Freedom from the office and the promise of working from anywhere has been an illusion for many years. However, this illusion now seems to be closer to reality than ever before. Automattic, the hosting company for WordPress.com servers, knows the future is now. They have 123 people that operate like self-employed workers, taking advantage of cloud and mobile apps to communicate across 26 countries and 94 cities. Everyone works from home. Here are six trends driving us out of our offices and into the cloud.
1. Increased availability of SaaS/cloud applications
The fact that you are reading this is testament to the increased buzz surrounding SaaS/Cloud computing, a buzz that was absent in previous incarnations of the technology (notably ASP during the 1990s). Whether the buzz is driving vendors to produce applications specific for the cloud, or improved applications are feeding the fervor, is a mute point. To drive a greater usage of the cloud, applications written specifically for the cloud need to be freely available. Advances in technology, the availability of open-source code, and modern platforms such as AWS, are fueling the development of these applications. With innovations in distribution like Apple’s app store, users are now connected with these applications like never before.
2. An explosion in mobile devices capable of accessing these apps
As evidenced by IDC , by 2015 more people in the U.S. will access the internet with a mobile device than with a PC, decreasing wired access by half. This is a huge shift in emphasis that has precipitated a disruption in the market as key players struggle for supremacy or survival. Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Nokia’s tie-up with Microsoft and even RIM can read the texting on the screen, allowing Android to run on its devices. The bottom line is that with more devices in circulation able to access cloud-based applications, the demand from the user base to be able to access an ever-increasing number of apps will only increase.
3. Increased social media use
Social media has become ubiquitous. Proof: even my technophobic mother-in-law now has a Facebook account. This level of usage is raising user expectations from all apps. As a result of increased mobile messaging, alerts and postings, the modern workplace will function more like Facebook and Twitter than MS Office. Microsoft knows this. That’s why they paid $1.2 billion for Yammer. The new norm will be that employees must be able to access their work from anywhere, just like their Twitter feed, and will no longer be chained to their desk.
4. Pressure on IT departments to reduce budgets
The global slowdown has put pressure on all aspects of our society and the IT department is no exception. I know many CIOs that are entering this budgeting cycle being told to do more with less. For them, a pay-as-you-go model offered by SaaS vendors can be attractive, or even delegating application selection to the requesting business area. It is widely acknowledged that Taleo and SuccessFactors owed much of their success to winning the hearts, minds and budgets of the HR department. Company-provided mobile devices are also declining in favor of a BYOD (bring your own device) approach, but this is doing nothing to abate the will for employees to access corporate networks and applications remotely.
We live in a rapidly shrinking world. If you don’t believe how close or similar we have become, just look inside your children’s bedroom. “Hello Kitty,” JK Rowling, Christiano Rolando and Justin Bieber graphically represent our shrinking planet. Globalization is also driving our corporations and their systems. Increasingly, employees are required to access common data from anywhere on the planet. Old-world networked solutions are outdated and expensive; the cloud is the only practical solution. Given the ubiquitous nature of the workforce, mobile connectivity is the logical answer.
6. Greatly improved user experience
Remember green-screens and 3270 dumb terminals? You don’t have to go very far to see PCs running emulators or web-wrapped mainframe applications, just visit your bank or check in for a flight. At home we have become used to a high-end user experience, whether from a Playstation, smart TV or a microwave oven, while at work we struggle with outdated corporate applications. For the first time ever the technology we all carry in our pocket is more advanced than what we are required to use at the office. As a consequence pressure is coming from employees who are happy to find alternatives and work-arounds, if they are presented with something that is not as intuitive as their smartphone.
Productivity gains through improved interfaces and access, the eager adoption of new mobile technology and increased collaboration by tech savvy employees all point to creating the anytime, anywhere workplace.
But there’s a catch.
Configurable mobile business management tools may not yet be sufficiently mature. Current applications are either a one-size-fits-all solution, like those for email and chat, or are custom built by the client. Neither is an ideal solution. Certainly, custom-built applications are not only expensive to create, but the time taken to develop and deploy them could make them obsolete before any payback has been achieved. While stitching together point solutions results in hidden support costs, integration costs or compromised processes.
Smaller businesses without resources are therefore stuck with the current crop of mobile business tools until someone figures out how to build configurable applications that combine content and flexibility with low cost.
Even so, the days of being tethered to a desk are numbered. It is only a matter of time before the promise of the mobile office becomes commonplace.
By Simon Hopkins
Simon Hopkins is cofounder of iBE.net , a developer of cloud- and mobile-based business management software for small to mid-size enterprises. He began his career at Andersen Consulting in 1989 and was most recently Chairman and CEO of ROC Americas Inc., a global IT consultancy. Before that he was COO for Axon Solutions, an IT services firm now part of HCL. He spent 12 years at Druid Group plc, a British IT services company, where he was part of the management team responsible for its IPO in 1996. Simon earned a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, London.
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