I recently took some holiday leave and saw two small, but clear examples of where mobility changes the economics of IT. The first was in a restaurant where the wait staff used their own smartphones and a simple order taking app. There was no expensive mobile platform for the restaurant to purchase in order to use this system. There was no expensive training program in place to teach the employees how to use the software. They simply bring along their own phone, download a free app to their device and start working.

The software is intuitive enough that any training required is done by their fellow staff members during shifts. What’s interesting about this example is that using mobile devices for taking restaurant orders isn’t new – but using employees own devices is. Previously, the expense incurred by restaurants having to purchase proprietary devices meant that only high margin operations could afford to use mobile order taking systems. And loss, theft or damage of the devices was not only expensive but also proved to be a sticking point for employer/employee relations.   

The second example provides a sharp contrast. It involved a trip to a museum and the use of the audio commentary service. Though almost every visitor to the museum now has a smart phone device, an old proprietary hand held device was still in use there. This is an expensive option to operate for a low-margin business like a museum. There are now museums that have recognised this and offer apps on smart phones with capabilities well beyond what the previous dedicated hardware could provide. One such museum is the American Museum of Natural History. It not only uses the rich visual interface of the smart phone, along with the required basic audio commentary services, but it also reportedly helps the user navigate the complex campus using sophisticated wi-fi triangulation.

The other interesting bi-product of this consumer-device-driven approach is the amount of contextually rich information this organisation now has available. It’s not just about being able to remove the device cost but the extra level of detailed information they now have about who visits what exhibits, how long they spend there and why. Of cours, not every decision for a museum exhibit needs to be made purely based on popularisim (have you ever seen the British comedy film “Fierce creatures”?) but some good, accurate data on things like avoiding traffic bottlenecks and optimising display layouts can be extremely useful.  

These are just two, very simple examples. But they do clearly demonstrate how the economics of IT can be changed by designing around mobile devices. My colleagues Ted Schadler and Simon Yates have written some excellent research on exactly this topic including “Benchmarking Mobile Engagement: Consumers And Employees Outpace CIOs' Readiness” – a must read for any CIO.

What *I* learned from the experience… is that some time away from the office often brings a whole new level of clarity and perspective on some very basic business issues. It doesn't always need to be complex to be valuable. The simplest things in life, are indeed, often the best.