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i-Technology Viewpoint: Thinking Outside the VC Box

This is the Age of the "Momentary Enterprise," of Taking Advantage of an Opportunity that May Only Exist for Months

Prior to the year 2000, business was a world in love with office spaces and corporate travel. We traveled to work (the office) every day. We traveled away from the office for customer meetings, for internal meetings, for conferences, for awards ceremonies. We traveled because we could and we believed that it was necessary for the competitive advantage. That all changed rather quickly with the economic downturn of the early 2000s and, of course, 9/11. In short order, we relearned how to do business by staying put.

Another consequence of the most recent recession was corporate payroll compression. As good corporate citizens who are mindful of keeping our jobs, most of us were tasked with far more work than a single individual could perform adequately. To help make us more efficient, we introduced cell phones so that we could make calls while traveling, and WiFi-enabled laptops that enabled us to take our work anywhere and exchange messages with anyone, provided a "hotspot" could found.

Conference calls, cell phones, and laptops have pushed personal multitasking to unparalleled levels. For example, workers are now able to process the relentless stream of e-mails and instant messages as well as review financial and marketing documents, all while supposedly being active during a conference call.

The preceding has been unsettling for some of us, but not so for others. In fact, for those who are able to do three things at once, it is a stress reliever. Prior to this work style, employees who were required to be physically at meetings (even on-site) would worry about e-mail that was piling up as well as a half-written product presentation due the next day. Stress would slowly build as the meeting drew long. The productiveness of a conference call definitely suffers because multitasking participants are only slightly paying attention. However, no matter - overall efficiency is increased for those who can draw the connections together and somehow manage to stay engaged in the "here and now" at the same time.

Consider where we've come from and where we've now arrived. Before we had limited ways to "connect." Now we can create multiple connections and converge them. Perhaps even more important, we can do much of this connecting and converging ourselves, without advanced degrees in IT or telecommunications, and using technologies that are available at the local shopping mall. Also, we can create our own virtual office spaces.

Building the Momentary Enterprise
Among the many consequences of connectivity and convergence that lead to the virtual office space is the momentary enterprise. The momentary enterprise takes advantage of an opportunity that may only exist for months. When it has been fully exploited, the momentary enterprise is reconfigured - Lego-like - to pursue another opportunity. A "pop-up" business model is born, thereby changing the competitive balance and leveraging pervasive data.

It is likely that in the coming years we will see sizable businesses (based on yearly revenue) come and go at what will seem to be alarming speeds. Businesses can now be created in a matter of weeks to capitalize on whatever important trend or market demand is surfacing. Huge amounts of venture capital in many cases will not be required for establishing the infrastructure, the billing and accounting systems, the transport or supply systems, the IT function - and the list goes on. Such commodities will be expertly and automatically leveraged by super-deep, business-to-business automation, and new enterprises will start up by focusing their energy on differentiating their value in the marketplace rather than creating and supporting all of the associated accoutrements. Also, the fact that their life spans will be measured in months or a short number of years will not be grounds for dismissal from Harvard Business School. A successful business model doesn't need to be measured by its staying power.

Interested? Below is a checklist of things that will help you on your way to the momentary enterprise.

Hybrid PDAs (Personal Communicators)
Hybrid PDAs combine three entirely different business and personal communication mechanisms (cell, e-mail, IM) into a single embraceable device. Their expected ubiquity will enable significant efficiency gains in both our business and personal lives. Hybrid PDAs offer three important features for momentary enterprise entrepreneurs:

  • The ubiquity of cell phone use - after all, it is no longer "weird" to be on your phone while in a supermarket, and you can be sure that someone next to you on the street is carrying a cell phone (to the same extent that you can be sure that those around you are wearing shoes)
  • The seemingly overnight change from one type of cellular technology that is optimized for voice to a completely different architecture that is optimized for voice and data
  • The immediacy of digital information sharing when you're away from a computer desktop
The trend toward holding your electronic life in the palm of your hand started when cell phones were crossed with PDAs. The result was a cell phone that could also keep your calendar and your contact database. Next, text messaging was added, and then Internet access and e-mail. Furthermore, there appears to be no end in sight to the future versatility of these multifunctional, handheld devices. For example, NTT DoCoMo has introduced in Japan a cell phone with so many functions that one could get lost just trying to find them all. This unit will do the following:
  • Send and receive e-mail
  • Play games online
  • Access iMode-compatible Web sites and play downloaded music
  • Take digital photographs
  • Record sound
  • Read bar codes (and someday RFID tags)
  • Oh... and make phone calls
It also contains a specialized Sony-developed chip called a FeliCa chip or "smart card" that enables users to pay bills and make purchases over a wireless electronic banking system, operate appliances that can be controlled via a connection to the Internet, unlock doors, and the list goes on. Sooner or later, most of us will carry an intelligent device that is wirelessly connected to the world's vast data networks continuously.

XML formatting allows proprietary databases and records to now have a nearly universal method for describing their contents. One does not need to be a sophisticated programmer who understands how to read a "schema" document or how to encode SQL statements to make sense of XML statements. A computer-literate teen could happen upon an XML fragment and derive some sense from it. He or she could likely import it into a favorite spreadsheet package and sort or average or trend it with a few keystrokes.

Business back ends are now XML-crazy. Information that needs to be expressed to another computer system is now expressed in some XML format. Most significantly, XML enables far higher business-to-business cooperation that is squarely aligned with the Web's chief goal: information exchange (as opposed to data exchange). XML has been enthusiastically embraced by business and allows for significant efficiency gains and better customer experiences. We will see XML reaching into the consumer world and our homes as well via wired and wireless appliances, for example. For the momentary enterprise, XML is the magic glue that allows vast sources of data and internetworking infrastructure - from PDAs to wireless video cameras - to share information.

Virtual Officeware (VOware) and RIAs
Currently, groupware is an effective collaboration tool used for large project management by equally large companies. For smaller companies, ad hoc usage of a shared file server often suffices. Small Web servers are also now used by more physically diverse groups.

Groupware, despite early hype, has remained somewhat hidden - deployed appropriately by those large multiregional companies, but avoided by the rest of the world. A trained administrator is usually needed to set it up, and typically it requires an additional capital investment in server and storage hardware and administration. Groupware also focuses heavily on managing shared document repositories, thus making it vulnerable to competing products with a broader vision.

More Stories By John Webster

John Webster is senior analyst and founder of Data Mobility Group. He is the author of numerous articles and white papers on a wide range of topics, including data convergence, storage networking devices and management, and storage services and outsourcing. He is also the coauthor of a book entitled Inescapable Data - Harnessing the Power of Convergence, published in April 2005 by IBM Press.

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