What’s blowin’ in the wind

Steve DaumHow the cataclysmic shift in technology size and speed affects our work practices: Spreadsheets on a smart phone and other considerations.

Most of us are aware of the seismic shift towards carrying smart phones, tablets, and other always-connected devices. We have these pretty much everywhere we go. It can be easy to forget how different this environment is from just a few short years ago. Today, the possibility that you might be un-reachable for some portion of the day is becoming more and more remote. Not having access to information on the Internet is also becoming a thing of the past. In fact, in a recent survey, 90 percent of our GAGEpack users indicated that they have access to a fully-functioning Internet service.

Many of us have spent our careers using desktop computers, supplementing our primary work with word processing, spreadsheet, database, and analytical software. An interesting question is how this new environment will impact our use of traditional business software. Will we drift away from our desktop software? Will smart phone-based software grow into the powerful, feature-rich applications we have become accustomed to?

An obvious example is email. I used to do all of my email work sitting at a desk. Although I still have and use email at my desk, more and more this work is done on-the-go, using an app on my phone that is connected to business and personal email accounts. A less obvious example is how email has become part of the workflow for other business applications. For example, it is now common to get email or text message alerts from other applications running in some other context, that need to tap you on the shoulder and let you know about some important status.

Some workflows that are common on the desktop are difficult to imagine on smaller form factor devices like smart phones.  For example, imagine that you have queried your corporate database for customer product complaints over the last 12 months. You have imported the results into a spreadsheet. You are using the spreadsheet to sort the results on different columns – by location, by product, by category of complaint. You further aggregate the data using a pivot table feature of the spreadsheet. Finally, you summarize your thinking in a statistical chart. This is all quite common and expected on a desktop computer. Today, it might be technically possible, but it is a stretch to imagine an analyst using a smart phone to do this type of work day after day throughout the year.

The devices will continue to improve. They will gain better user input and interaction mechanisms. They will provide better ways to visualize data sets either on screen with ever newer display technology. However, some of the important workflows will remain essential. We will need access to data, we will need to think about the data from different perspectives, and we will need to find ways to improve the quality of our products, services, and businesses as a result.

At PQ Systems, where our mission includes setting Deming’s Chain Reaction in motion, we are continuing to think hard about how the computing and software environment de jour can be used to help our customers improve quality – despite the changes that are “Blowin’ in the wind.”

We’d be interested in hearing your impressions about how your work life has changed as new technologies emerge.

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