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Mobile will dominate the digital world whether businesses are ready or not

This article firs appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2012 - Anyone thinking about his or her business’ future must consider the impact of mobile computing. Even if that technology is only marginally important now and no matter what business you are in, it is likely be much more profound in the future.

Trends in smart phones and tablets are being covered everywhere from trade publications to the Wall Street Journal. But the challenge is how a businessperson considers this technology strategically as he or she moves forward. 

If you think, “OK, I’ve created a mobile app, that’s done. Check the box,” you are absolutely, categorically setting yourself up for failure.

All of that good "Moore’s Law stuff" that may have been the province of Silicon Valley is your problem now or will likely be soon – whether you are a technology business or not.

Having been part of management teams inside of companies that have argued about tech relevance over the years, I know the “will it affect me” question has only one answer: Yes.  

You can control how important mobile technology will be to your business but only to a limited extent. Your customers will determine how important it is to the market you serve or it will be determined by competitors who may well use these technologies to their advantage if you don’t. We are continuing to evolve into a world driven by customer choice and that pace is only quickening.

If you are think that these trends are less important because you work in a business-to-business environment, you may be right, but only for the short term. All of your customers are consumers, too. The dominant trends being spawned by the consumerization of technology are impacting every business environment to some extent. Customer expectations that are being reshaped in concert with their markets will be further fueled by trends like BYOD, “Bring Your Own Device,” which are beginning to sweep through corporations large and small.

Hyper Growth

The first thing to consider when talking about mobile is growth. Yes, even from where we are currently, growth will continue to be exceptional. Every generation of computing, from mainframe to minicomputer, from the mini to the PC has been at least 10x the prior. Mobile will be no exception. Within the next five years, mobile will become the dominant form of computing.

The unit sales of mobile devices (phones and tablets) will be triple those of the existing PCs and laptops. While this may sound like a bit of a reach, consider that globally around 30 percent of the population reaches the Internet and 86 percent has some sort of a mobile phone. This means that the number of global Internet users will roughly double in the next five years and most of them will be mobile, making it a prime venue for entering new markets.

According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, by the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita. That means more than 10 billion mobile-connected devices just four years from now.

As capabilities surge and people become increasingly comfortable with these devices, their actual daily usage is exploding as well. Average smart phone usage, in terms of transaction requests, tripled in 2011. Again according to Cisco, overall mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 78 percent through 2016.

Nationwide, we are moving to the next generation of mobile network (4G also called LTE), which will be even faster, enabling much richer consumer experiences, including video and perhaps even 3D, whose optics actually work on the smaller form factor devices without the need for special glasses. For their part, consumers are proving they will step up to consume the increased speed. In 2011, consumers who have already adopted 4G generated 28 times the data volume of a user on a legacy 3G network. 

Big Data

All of this growth in both the number of consumers and their usage, will continue to drive data volumes to ever higher levels. The amount of information that will be generated will be staggering. Although at the peak of its hype cycle, Big Data is a real phenomenon that companies need to be thinking about. Critical to a company’s success will be learning how to store, process and actually derive meaningful insight in terms of the relationships with your customers, within your supply chain or even in running your service itself.

Bud Albers is a member of the Beacon's board. You can follow @budalbers on Twitter.