Photo: By Tom Raftery on flickr
When the Apple iPad first hit the market it was greeted as a bulked up version of the iPod, best suited for social media and digital entertainment.Its impact has been much more dramatic and indeed revolutionary than first realised, however, signaling what I believe is a quantum change not just in personal computing, but in how the business world functions.
Since July, MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR), the business intelligence company where I am Chairman and CEO, has given iPads to over half of our employees and we plan to continue distributing them in 2011. We believe this is an investment in a fast approaching future.
The tablet computer is revolutionary because for the first time it embraces a multi- touch interface in an electronic device light enough to hold in one hand. In doing so, it replaces paper as a delivery mechanism for information and, as a result, stands beside the invention of paper, the printing press, the laser printer and desktop publishing in the history of technological innovation.
We have never before had the capability of putting critical decision making information at the fingertips of decision makers regardless of time or place. The advent of the tablet is historic because it accelerates the delivery of useful intelligence by an order of magnitude and it delivers that intelligence to places that up until now never could have been served by computers. It is spreading intelligence into every aspect of our society and every corner of the marketplace.
The change underway may be best understood by grasping the difference between Desktop Intelligence and Mobile Intelligence. Desktop Intelligence delivers information to office desks and cubicles at the point of decision via the web and personal computer. Mobile Intelligence delivers the same information to the field by smartphone or by tablet, to the store, the warehouse, home or anywhere.
Consider the impact on large retail chains. Traditionally, inventory and pricing decisions have been made by office-bound merchants using desktop computers to analyse results across geographic distribution points.
Mobile Intelligence frees the merchant from the office. It allows everyone in the decision chain – suppliers, store managers and corporate executives – to execute decisions in direct collaboration with vendors and customers. The benefits of this new arrangement are tremendous, giving tablet users the ability to negotiate deals and change orders in a real-time environment where the impact of those decisions immediately can be seen and analysed.
Think of the changes in store for the massive sales organisations deployed by Fortune 1000 companies that are constantly roving big box retailers looking for ways to maximise shelf space and optimise the sale of items like soap and soft drinks. Consider how the lives of pharmaceutical representatives walking hospital hallways in much the same manner, trying to set up a presentation for a physician or hospital buyer, are about to change.
Those folks can’t easily carry laptops that allow them to re-configure shelf space or give a presentation about a new drug on the spot, much as they would like to. But they will be able to carry iPads or similar tablets because they are specifically built for those very tasks — they are light, efficient, compact and powerful.
We are seeing this transformation from Desktop to Mobile Intelligence firsthand with our own iPad distribution. We’re able to do everything faster: issue quotes, negotiate contracts, close deals. Internally, we’re making all of our critical decisions, from hiring to reorganising departments, faster and smarter. Because decisive information is now more readily available, we’re achieving group consensus faster, too.
With the iPad, we’ve dramatically reduced response time for administrative approvals such as travel expenses, purchase requests, and raises. Previously, the expectation was a three-to-five day turnaround time for approvals, and now it’s within 24-hours. You can be in an elevator or at home or whenever you have a spare moment, and keep the business moving.
Will the tablet radically change the workplace itself? As we move farther toward a paperless world and away from the need for printers, paperclips and filing cabinets, I think the answer undoubtedly is yes. Of course, certain things are better done face to face, so there will always be a need for the conventional office as a meeting and collaboration space. Engineers who are building software code, for example, are generally best clustered together so they can speak face to face.
On the other hand, the critical value- added transaction for a salesperson does not occur in person with other salespeople, nor is it face to face with engineers or even with his or her boss. The critical interaction is the one with the customer. The tablet affords us the ability to spend more time with customers, suppliers and vendors, and to be out of the office and in the field.
The result: better overall business decisions and a revolution in the relationship between customers, suppliers, distributors, managers and staff.
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