Goin' Mobile

Goin' Mobile

There's a host of personal devices out there and today's employees expect to use all of them at the office. CIOs had better get used to the idea if they hope to manage it all.

Gleaming, it sat on the table demanding to be held and fondled. Awareness of colleagues and the words around me drifted away as my concentration inexplicably centred on a technology that can be left alone no longer than a child's Tamagotchi digital pet that dies if its needs are unattended.

It pulses. It beeps. It needs me. My innermost instincts conquer my conscious resolve and I pick up my brand new iPaq and start tapping away, oblivious to the thoughts and reaction of those around me. I have become one of those I love to hate - an obsessive, compulsive fiddler of handheld computers.

I hate myself for it and, if I were to be honest, I hate the computer-phone-e-mail combo, too. It's the only phone I have ever had that will hang. Not hang up. I've had that plenty of times. I mean hang, as in Bill's blue screen of death.

Admittedly, I have been slow to this genre of computing. Deliberately so. I knew I'd not think much of it, and I have not disappointed myself. Lucky me. I yearn for the late 90s when I had a Nokia that was simple to use; it could make a phone call, be dropped without disintegrating into a million pieces and was not so small I'd lose it in the cuff of a trouser leg.

This is the attitude of the so-called Late Majority, even the Laggard, as it is characterized so brilliantly in Geoffrey Moore's book, Crossing the Chasm. Such belief and behaviour is out of whack with all but a few rednecks and, frankly, I need to get over myself and embrace innovation.

Of course, change never stops. And that can be just as annoying. In the field of handheld computing and smartphones, there are Treos, razrs and Qs, the iPaq rx1950 and hx2790 (whatever the hell they are), the equally elegantly named Dell Axim X51, plus the Palm, the Nokia 9000-and-whatever, and so on. The list of American and Japanese originals, accompanied by Taiwanese and Chinese knock-offs, is almost endless.

And now Steve Jobs is going to make his iPod into a phone. He does need to do something. In the next few years all MP3 players will be phones; not the other way around, if you get me drift. So, even the genius of Apple cannot stop sprinting on the mouse-wheel of innovation. To make matters worse, operating systems seem to be updating every five minutes; the latest attempt being Microsoft's Windows 5.

Back at HQ, where most CIOs reside, there is a need to make sense of all this. Some manage it; others do not. For example, there is a major Australian newspaper company that has just told its staff to individually sign a new policy that prevents them from loading and listening to music on their work computers. Outrage has been expressed and many are refusing to cooperate. Other organizations feel obliged to ban staff from storing personal photos on their machines, and even deactivate phone cameras.

The corporate mood against work equipment that doubles as personal devices appears to be growing. The Baby boomer generation of managers who rule the roost are struggling to come to terms with younger workers - those in the Gen X and Gen Y category - who see and use technology in a completely different way to them.

Telling staff they cannot listen to music on a company computer is ridiculously draconian. Certainly the young workers of today have no concept of the reasoning behind such a dated concept. Their logic would be simple: "It's a computer, it plays music, so why wouldn't I listen to it?" The same goes for companies that provide mobile phones with cameras - of course staff will take pictures with it.

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