It seems that I have been writing about mobility and its breakthrough possibilities and potential to change everything for a couple of decades now. Last week, I was in New York, making a cell phone call from the back seat of a limousine on the FDR Drive. The call dropped three times in 10 minutes. So maybe we aren't really there yetâ¦
Let's assume, for a moment, that the carriers will solve their three greatest current challenges: reliable and universal coverage; adequate bandwidth for rich data services; and affordable pricing for those services.
What could we really do with mobility? One fascinating opportunity is to blend an image (pretty much every phone has a camera), location (via GPS) and data (about what the camera sees). "Augmented reality" seems to be the term of art here, and the possibilities are truly exciting.
Consumer scenarios are already developing - scanning a bar code to get comparative pricing and alternate purchase locations or the option for ecommerce offers. It's easy to imagine this evolving to cover, say, real estate. A MLS app could direct you to an address and when you arrive, overlay listing data, price history and so on, plus offer you a choice of similar listings close by. Or maybe you see a place you like the look off while out grocery shopping. Now the App gives you comparatives to what your phone camera is looking at and offers to schedule viewings on your way home. And so on.
Same for buying anything: cars; refrigerators; landscaping services. Anything where you can see an image you like, grab data, look at options, make a decision, act, done. Even pay for some things right then and there.
There are lots of business scenarios too. Again, the essence is blending an easily accessible image (stored or in real time) with data about what's in the image, and presenting the results in real time wherever you need them and on whatever device can render them.
This kind of distributed architecture isn't new, but it's not easy to make it work reliably. Some caching of data might be needed to account for variations on coverage and capacity in the wireless network. To what extent the user interacts with the application - by adding to or editing the image or the data that's being displayed for example - needs to be thought through.
Here's a list of the questions that have to be asked, and these just touch the tip of the mobility iceberg:
- Do we need data storage on the device for both performance reasons (local processing might make sense if bandwidth is limited) and offline working?
- If so, how does synchronization work?
- How do I maintain consistency of views when multiple users access the same data but from different viewpoints (same location, different image)?
- How does the audit trail work if it's important to know what was displayed in support of any decisions or actions that were taken?
- What about security?
- What happens if the connection fails for any reason?
- How does recovery work?
As is often the case with a business application, it's as much about the myriad non-functional requirements as it is what the application actually does and how it does it.
Nevertheless, the opportunity is real and exciting. The more we can equip our business with tools that cut out the constraints of time, place and portability (you can't carry everything around with you, just in case you might need it) the more productive and effective we can be. The less we are tethered to place (and power and network) the more flexibly we will have to react to opportunity.
Now, if I can just make a 10-minute phone call in Manhattan without a dropâ¦â¦
About the Author
John Parkinson is head of the Global Program Management Office at
AXIS Capital. He has been a technology executive, strategist, consultant
and author for 25 years. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.