Key to the success of the mobile office is a strong communications infrastructure. Part of that infrastructure must also make provision for office storage — functioning in the same way as your computers’ disk drive does today, allowing you to store and retrieve all of your office documents from wherever you happen to be…
In the previous installment, I discussed how software & hardware are the foundations atop which the mobile office is built. In this installment, I will outline how communication tools and web services offer up opportunities and challenges alike.
Act III: The Communication
I will assume you’re suitably connected to the ‘net and that you’re familiar with voice, data, IM (Instant Messaging) and video — much touted as being prerequisites of modern communication.
Being the very epitome of a modern business person, you’re using micro-blogging services like Pownce, Twitter, Facebook and Jaiku to stay in touch with friends, colleagues and clients alike.
The problem right now is that those people we meet on-line that we often arbitrarily label as friends aren’t really friends at all, not for the most part, at least:
“Having some way of choosing how to classify a friend, or indeed an acquaintance is something I think we’re going to see more of, as we edge toward the Semantic Web, a topic I’ve covered in three parts recently.”
So let’s look at what the likes of Google and Yahoo! are working on with regards to email as a Social Network, dubbed [yawn] “Inbox 2.0”, of all things:
“Yahoo is testing a method that can automatically determine the strength of your relationship to someone by how often you exchange e-mail and instant messages with him or her.”
This is very much inline with ideas I’ve had myself, which for either Yahoo! or Google should prove rather trivial.
Imagine that your contacts are scattered across an array of Social Networks; chat clients, address books and mobile devices. The first thing we could do is consolidate these contacts and simply add up those contacts and then score those that appear most often more highly. Straight away, those that appear most often across those devices and services are given extra weighting.
Then we look at the messages between all of our contacts and we add those up, too. But we also perform some speech pattern routines — quantifying angry exchanges, looking for familiarity, agreed events, praise et cetera — after which we look for mutual friends. The sum total of those discoveries are either added to or subtracted from what we had previously.
The end product is an intricate, interlinked mesh of contacts, sorted by type — consisting of friends, family, colleagues, clients, suppliers et cetera. Providing you with a truly valuable source of knowledge relating to all of your contacts.
Things get even more interesting if you look at what Apple are doing with their Mail application:
“Say you get an email invitation to dinner. What if Mail recognized the address of the restaurant and let you map directions on the web? Or let you click once to add the date to your iCal calendar? With Leopard, it does. Mail even recognizes relative dates…”
Such things are relatively easy to achieve, but add a huge amount of utility to the service. In my scenario, appointments and contact details sent by more valued contacts are marked for your immediate attention, rather than languishing in missed emails, text or chat messages.
Imagine the value you would gain if you’re linking your various forms of communication to your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications. A spectacle indeed.
Act IV: The Services
Having your virtual office suspended like a tumescent cloud in the ether is all good & well. However, the challenge here is to have the recollective powers of a squirrel; remembering all of the places you saved your various office documents in the first place.
Of course, most modern operating systems now sport powerful search tools, some of which have a web perspective to them. But is this enough? I doubt, especially when you’re mobile and you don’t have your laptop with you. Or, if your laptop is your second computer and your office documents are, well, in the office!
There are many services already in place for storing files of one sort or another, such as Box.net, Mozy, eSnips, OmniDrive, XDrive or even Apple’s .Mac for example. What is needed is an agreed, standardized method for applications like Adobe Buzzword, Zoho Office and Google Docs to save their creations to these services.
As of Tuesday the 13th of November 2007, an established player in the form of Box.net steered a path into the deceptively calm waters of mobile storage:
“Box users can now utilize third-party applications with their files stored online, which means you will only need to upload files to the web once.”
I say deceptively calm waters because the weight of Adobe Share may well pull the smaller mobile storage players into the Doldrums.
In my scenario again, we would be able to save our files to any service that supports an open storage format. From there, we could share and access our files from anywhere else, with any other supporting application, be it web or desktop.
This alone would open up sharing and collaborative duties in ways previously not fully exploited. Maybe even opening up a whole new class of shared applications. Also, the days of duplicate and lost files would a distant memory for some.
The mobile office has no doors…
Moving forward, the mobile office of the future is about both tenuous and tremendous connections, linking through to both business and personal affairs alike. Just look at the larger corporations and the value they heap into their CRM tools, detailing the intricate and thread-like lines between their clients, pulling together the business aspects and personal aspirations, forming a much greater whole.
These tools, often owned by the larger businesses, will one day filter down to the rest of us, maybe indirectly. Maybe these tools will come about by happy chance, as a result of a clustering of smaller web services, building towards a Workstream of sorts?
Maybe then, the “killer” application of the future is whatever we want it to be — something personal, shared or built upon and refined organically by many or by few.
We might not need to know of such things as “applications” as they are now and simply understand the concepts of sharing data & information in ways that the services create themselves.
What drives innovation isn’t always just about technology. People are really the main underlying agents of change — that enquiring, ceaseless engine, pushing things forward in sometimes unexpected and unanticipated directions.
As is the case with all good performances, the show must go on, business as usual. And for the mobile office, there’s many more venues to be played yet, with staring roles, special guest appearances and surprises, twists and circuitous plot devices aplenty…