The saddest thing I have ever heard was an actuary in Zurich proclaiming on a public platform that the greatest invention of the 20th Century was the spreadsheet (yes, really!).
Nevertheless, as I grow ever more geeky I start to appreciate that the availability and versatility of technology is fundamentally changing how we do – and view – our jobs. In my last article I fantasised about what convergence may bring, but we already have tremendous capability literally at our fingertips.
Most of us work in situations where we need to be mobile. I spend about half my life outside the office but I feel the constant need to be in touch with email – if only to avoid spending two hours checking it when I return to my office. I cunningly get around this by employing a very efficient secretary, but there are higher tech alternatives. One of the biggest boons in recent years has been the ability of mobile technology to operate on similar software to office-based systems. In the past, you had to edit both machines to ensure a consistent record and busy people invariably forgot to do this – or resented the time it took.
Now these machines can be co-ordinated via software that automatically synchronises email, address book and diary as soon as a portable computer is connected to the fixed machine in the office. The vaunted spreadsheet can also be transferred in its latest form from one machine to the other to ensure that it is in step.
Perhaps the biggest step forward is access, by mobile phone, fixed-line or via the internet to email, and synchronicity. Synchronisation can take place on a regular basis – almost in real-time (if you really need it – which most people don’t). This may be a trifle expensive at the present time but undoubtedly the pressure of competition will force call-charges down.
Imagine how happy my Swiss actuary is with the ability to synchronise his beloved spreadsheets at will. For him it is Nirvana, albeit a fairly geeky Nirvana. But even if I think the invention of the light bulb and synthetic insulin etc. might just place it in the shade, the value in business profitability terms of being in complete contact with information at the touch of a fingertip is enormously significant.
Peter Le Beau is the managing director of Le Beau Visage, a financial services marketing consultancy. He is also a consultant for Swiss Re Life & Health.