Post-PC Era

Kevin Werbach writes about the emergence of the post-PC era, making the following points:

What comes after the PC isn’t the Internet appliance, or the interactive TV, or the smart phone — it’s all those things and more.

The market is no longer about putting a PC on everyone’s desk, or about connecting that PC to the Net, or about wiring up corporate systems, or about giving people tools like email and Web browsers. Been there, done that.

Apple is becoming a post-PC company…Apple is becoming something much closer to Sony: an integrated digital media company. Sony sells computers, but no one would call Sony a PC company. What it does best is create unique platforms and experiences, then market the hell out of them. That describes the new Apple as well. The heart of the company is the digital lifestyle, not a box.

Apple, especially under Steve Jobs, has a genius for user experience and promotion. In a post-PC or post-technology world, those are two essential skills.

Enterprise technology is moving into a new phase. Bigger, faster, and more feature-laden are no longer selling points in the same way. Smarter, simpler, more efficient, and more flexible are the new criteria. It’s much harder to make powerful system simple than to make them complex.

Kevin is absolutely right, but his context is the developed and present PC markets. There is a world beyond the 500 million PC users and the majority of the 1 billion cellphone users of today – this “invisible” that exists in the world’s emerging markets, a market of 4 billion people. This is a world of limited accessibility to PCs, Internet, emails and enterprise software. The challenge is how to bring these people and markets to the PC and Internet era. These next markets comprise people and enterprises in the world’s developing markets. The Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Dell for these markets still do not exist. This is what our focus in Emergic is.

On Jim Collins

Jim Collins has authored two best-selling books on management: “Built To Last” and “Good to Great.” He now commands USD 1,000 a minute for his speeches. Forbes has more:

He spins out reassuring truisms: Companies should set especially ambitious goals. Chief executives don’t have to be charismatic to succeed. Those who put their companies first, rather than themselves, are more likely to thrive. Companies that make profit maximization their priority don’t perform as well as firms that live up to the core values of their founders. He preaches patience: A real turnaround can take seven years, and failing to “embrace that fact is one of the primary causes of chronic mediocrity.”Collins says it’s okay to enter a new tech market late rather than get there first, and that technology doesn’t assure greatness but merely accelerates it–soothing words for tech-shy chief executives.

Collins says that how a company measures its performance is critical. Sheer profit isn’t the best gauge, he argues; corporate greatness requires every company to isolate and measure the most profound economic denominator that best reflects its ability to make money. Less than 10% of companies understand their true economic denominator, he asserts.

Now Collins, at the urging of Intel Chairman Andrew Grove, is turning to corporate autopsies, studying why great companies relapse into merely good ones and why some fall all the way to mediocre.

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Cisco learning to go slow

WSJ writes about Cisco’s efforts to root out inefficiencies in the organisation. For that, it needs another year of slow growth “giving the company a chance to make better use of its 35,000 employees.”

In a way, 19-year-old Cisco is learning how to run a real business. Its efficiency moves might be natural for older companies accustomed to economic cycles. But Cisco had never experienced such cycles: Between 1995 and 2000, Cisco’s revenue grew an average of 53% annually, an unheard-of rate for a multibillion-dollar company. Just keeping pace consumed all of Cisco’s energy, leaving little time for rules or reflection.

Changing that culture is slow and painful. Some of the most tangible results, such as new products, won’t be visible for another year or more. Mr. Chambers, who led Cisco through the boom, says the company deserves no better than a “C” for its transformation so far. He says Cisco today is evolving from a loose federation of start-ups that rewarded “speed at the expense of teamwork” and last-minute scrambling to grab opportunities. His goal: more internal cooperation to “avoid the diving catch.”

This is another example of a New Age company learning from the more traditional styles of management. Now, Cisco wants to focus on better leveraging its own internal resources rather than growing through acquisitions.

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Dan Bricklin and Small Businesses

A Once and Present Innovator, Still Pushing Buttons is the title of an NYTimes story on Dan Bricklin, CTO of Interland and co-creator of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet and killer app for the computer in 1979.

Mr. Bricklin said that the real challenge was to figure out how to reach a portion of the 20 million businesses in the United States with 10 employees or fewer and ease their entry onto the Internet.

“This is the mass market for small business,” he said. “Cracking this market is the holy grail.”

The Internet, Mr. Bricklin said, is best viewed as an important but supplemental tool for business. “It is a medium of business that you have to understand, just like doing business over the telephone or face-to-face selling are mediums of business,” he said.

As a medium, the Internet enables even a small business to present a lot of information about itself and allows customers and suppliers to interact through a Web site or e-mail. Even if the information is as simple as store hours, it helps.”The person who wants to drop by your store on the way to work wants to know if you’re going to be open at 8 a.m., and he wants to know that at 10:30 p.m. the night before,” Mr. Bricklin said.

For most small businesses, he added, a reasonable goal for an online presence is to increase sales by 10 percent without having to add more employees.

“That is huge — it means a better vacation,” he said. “Remember, for these companies the bottom line is their pocketbook.”

SMEs are also what we are looking at. Our focus is on the emerging markets.

Microsoft’s New PC

WSJ writes:

Bill Gates hopes to wow a technical conference Tuesday by showing off a prototype of a new personal computer that stops playing music when an attached telephone is picked up and has lights built into the monitor frame to alert users to an urgent e-mail or voicemail.

The prototype machine, code-named Athens, had its hardware and software jointly built by Microsoft and computer company Hewlett-Packard Co. With a built-in Internet telephone and video camera, it is targeted at businesses and improving worker productivity. “It’s more than just slamming things together,” said Steve Kaneko, design director of Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Experience Group.

Athens, executives say, goes even further, adding seemingly commonsense features that have escaped computer manufacturers.

To log onto the machine, the user simply inserts a special plug into the side of the screen and touches a fingerprint reader. The keyboard and mouse aren’t only wireless but also charge their batteries when docked to the monitor.

In the frame around the display, lights indicate whether messages await the user. Those are lit even when the monitor is in screen-saver mode. It would alert users when they first enter their cubicles, Mr. Kaneko said.

In an improvement that has been built into some computers already, devices most commonly accessed by users — the CD-ROM drive and Universal Serial Bus ports — are built into the display. The central processing unit case, meanwhile, shrinks.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: As We May Think

Here are a few extracts from Vannevar Bushs 1945 essay As We May Think:

[The human mind] operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

[The memex] consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

In one end is the stored material. The matter of bulk is well taken care of by improved microfilm. Only a small part of the interior of the memex is devoted to storage, the rest to mechanism. Yet if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day it would take him hundreds of years to fill the repository, so he can be profligate and enter material freely.

Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place. Business correspondence takes the same path. And there is provision for direct entry. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. On this are placed longhand notes, photographs, memoranda, all sorts of things. When one is in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.

[Associative indexing is] the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing.

When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined. In each code space appears the code word. Out of view, but also in the code space, is inserted a set of dots for photocell viewing; and on each item these dots by their positions designate the index number of the other item.

Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.

Vannevar Bush wrote his essay in 1945 before we had the computer, Internet, Web, Yahoo and Google. Even today, we struggle with information overload. The memex could be the panacea in our info-centric world. So, the challenge before us is: can we leverage all the recent developments in technology to construct the memex? People have been thinking about it a lot of late.

Tomorrow: Google, Blogger and Memex

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