4G’s Potential in Business
Andrew Stone, former Sunday Times Enterprise Editor, talks about 4G’s potential in business…
Businesses of all kinds have much to gain from upgrading to 4G. Having the bandwidth to use services that would normally chain you and your teams to a broadband-enabled office frees you to operate more flexibly, efficiently and responsively.
Whether its setting up an ad hoc office space while on the road, keeping in touch securely with sales teams at a client site, or supporting your field teams by sharing timely information and large files, the immediate out-of-the-box benefits are pretty clear and attractive.
Businesses in the US who have been using 4G report that their service quality and productivity have risen significantly. Almost half say it has enabled them to cut costs, 39% say it has helped them win new business and more than two thirds say it has helped them be more productive.
And I suspect small firms are especially well placed to profit. Combined with cloud services, 4G opens up to an even greater extent the cheaper and more powerful software tools that were the domain of only large firms just a decade ago. Combined with the speed and flexibility that smaller firms enjoy it gives them the chance to steal a march on larger, slower rivals.
London, it was thought, was going to be buried in horse manure by the turn of the 19th century and then the motor car showed up.
So far so good. It would be fantastic news indeed if this were all 4G had to offer – business quite a bit better than usual. But my hunch is that 4G will be part of a bigger story and a more radically different future. I suspect 4G as it is used today will simply form the first phase of a much wider transformation of the way business is done by the end of the current decade.
If you believe the future pundits, 4G is one of the enabling technologies that will create a new era of Ubiquitous Connectivity, a clunky phrase but one I suspect we’ll be hearing more often.
Ubiquitous Connectivity will create the conditions for a whole new class of business processes, services and products to evolve. And it will, of course, be the creative, smart businesses who adopt this technology early and who experiment with its possibilities who will profit
most from it.
It could change the way we run our operations and will dramatically alter the way we use geographical space by merging the real and the virtual worlds. It may even be the lever that gets the UK and Europe out of the economic mire and the world economy growing even faster.
In his book The Great Reset economic geographer Richard Florida makes two important observations. His first is that after depressions, like the one many nations are slowly dragging themselves out of, innovations tend to bunch together and then get unleashed. His second is that innovations tend to create dramatic changes to the ways we use physical space – what Florida calls a ‘spatial fix’ – which is also transformative.
The combination of the highway network, public sanitation and mass electrification combined to enable the building of the suburbs in the 1930s America, for example, catapulting the US back to rapid wealth creation.
On cue, US Consultant Bain has just released a report predicting five new innovative technologies that will bunch together – nanotechnology, genomics, artificial intelligence, robotics and ubiquitous connectivity – to add $1 trillion to global GDP by 2020.
The new ‘spatial fix’, meanwhile, will be a more subtle one than that in the 1930s but it promises to be just as transformative. The slow merging of the virtual world with the physical thanks to ubiquitous connectivity may not seem transformative at first but it will create better ways of living and working. It will enable mobile commerce to an even greater extend and it will offer new ways to pursue greener, healthier, less stressful lives.
A few emerging innovations offer some clues to this future even if they have not yet all seen mass adoption: Truly smart energy monitoring in supermarkets and office blocks; black boxes in cars for young drivers helping them drive safely and affordably; telematics in trucks and car fleets that help promote efficient driving or cut out some journeys altogether; mobile phones that monitor our fitness and vital signs; and clothing that monitors dementia patients.
The spread of ever cheaper, smaller, and less power hungry sensors offer further transformative future uses for ubiquitous connectivity. Imagine walking
down a warehouse aisle with a 4G-enabled tablet that can read the contents of the sensor-filled component bins, enabling your warehouse teams to do an instant drive-by stock check.
I can imagine fish farms tagging and monitoring the health and size of their stock using remote monitoring. Self driving cars constantly monitoring their surroundings and communicating with others are already being successfully trialled and biometric sensor-on-chips that let us check our health in new ways are not far away.
There are doubtless all kinds of new applications and business opportunities yet to be thought of. As futurist Richard Watson, author of The History of the Next 50 Years points out, we are blinded to the potential uses of future innovations by our existing world view and assumptions.
London, it was thought, was going to be buried in horse manure by the turn of the 19th century and then the motor car showed up. Benz, its inventor, far from being a visionary however, thought there was only a market for a few cars because there were not enough chauffeurs.
It’s a reminder to be open to new possibilities, not to worry about innovation being a messy process but also not to be too slow about adapting your own business and discovering your own novel applications for ubiquitous connectivity.
As philosopher mathematician and trader Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out, many breakthroughs, perhaps the majority of useful innovations in the industrial era, have come through a messy process of experimentation with new ideas. The curious tinkerer is likely to be more successful than the would-be visionary.
It will be companies that embrace ubiquitous connectivity and experiment and tinker, fearlessly trying new ways to do things or to reach and serve customers that will find revolutionary ways to cut costs and do old things smarter and faster and create entirely new products and services.
Andrew Stone is a Freelance business journalist and former Sunday Times Enterprise Editor