When IBM ushered in the era of personal computing in 1981 with the 5150, it was arguably a watershed moment in the modern era.
Computers broke out of the data centre and became relatively portable. The PC gave us a way to interact with the world of ones and zeros in far richer, more intimate way.
Fast forward to the present day and Mark Dean, IBM’s chief technology officer for the Middle East and Africa who helped develop the 5150, is quoted by The Economist saying didn’t expect to live long enough to witness the PC era’s decline.
Call it the “post-PC” or mobile era, it doesn’t matter. What’s remarkable is these ultra-portable computers known as smartphones and tablets have completely hijacked both the consumer and enterprise technology agendas. And as an encore, they’re changing business culture.
A quick example. The CIO at a large government department told me his board recently voted on a resolution decreeing the IT department must support iPads, without prior consultation. Cultural revolution, anyone?
And we the consumer love it of course. There's something intuitively empowering to know you’ve got the world’s data at your fingertips - and it’s on standby in your pocket.
However, there’s also another factor at play that’s changing the nature of business.
We’re entering a new era where personal computing gets even more customised and powerful.
Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 5, illustrates how many companies including Google, Microsoft and Amazon are beginning to define how this mobile era will operate without the shackles of old-school PC thinking.
Rather than hard-wire syncing your iPhone, iPad or iTouch with a PC, these devices and their apps now sync with Apple’s iCloud, wirelessly.
Suddenly the PC doesn’t sit in the middle of the computing revolution any more. It just got bypassed by a cloud freeway. Our Apple ID’s take centre stage and the devices follow.
And the so-called "i" generation is lapping it up, singing in the digital choir. It’s all about me.
Now, it must be said at this point I’m ducking the moral conversation.
This is a question of business. The bottom line? If the channel can't make money delivering the products our clients demand, why bother?
So herein lies the rub.
This me-first digital culture is so pervasive, and yet many companies still fail to understand the mood of our times and put their own needs first.
And that’s a problem because the customer’s still right. No customer, no business.
Consider this scenario, played out every day on retail sites across the globe: The site says stock is available, so Ms Customer places an order completely oblivious to the fact it doesn’t have a real-time feed to the data warehouse.
The site says there’s stock when it actually sold out hours ago.
Ms Customer then receives an impersonal email or (expensive) call from Mr Embarrassed Customer Service Rep: “Would you like something else instead?” Er, no.
Remember this is the mobile era. Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and countless other mobile apps constantly teach us to expect live, accurate data.
We're digitally wired to expect synchronicity. And when we don’t get it, we don’t ask why. We just go somewhere else (and complain loudly on Twitter).
The message is this. Your customers have a smartphone in their pocket and a simple expectation business will respond accordingly. That's not their problem, it's yours. So what are you doing about it?
Mark Jones is director of Filtered Media, and a former Editor-in-Chief of ARN firstname.lastname@example.org