As the global technology industry gathers this week in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC), there will be plenty of pondering about 5G, chatter about connected cars and a number of niche smartphone devices on display. It's all great news for consumers, but what can businesses take away from the mobile industry's annual agenda-setting event?
I would like to introduce here the concept of the mobile only workplace. By this, I mean a place where mobile devices are sufficient to carry out all business processes and back-office tasks, where automation is at large and artificial intelligence (AI) serves to enhance the capability of entrepreneurs and business builders.
So, why did you not hear anything about it at MWC?
Because it is largely fictional. As mythical as a unicorn.
Yet, as the global tech industry has reimagined cone-headed-rainbow-horse for the modern-day billion-dollar business, I hope that MWC 2019 will see the mobile-only workplace come to life.
To bring the mobile-only workplace into reality is no simple task. It's not just a case of switching PCs for smartphones, but the whole technology stack needs to be thought through and made fit for purpose. Data – the lifeblood of the modern business – needs to be captured at source using mobile and connected devices. So, that means using mobile-end-to-end when recording expenses and receipts, issuing invoices and receiving payments. It also means connecting everything - bank feeds, supply chains, e-invoicing, payments, tax office and social security – and processing data streams in real-time using machine learning and AI. It means securing transactions with blockchain and blockchain-inspired technologies.
At Sage, we call this the invisible accounting revolution, and it is the convergence of many technologies gravitating around mobile and connected technologies.
What's so great about the mobile-only workplace? Is it worth the bother then?
A mobile-only workplace allows everyone to participate in the business process. It can foster collaborative accounting and business management, bringing the ideas of many to a common output.
With business information available in real-time, arduous administrative tasks can be minimised or completely eliminated, bringing business decision making to the speed of now. Employees would be even more productive and engaged, while customers would receive a better experience as a result.
A clue is also in the name – the mobile business is also not confined to an office location and office opening hours. With true space and time flexibility, the person most qualified for the job can deal with it here and now.
Okay, so what's stopping every business from being mobile-only?
Software architecture is on the cusp of a breakthrough that is nothing short of a revolution.
One such innovation in the field is serverless and even-driven programming models, a technology where business logic is freed from deployment, scaling, and management aspect - where pricing is based on the actual processing consumed rather than capacity provisioned.
But you won't hear about that much at MWC.
You may hear about artificial intelligence, and specifically machine learning (ML). But you won't hear about the complications that come from the introduction of probability to computer programming, and the required fundamental changes in user experience design, which today caters mostly for certainty rather than probability.
What should fellow technologists and developers be considering to bring this vision of the mobile-only workplace to reality?
The mobile-only workplace is a far-reaching vision. It impacts every aspect of business and consumer interaction. It changes how we think of software, how we design software, and most importantly, how we approach the customer and employee experience.
The enterprise software industry needs to move beyond just serving up packaged solutions, be these cloud or on-premise, and deliver a technology stack capable of being a platform for innovation, for digital transformation and for the next generation of goods and services that will be produced by digital commerce.
Developing for the mobile-only business is a design principle, a creed, the litmus test for the vision of running a business in real-time with invisible and frictionless accounting processes
Not every business executive or entrepreneur will literally want to run their business from the palm of their hands, but everyone will want to benefit from the productivity gains and customer experience improvements the mobile-only workplace brings.