SMELLIE ON SME's: Mobile technology great for scatterbrains

By Pattrick Smellie

Jan. 14 (BusinessDesk) - It's a truism to say the Internet has changed the way we live. But sometimes you'll read something that shows just how true that is.

And for business owners, the rise of mobile Internet use is perhaps even greater than the original invention itself.

In fact, if research from one of the world's biggest telecommunications providers, Ericsson, is any guide, physical connection to the internet by fibre or copper wire will almost be less common than wireless, mobile connection for the vast majority of users within a very short space of time.

Ericsson's latest Consumer Lab publication doesn't specifically focus on New Zealand, but its findings across Australia, the developed and developing countries of Asia, the United States, Europe and Africa is a clear guide to the way the world is moving.

Here are a few examples, which businesses large and small cannot ignore if they're to succeed in the hyper-connected environment that is emerging in all technologically enabled societies.

For a start, in most of those markets, tablets are replacing home PC's, smartphones are replacing laptops, and anyone has looked recently at new smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 will know it's getting hard to know what's a phone and what's a tablet anyway. The size of the human pocket appears to be the only limiting factor.

However, the devices themselves are less important than the fact of being online everywhere using many different alternatives. Most users of smartphones and tablets use a range of devices to meet their online needs. The implication of that for all kinds of services - from airlines to car manufacturers to public transport, health and education providers and the hospitality industry - is that customers expect both to interact with you online and for you to make it available, usually for free.

At a societal level, this profusion of devices and mobile connectivity is producing a new kind of behaviour that Ericsson calls "computing for a scattered mind". Where working at a desk and having an orderly filing cabinet were once the order of the day, "consumers are increasingly turning their backs on a computing paradigm for the focused mind". Instead, they are favouring life and working styles where "things are handled on the spur of the moment and with one hand - subject to the flow events as we stand in a shopping line, talk to someone at a café, or run between buses during the commute".

It doesn't matter whether or not this sounds like a sane way to live. It is simply the way things are going. The question to answer is whether your business is sufficiently visible in this new, more chaotic and endlessly available environment. If not, you'll have to react.

That's where it's useful to understand a bit about who's driving these changes.

While Internet addiction inspires thoughts of a geeky male in a dimly lit room, Ericsson found that it's women rather than men at the forefront of mobile web-geekery. While the social networking applications of mobile technology are attractive to both sexes, they are even more so to women than men.

There are implications for employers too. Ericsson found that people's personal networks come with them to work now. The upside, at least according to this research, is that fully two-thirds of those surveyed were bringing their own smartphone, paid for personally, to use at work. But that also means they're going to be on facebook whether you like it or not.

The research found highly networked city dwellers are spending an average of 45 minutes a day on social networking activities. You might hope that's outside of work hours, but pigs might fly. Depending on who's in your employees' social networks, their online activity might even help your business.

Either way, your brand, products and sales channels need to be open to this burgeoning group of online junkies. Unless some bizarre Darwinian twist removes our opposable thumbs or eliminates our interest in gossip, then online mobility is just part of the way global culture will evolve now.

So, scoff if you like about the habits of others. But as a business owner, you simply can't afford to take the view that "I don't use Twitter, so why pander to it?" That's the modern day equivalent of setting up shop off the high street and hoping for foot traffic.



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