30 Nov Just in time for Christmas: Retail IT.
There’s been some buzz rustling around the biz about how gaming is going to transform corporate training. Judy Brown and the folks at the UW-System Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab are doing some really fascinating work that’s relevant to knowledge, learning and industry.
Guess what? Gaming is just the tip of an iceberg big enough to reroute the focus of innovation and development from the shop floor to the boardroom.
This is a great time of year to get a feel for the scope and size of this particular influence on information technology. Before you pitch all those Christmas flyers and catalogs into the recycle bin, take a look at what’s new in toys You’ll find some old favorites that will probably make you smile, but look for the things that make you suspicious your kids could do your job during recess.
The one that caught my eye this season was the Fly Pentop computer. Yeah, it’s got to have “special” paper (anybody remember the “special” diskettes you had to buy for the DEC Rainbow?). Ok, so you’re average four-year-old may have to use both hands to hold the pen while she pencils you in for a play date. And how likely am I to whip out my Pentop in the middle of a conversation with the office in Madrid and doodle out an obscure Spanish word so that Pentop can pronounce it and translate it for me? Bueno! All true. Take a deep breath and think about the first time you saw a Palm or better yet a Newton. Did you take that deep breath? Hope so, `cause now you’re going to have to sprint to catch up again.
Remember now, that stroll through the kid’s flyers was just a warmup. Now it’s time to turn to the bigger toy box, the one you use to fill your garage, kitchen, media room, and various other locations throughout the house aimed at that precious 18-49 demographic. Look at the flyers from your favorite electronics supplier, appliance store, or even bookstore. You’ll find something in each that is just waiting to apply Byron’s second rule of software: Users will invent more creative uses for the systems we build than we ever imagined. The GPS’s, the smart refrigerators, the cars that set up their own service appointments, and—oh yeah, back to the kid stuff—the doll that recognizes various accessories by their embedded RFID tags. It would seem that we can find endless ways to mass produce customized experiences.
That trend is certainly enabled if not exactly contained by the hardware and software of information technology. There’s an old saying that if you owe the bank $100,000 they own you, but if you owe the bank $10,000,000 you own them. Perhaps quaint numbers, but it’s still a useful concept. IT is going through a similar shift in relationships. Before we went consumer, before technology was something we readily put in the hands of toddlers, we kind of owned the experience and the function. Yeah, the first System 390 cost a gazillion dollars, but the multiplier on that gazillion was probably in the double digits. Tickle Me Elmo didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, but goodness, was the multiplier impressive. When we went retail, the multipliers changed our relationship with our IT consumers.
In retail, there’s an ongoing angst about the shift from producer-oriented models to consumer-oriented models and what that implies for retailers everywhere. Wal-Mart didn’t invent low prices, they simply tapped into the consumer will to feel like spending is really saving. Producers that depend on controlling pricing information to turn a profit have a lot to lose in the face of a perfectly informed consumer with a portable Internet device. Wal-Mart is not, by the way, immune from the particular concern.
That power shift isn’t unadulterated job security news for the IT department. The lessons we’re learning every day about being empowered consumers aren’t checked at the garage door when we drive into work. Our clientele want more control over the impact of the technology they’re consuming and their expectations are rising all the time. Black box requirements collections followed by an extended amount of clanging and muttering from the back room leading to lots of schmaltzy, over-hyped roll-out just isn’t going to cut it anymore. IT at the desktop is looking more like retail every day. Thankfully, there’s a long history and lots of current innovation in that space that can inform our IT efforts.