'So What?' Stories

Site editor Dan Jones has done some terrific reporting this week on technologies that vendors and service providers love – and that make potential enterprise users yawn. One is on location-based services, the other on WiFi "sniffer" programs that are adding site survey tools. (See Location Services Lost on Users and Sniffing + Seeing = What?)

I call these "So What?" stories. Vendors and providers spend years, and millions in R&D funding, cooking up cool new technologies they think will blow away the customers – only to have the customer say, "So what?"

To be sure, some of these technologies are simply too early in their lifespans to have much impact. Who thought a couple of years ago, when WiFi was a coffeeshop phenomenon, that it would become a critical enabling technology for enterprises? For that matter, who knew in 1945, when Leo Theremin (inventor of the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments) developed an early version of radio-frequency identification technology as a listening device for the KGB, that RFID would transform the shipping, retail, and distribution industries?

Still, stories like Dan's remind me of the bubble days of the late 1990s, when the "build it and they will come" mentality allowed thousands of flawed business plans to get funded. Rolling out advanced wireless technology just because it's cool, or just because you can do it, is not a substitute for sound business strategy and listening to the customer.

The other day, I was speaking with an executive for a company that does "mobile asset tracking" – i.e., RFID tags on high-dollar containers and the like – and he said, "We're not a technology company, and that may be why we've been so successful at deploying RFID. We start with the end-user in mind, not the technology in mind."

That's good advice for just about anyone bringing mobile technology to enterprises today. I'd like to have a service that will download nearby pizza joints to my cellphone when I'm in a strange city. That doesn't mean it's a hot enterprise application.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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