Managing Your Practice in a Post-Desktop World

The Computer is dead. Long live the Computer.

Welcome to the post-PC era. The (desktop) computer as King of the Technology Kingdom is now officially dead!

Over the last five years, we have largely moved from desktop computers running locally installed purchased software to running mobile apps, and subscribing to services ranging from Office 365 to QuickBooks® Online.

Today, hardware and computing horsepower are much less important than software and business processes. Remember the “Four Horsemen of the Internet?” Back in 2003, these mythical horsemen were falsely identified as hardware vendors – Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Cisco and EMC – because experts thought computing was about the hardware and software instead of primary user experience.

Recently, however, in a recent video on Bloomberg.com, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer identified the modern version of the “Four Horsemen of the Internet” as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Think about this. Today’s four horseman truly are light years’ ahead of the 2003 quartet. Apple popularized digital music and movies on its iTunes platform, Facebook is the largest social network, Google is the largest index of information in history and Amazon is a product-based virtual store that uses browsing data to suggest products you might like.

So, the future is about turning data into actionable information. We’ve realized that the world of technology exists to empower humans through spreading knowledge and elegantly solving problems in an efficient manner through effective collaboration. The most valuable asset of market leaders like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google is not a piece of hardware or a tangible asset; it is their connections to millions of people and the ability to predict your wants and needs based on information assembled on you and millions of others.

The trend that drove all of this is the ability to access complex software from a remote location in a simplified interface. New, Web-based tools such as QuickBooks Online, Office 365, Workday and Salesforce.com, as well as desktop hosting platforms like Citrix Xen and VMWare View have made it possible for users to work on any device from anywhere. Again, the use of technology has become more about selecting the right tool for use in the context where you will do the work than selecting a single device to perform the task.

The consolidation of all of this data into a series of centralized databases, instead of storing it on millions of stand-alone computers, gives publishers the ability to understand which users actually use the software. With the data and program logic migrating to a secure data center, the local computer requires little, if any software. Your computer becomes a very elegant Web browser/terminal/thin client.

As manufacturers “rethink” the personal computer, the types of computers sold has changed radically over the last two years. Netbooks running Windows have largely been replaced by tablets and, in some cases, stripped-down devices such as Google Chromebooks for casual computing. Many Windows 8 laptops now include a touch screen, and some of the most popular devices are “convertibles” that can be used as a tablet, a touch screen computer or as a traditional laptop.

The first generation of these devices included the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13. Another new category includes the “Ultrabook,” – just like my Samsung 9-Series Ultrabook – a thin (around ¾” at its thickest point) and light (3.5 lbs or less) computer with solid state drives, powerful processors and battery life as long as 8 hours. The second generation of both of these devices evolve them into thin and light touch Ultrabooks that can be used in a variety of configurations and form factors.

Figure 1: Thin and light convertible Ultrabooks like Lenovo’s ThinkPad Twist are replacing some traditional desktop and laptop computers.

Today, firms should be taking advantage of some of the modern mobile and cloud-based tools to free them from the tyranny of the office. While partners and managers may still have to go into the office for face time with clients, mobile access means that there is no reason that staff should have to worry about personal safety by working in deserted office buildings well after dark. Whether it is caring for a young child, a new spouse or an aging parent, we have to realize that the job is about getting the work done and not about sitting in a cubicle under fluorescent lights in some office park.

Using mobile technology to help employees have more control over their lives is what killed the desktop PC, and it is what will set us all free from the shackles that force us to do all of our work in the office. This is why mobile accounting – and mobile everything else – matters. Your response to this trend will have a huge impact on the future of your firm.

The (desktop) Computer is Dead. Long live the (cloud-connected) Computer.