2013: The year we all went 'mobile'

Mobile images A mobile state of mind: mobile phones, mobile workforces, mobile data

This year was the year we all went mobile. And we're not just talking smartphones and tablets.

We're talking mobile workforces staying connected in and out of the office and using their devices for work and play.

 Technology of Business

We're talking mobile data, stored in the cloud; and mobile corporate structures trying to adapt to the new age of data sharing, collaboration and crowdsourcing.

Mobile didn't simply refer to a gadget, but to a state of mind.

New paradigm

And this new mobility, powered by the roll-out of faster 4G networks, brought many challenges as well as opportunities for business.

David Chan, director of the information leadership network at Cass Business School in London, believes that networked mobiles have caused a fundamental shift in our behaviour - the way we shop, work, create and interact - but that many businesses failed to adapt to this new paradigm.

Start Quote

The world is moving so fast our grand IT plans are almost obsolete before they've even been started”

End Quote David Chan Cass Business School

The demise of traditional High Street retailers, such as HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops, in the face of the online shopping revolution was a case in point.

"This was the year we began to realise the limitations of our current mindset," says Mr Chan. "We still follow a Newtonian model - we see businesses as machines we can control.

"We need to move to a more organic organisation - senior managers have to learn to let go. Agility and innovation are not compatible with this old mindset."

This failure to adopt more fluid, situational management structures results in major IT failures, he argues, from the botched launch of "Obamacare" health insurance in the US, to the online banking breakdowns suffered by Royal Bank of Scotland and its subsidiaries, Ulster Bank and NatWest.

"The world is moving so fast our grand IT plans are almost obsolete before they've even been started," he says.

Error sign Current technology infrastructures have their limitations

Damian Saunders, a cloud networking director at Florida-based virtualisation and software company Citrix Systems, agrees.

Speaking to Technology of Business reporter Paul Rubens in November, he said: "I take a contentious view and say that IT outages are rarely to do with technology. There's normally a role that technology plays in the outage, but when I look at the root cause, by far the greatest cause is people and processes."

In other words, not updating software or not testing systems sufficiently. This year exposed the limitations of our creaking technology infrastructures, our legacy computer systems, and our outmoded managerial thinking.

Sharing generation

In 2013, powerful smartphones equipped with accelerometers, GPS navigation systems, high-definition cameras, clocks and wireless connectivity, began to be used in all sorts of innovative ways.

Patch, pills and tablet app Healthcare is increasingly using technology to assist patients

Fiona Graham reported in July on how a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) team created an app, CrowdShake, that can turn a smartphone into a simple seismometer capable of detecting vibrations from earthquakes.

By sharing data amongst a community of users, early warning systems like this can potentially save lives.

In other features, we explored how personal healthcare went mobile, with smartphones now measuring our heart rates, blood pressure and calories burned, recording data we can upload, visualise, share and learn from.

This trend towards sharing and collaboration challenged the traditional corporate desire to command and control.

Crowdsourcing, engineering and science expertise accelerated a number of projects, from DNA analysis to app design.

Data tsunami
Bluetooth lightbulb The "internet of things" allows household objects to go online and communicate with each other and people

Meanwhile, microchipped objects capable of recording and sharing data wirelessly, and working in combination with smart analytical software, began to accelerate our understanding of how the "internet of things" was changing the world around us.

From pills that text you once you've taken them, to home heating systems that can be controlled remotely by mobile phone, connectivity opened up a myriad of new possibilities.

But all these digital sensors have led to an exponential increase in data, requiring storage, protection from prying eyes, and practical analysis.

"Big data" became a catch-all phrase covering a multitude of topics, but boiled down to smart ways to make this data truly useful.

Clever software drew shapes from the data blizzard, enabling firefighters to identify the most risk prone areas of a city; the police to spot patterns of behaviour that led to the arrest of criminals; and financial institutions to mine audio recordings for potentially fraudulent conversations.

Security threat

The business impact of the US National Security Agency's Prism digital surveillance scheme, as revealed by Edward Snowden's leaked documents, warrants a feature all to itself.

But in short, business confidence in the confidentiality of corporate data and the security of cloud-based data storage services took a real battering in 2013.

Big Brother Security concerns hit the headlines around the world in 2013

Cyber security and the threats from extortionist hackers, intellectual property thieves and fraudsters, rose swiftly up the agenda for most companies.

And the rapid rise of mobile helped exacerbate these concerns, as IT managers struggled to enforce security protocols governing their use.

Samsung's Knox platform offered one encrypted, password-protected solution to the problem, whereby a walled-off section of the smartphone could be controlled and protected by the employer, leaving the rest of the employee's phone free for Angry Birds and indiscreet conversations.

Perhaps the last word should go to Gartner's Steve Prentice, who showed admirable prescience in January.

"More cloud computing, services and storage. More mobile devices with more apps, more games, more browsing, more shopping and more sharing with our 'friends' on social media. All of which increases the demand for bandwidth, faster speed and universal coverage," he said.

"And with the marketing muscle of big corporations in support, countless millions of machines (from simple sensors to jet engines) will join the digital conversation, building the internet of everything, delivering an accelerating flow of data and the consequent demand for advanced analytics."

That was 2013: the year we all went mobile.

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