Tuesday, July 04, 2000

Kiss Your PC Good-Bye

New Economy Management: Kiss Your PC Good-Bye or Risk Failure With Your Start-up ~ Charles Caldwell, Asia Pacific HR Director for Rockwell Automation, provides a series of management concepts for individuals looking to develop their management and business skills in The New Economy.

I remember in 1990, a friend and I had a discussion about vinyl records. This friend said that compact discs would never triumph over vinyl. Not long afterwards, CDs proliferated the market and vinyl records disappeared from the sights of almost everyone except record collectors. Today the computer industry is on the cusp of a similar revolution. The industry as we know it is dead – it is just a matter of time for the rest of the battle to be played out. Any computer company, Internet Company or Technology Company worth its salt had better be planning for the demise of the computer. If your company (especially a start-up) is dependent on the computer, as we know them now, then your little start-up will go the way of the dinosaur computer, too.

As early as 1960 (!), Peter Drucker, the grandfather of modern management theory and one of the greatest business writers of our time, said that computers were far too large. Grant it that at the time most computers were gargantuan by our standards today. When PCs entered the scene, Drucker continued by saying computers were hopelessly clumsy and that an enormous shake-out in the computer industry was inevitable. Even today the computer takes on the same characteristics of large clumsy machines on an only slightly smaller scale. Computer manufacturers force consumers to endure large computer sizes with the exception of notebook computers. Notebooks prove that the computer can get smaller (although some might question if that includes lighter) and even today Drucker continues to say computers are too large, and he still weights for the shake-out.

Think about the size perspective. A typical computer’s tower has remained the same size for the last ten years, as has the keyboard and computer screen. Lately we have seen ergonomic changes to the towers and mice, but the only dramatic change to the computer’s size has been the recent advent of the flat screen. Have you ever looked inside a computer’s tower? There is a hell of a lot of space in there. Sony has recently introduced a line of very sexy looking (and equally as powerful) desktop computers that break the mold for both power and size of the CPU. This is just the beginning.

The computer has also turned into a commodity. Computer prices have dropped 1% per month for the last twenty years – consistently. Meanwhile, the computer’s speed has accelerated to breathtaking levels. A bigger and bigger punch can be packed into a smaller and smaller space. With processors beyond 1 Giga Hz in speed, many have asked the Intel’s of the world how small the chips can get. There appears to be no limit – the latest response is that these firms are already studying microchip manufacturing at the sub-atomic level. That’s small. Other technological advancements race ahead just as quickly with computers capable of tremendous manipulation leaving tasks like advanced graphics manipulation within everyone’s reach. But do we need all of that power? Study after study illustrates that most computer users never use more than 5% of their computer’s capabilities.

Furthermore, computer standards are becoming more and more global further adding to the commoditization of the computer. How do computers companies differentiate themselves? Through service (IBM), building to order (Dell) and peripherals (HP printers) to name a few examples. Companies now focus on the consumer and his or her use of the computer, none of which fits the basic mold of the PC. Do we really need a computer that big? No – I would much rather have a flat screen and small CPU. In this way Sony’s latest line of products is breaking the traditional mold and killing off the first line of computer dinosaurs.

In the very near future, the computer will start to disappear. Where will it go? Consider the following:
  1. In North American you can now buy $99 USD computers that do nothing but connect you to the Internet at lightening speed. Repeat after me: this computer can do nothing but interact with the Internet. (Essentially, they have eliminated the aforementioned 95% power that consumers never use and the machine still operates at lightening speed.) Once on the Internet, this small, ergonomically and user-friendly machine directs you to all the various web sites that can provide you with all the traditional suite of service’s you might house on a typical $14,000 HKD computer.
  2. As Smart Houses begin to emerge, computers will be built right into a house, monitoring all of the house’s functions and appliances. This computer will have little resemblance to a PC, but will offer many of the same services and much, much more.
  3. For several years companies have been developing Internet access through large screen phones with touch screens. You can talk, surf, or do both. The technology is there – it is purely a question of when the consumers are ready for it.
  4. Mobile phones and PDA’s will present the greatest threat to the PC. Imagine the next generation Palm Pilot (think big – not the latest but the next, yet to be invented Palm). Add in voice recognition, plus WAP. There you go – it’s all over for the PC. All you need to do is plug your Palm into a nice big flat screen at home or the office. Touch screen technology replaces the mouse (poor mouse) and you’re surfing the Internet in grand style. Not a PC in site. Instead there will be hubs and all the small things get plugged into.
The wide spread application of these and many other far more creative technologies is not far off. If you plan on launching any company in this space, whether a Technology Company or Internet Pure Play, you had better take these changes into consideration. With the traditional computer on the edge of its demise, it would be a huge mistake to assume that any traditional computer technology currently surrounding you will be here in two years. What is required is a close examination of all the technologies your start-up will be reliant on and identification of any future technologies that could be substitutes or replacements for old computer paradigms. You will need to examine how the shift in technology paradigms will affect your company’s future.

For example, how will your B2B portal function on the small screen of a PDA or mobile phone? Will your portal be able to function with touch screen technologies? Does your business strategy take into account VOIP or web cam technologies? Is your new, super-hot software program designed for the PC – if so, what else can it be used for? How does voice recognition affect your business plan?

Asking these types of questions is what one might call “technology due diligence.” Failing to conduct these types of exercises could result in catastrophe for any business planning to venture into the Internet or technology fields. Of course you might say that new technologies will never triumph over the PC, in which case you’ll probably end up being a collector.

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