simplistic as it may seem, that really blows my mind. Not because mobile credit control is finally here to save the planet, but because it’s a taste of what’s to come.
It’s been long since written far more eloquently about the web and iPods, but devices like today’s iPhone and its successors will provide us with increasingly augmented personal abilities and awareness, whether that be to do mundane things more easily like submitting gas meter readings, finding the nearest tube stop or keeping better track of our childrens’ educational development. But as much as that shift may have begun in the personal technology space, I think it’s the world of business that will see the biggest change in the next 10 years.
If I’m not alone in feeling underwhelmed about the last ten years of business tech then there’s a familiar gap that’s grown between our heightened expectations of consumer technology and our frustrated, downbeat expectations in business.
And nature abhors a vacuum.