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The future of your business is in the palm of your hand

One of the key practices of successful businesses is the ability to follow trends and anticipate market movements. This is extremely difficult: if any of us really knew what next year’s markets would look like, we would be billionaires.

Some trends, however, are so predictable that the foolishness lies in ignoring them. And that is what I want to share with you this morning, for free: a business force that is going to make you a lot of money if you succeed in harnessing it; and ruin you if you ignore it. And that holds true for pretty much any sector of the economy.

The thing that I am talking about lies in the palm of your hand. No, I haven’t suddenly developed a superstitious belief in palmistry. I am referring to the thing that is in your palm most of the time these days: your mobile phone.

The cellphone, by mutating into the smartphone, has come of age. When combined with the widespread advent of broadband connectivity, it is going to whack every industry on the head. If you think I’m exaggerating, let’s have a little history lesson.

When mobile phones first became popular in the 1990s, they were used predominantly for one thing: making calls. This was soon supplemented by text messaging and other basic applications like internet browsing and e-mail functionality. Still, nothing that earth-shaking was happening. But under the surface, some far-reaching forces were at work.

For one thing, cheaper and better bandwidth was feeding the possibility of cloud computing – the idea that most data and software could be held in remote server networks on your behalf, leaving you free to carry around a relatively simple device that simply drew services and data down from the ‘cloud’.

The second process was the ever-improving sophistication of the smartphone. Most of the world still uses their mobile device to make calls and send messages. Most of the world will soon be using those devices to run much of their lives. Making calls is the least of what today’s smartphones can do.

Here’s a taster. With my current phone, I can do all the following: buy and listen to a vast collection of music; navigate my way in most cities of the world; record and edit videos; play sophisticated video games; scan business documents; manage a synchronised diary; make sophisticated calculations; research any topic under the sun; track the weather; manage a stock portfolio; maintain a digital filing cabinet; look up any word and its pronunciation; read all the world’s leading newspapers; watch TV; make sketches and drawings; frequent the world’s online retailers; dictate messages; consult a doctor; run a presentation; translate phrases into multiple languages; convert any measure into different units; do instant currency conversions; make bank transactions; and follow my favourite sports team in real time. Oh, and it still makes calls.

Quite a list for a little device, isn’t it? But here’s the real news. This stuff may currently be available only to early adopters who can afford expensive devices; but there is an explosion coming in the ubiquity of these gadgets. Soon every phone will be a smartphone, and there will be serious computing power in every hand at every budget point.

So what will all this mean? In a sentence, the internet is now intimate. You don’t have to sit before an expensive computer to engage with the world; you draw on its power using the device already in your hand. The consequences for certain industries is already apparent. But that will be as nothing once a tech-savvy generation reared on mobile gadgetry takes over.

Have you studied the queues around most mobile-company customer centres? They should give you pause, whichever industry you happen to be in. This thing is going to get us all. Every business leader worth her salt is paying a lot of attention to the mobile revolution.

If you run a shop, the time is coming when customers will simply wave their phones at special terminals to pay their bill. If you are a bank, people coming to your branches is going to become a fond memory. If you make maps, there will be no point putting them in print. If you own a bookshop, you had better have an e-book download facility soon. If you run a TV company, you need to be on your customer’s mobiles before someone else is.

If you sell CDs, be ready to throw them in the same dump your threw your cassette collection. If photography is your business, worry hard about the fact that the ordinary person will soon have a high-resolution camera on his phone and will store all his photos online rather then print them. If you buy produce from farmers, they will soon be holding a full range of going prices in their hands.

How is a powerful communication, entertainment, payment and productivity device in every hand going to affect YOUR business? Please think very hard about it.

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