- Jun 7, 2019,
The First Platform Shift
In the early 1990’s it was a very exciting time. The market was going through a “platform shift” where mainframes had served their purpose and were being retired and replaced by client-server technology that could be deployed at lower costs and take advantage of the computing power of a client workstation to help with the application load.
We’ve been through a number of platform shifts since then. Client-server gave way to Web architecture, which eventually evolved into Multi-tenant Cloud. By the way, it’s funny that after so many platform changes over the last 20+ years, mainframes are still out there with IBM rolling out a new Linux-powered mainframe last month.
Mobile Ate The World
We are in the midst of another very significant platform shift. If you look at where we’ve come from, Apple just marked the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, the smartphone that changed many industries and the world forever. Mobile phones now outsell PCs, and more than half of internet traffic is now on mobile devices.
And if you look at where we’re going, Gartner has predicted that in only a few short years, 70% of enterprise software interactions will occur on mobile devices. That looks a lot different than today’s workplace, but we’ll get there as the mobile shift continues.
What’s Different This Time
While experienced IT pros have seen and managed platform shifts before, this shift to mobile computing is fundamentally different and has significant implications to IT departments and the businesses they support.
For starters, this is the first platform that’s in everyone’s pocket. You don’t need to “deploy” the mobile platform, you just have to take advantage of it. Think about that. The vast majority of your employees, partners, suppliers, and customers have mobile phones with them nearly all the time. The employee that you haven’t hired yet, who will start this December, will arrive on her first day of work with the new platform in her pocket. How are you going to use that to help her and help your business?
Beyond that, the mobile platform shift is the first that has materially raised user expectations. When client-server was transitioning to three-tier-web, I wasn’t really expecting anything game-changing for me as a user – which is good, because I didn’t get anything game changing as a user. It made it less expensive for my company to deploy new applications. As a user, it was nice to be able to access applications in a browser without having to install and configure a client. Outside of that, I didn’t expect anything different in terms of the experience. So the “submit” button that used to call a WIN32 library on my desktop PC was now calling a CGI script on a web server. So what? The application experience was basically the same interaction delivered in a different architecture.
Not so with mobile. We’ve been spoiled as consumers and now we expect consumer-style experiences from anything we use on our smartphones. We want the things we do on our mobile devices to be intuitive, personal, immediate, even beautiful. Note that none of those requirements describe design principles of classic enterprise software. The vast majority of our enterprise software was designed for employees on high-speed “Corporate HQ” networks, with large monitors and lots of screen real estate, with a full-sized keyboard and an external mouse. Mobility gives us hyper-portable supercomputers, but they come with small screens, virtual keyboards, and no mouse.
In this new world, employees, especially younger ones, will “vote with their thumbs” and abandon or avoid your company’s mobile apps if the apps don’t provide the kind of experience they expect.
Some of Forrester’s top analysts wrote a book on this called The Mobile Mindshift. They describe the essence of that mind shift for a user as “the expectation that I can get what I want, anytime, in my immediate context.” We never expected that before, but we expect, even demand it, now.
Just Getting Started
While we’re technically 10 years into the journey, we’re just getting started in terms of the ways that mobile devices and mobility will impact our personal and professional lives. It’s an exciting time, in part because the boundaries of “mobility” continue to expand. Until now, when we think about “mobile” we’re usually thinking about mobile apps. But mobility is expanding with everything from the emergence of micro apps (small apps typically designed around a single task) to a new generation of wearables to the proliferation of chatbots, smart speakers, and digital assistants.
The next platform shift is coming for sure at some point. Computing is getting smaller, smarter, more virtualized, and more pervasive. Maybe we’ll end up with implanted computer chips inside us or our self-driving cars will join together into a wirelessly-connected mobile computing supergrid. But in the meantime, we haven’t even come close to realizing the potential of the current platform shift.