Having a kid at university - now that really is irrefutable evidence of middle age!
Looking back, quite a lot has happened since 1993, the year Johanna was born, the year we formed PDMS Ltd, and coincidentally the year the first popular web browser Mosaic was released. They are all in their twentieth year now and quite grown up!
For my daughter's generation the internet is all pervasive with some interesting consequences. For one thing it seems to be much harder to actually miss lectures! Instead of the luxury of knowing that that particularly tedious session on comparative sedimentology / the physics of the Tibetan nose flute / ontological post Marxist art criticism … is lost forever, they are all recorded in glorious HD, 3D surround sound and made available on line. How unfair is that?
Similarly Skype must be something of a mixed blessing. Gone are the days when the only way to call home was a dodgy payphone at the end of the hall. That was great, essentially you were un-contactable and the twice termly call home to request additional money for books and lab coats (or something like that) could be kept conveniently short. Now virtually everything you got for Xmas has a Wifi connection and a video camera and can connect you to your parents for free. As soon as you crawl out of bed and log into facebook they know and can call you up and see into your room… what a nightmare!
Most teenagers are truly horrified by the thought of the life we lead at their age, where the only phones were either tied to your parent's house or in a box next to the pub with a queue of your Gran's friends outside. No Facebook, no instant messaging, no way to keep in touch real time with everyone you have ever met! But I sometimes think we were the ones who had the greatest luxury - no evidence!
Seriously though, in these last twenty years the internet and wireless communications have totally transformed the way we can communicate and keep in touch with anyone anywhere and for today's young people a hyper connected, multithreaded, always on existence is the norm.
For myself, by contrast, I have to admit that it doesn't really come naturally, it's not that I don't get the appeal of things like Facebook (I have an account) but rather than live in it, I treat it more like some companies treat their web sites. As something to update once in a blue moon - because you ought to. The problem is banter, I love it, but online the kids just seem to run rings round me. For some reason the part of my brain which responds to things in writing is just not up to the job of witty repartee at a socially acceptable pace. Or in the words of my son 'ah bless dad has stopped walking so that he can reply to a text'.
But it's not just my kids that have grown up along with the internet. PDMS has been right in there since the mid 90's. I sometimes say that our greatest failure in business was not getting seriously rich in the dot com boom and our greatest success, not going bust after it. A more interesting observation might be that pretty much everything that the dot com boom was predicated on has in fact happened and much more.
The digitalisation of books, music and increasingly video is now so all pervasive that I was tempted to write an article entitled 'the Kindle who stole Christmas' based on the fact that pretty much everything I want to consume by way of media is easiest to access from my tablet computer. Ipad Mini, Kindle Fire, Google Nexus etc. They were flying off the shelves this Christmas and will make life even harder on the high street as more and more can be ordered and consumed on line.
This may seem a bit of a gloomy view (at least if you are a retailer) but there are two sides to everything, and whilst it is a shame that chains like Jessops are on the way out, the truth is that they are simply suffering the same fate as they inflicted on many independent camera shops a generation ago. And, as a consumer, it is hard to justify paying over the odds for a commodity item.
On the other hand local businesses which really add value through greater product knowledge or value added services may actually benefit from the pressure on line is putting on the retail chains. We had an interesting example of this recently when trying to find furniture to exactly fit our conservatory. We tried everywhere and were on the point of ordering something only vaguely suitable on line when the local upholsterer in Port St Mary came to the rescue. We got a perfect piece of furniture made to measure and modified where we got it wrong for about the same price.
Looking ahead I firmly believe that we are moving into a new phase in the evolution of IT in business, new opportunities and new threats will arise right across industry. As with the dot com boom the timing is hard to predict but the direction of travel is not.
The overriding theme is the commoditisation of computer and telecoms infrastructure. This is sometimes referred to as cloud computing or computing as a utility but boil it down and it simply means that far fewer organisations will bother to own or support their own servers or networks. Access to business systems will be based primarily on authentication of the individual rather than their location or device and the role of enterprise systems will be to support all stakeholders and communications channels with the same information and processes.
But remember that innovation and differentiation don't come off the shelf. The real winners will be those who take the opportunity to reengineer their business from the ground up to exploit the hyper connected world and the mind set of my daughter's generation.