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1/31/2003
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Business Technology: Forget The Answer--What's The Question?

What's your wireless strategy?

Before you answer, take a moment to consider some recent history. In the mid-to late '90s, perhaps the second most-frequently asked question was "What's your Internet strategy?" (The most-asked question was, of course, "What's your strike price?") I always thought it was a peculiar sort of inquiry--not unlike "What's your profit strategy?" But those were heady times, and each week the Industry Standard or Fast Company reminded us that everything--everything!--would be profoundly different: Business would be different, and so would food and baseball and insurance and plants and math. The same thinking that drove "What's your Internet strategy?" was expressed in those magazines with cover stories that always sounded like "How Poodles.com Will Kill Wal-Mart!" Indeed, a recent article on Economist.com (informationweek.com/925/economist.htm) cites some vintage weirdness conjured up in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, a guy who some at the time believed to be a visionary. Here's a snippet from that article, which quotes Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace": "Governments of the industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from cyberspace, the new home of mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. ... We will create a civilization of the mind in cyberspace."

Now, maybe I'm missing and have been missing something important for the past seven years since Barlow severed all ties to flesh and steel, but that type of thinking strikes me as a tad narrow. But at the time, when he'd say it in coffee shops or at glamorous conferences, there were probably lots of cranked-up folks who responded by jumping to their feet, pumping their fists in the air, and screaming, "Right on!" Delusion, it seems, can be infectious--just look at some of the stock investments we made in those days.

So the question of "What's your wireless strategy?" is popping up more and more these days, and I think we all need to think long and hard about not so much the answer but the question. Is it about 3G or G3 or 802.11 or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or Blue Monday? Or is it about what people will actually do with these things, and what they wouldn't dream of doing with them? I recently saw an astonishing prototype wireless phone that was running a feature film--on a screen about as big as my two thumbnails! Don't forget--as has been mentioned in this space before, in 1949, the Three Stooges had a skit about fleecing a rich couple out of $50,000 to fund the boys' venture of creating a fountain pen that could write under whipped cream.

What's your wireless strategy? How can wireless technologies help us impart more value to our customers and within our own company and among our partners? This isn't semantics--the wrong question posed even at the right time will lead us down some very unproductive paths. Heck, maybe someone will even decide that our "wireless strategy" is to sever all communication with the weary giants of flesh and steel and thereby render the governments of the industrial world unwelcome and unsovereign.

I want to make it clear that I'm extremely bullish on the potential of wireless technologies, and the application of them in the right place for the right job, to bring enormous capabilities and opportunities to businesses and consumers. But a glimpse at our recent technology past will tell us that wireless is a means and not an end, and that the question "What's your wireless strategy?" should be handled very carefully.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief
bevans@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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