I was recently reminiscing with some friends who, like me, are also in the quarter-century club of Information Technology professionals. We have seen an awesome transformation of the business world. Technology has completely re-invented the office.

Twenty-five years ago, the typewriter was everywhere. When was the last time you saw a typewriter?

To determine how much the world has changed, I asked my computer-savvy sons if they knew what a typewriter was. Chris, my 17-year-old, said he has only seen a few and the one he remembers belongs to his grandparents. Leo, my 23-year-old, said he knew what a typewriter was because he had to put an electric one in the garbage where he works.

In the ’60s and ’70s, typewriters were on every secretary’s desk. Now, all we find is the ever-present personal computer.

In 1981, I had a brand new state-of-the-art PC XT with an amber monochrome display. Very cool! These were the days when business casing large distributed networks took a team of two or three people from the financial department at least two days to prepare or revise paper-based spreadsheets to determine a scenario where the financials worked and the acquisition could be made.

One weekend, I took my PC XT to the cottage to work on a large spreadsheet for a 450-location distributed network. The capital cost of the hardware was more than $10 million. This was big bucks in 1981. Using Lotus 123 Version 1 or 2, I don’t remember which, I constructed the spreadsheet that included all of the factors needed to determine the return on investment.

I called my neighbours to come see. I shared the miracle they were about to see. I scrolled up and down and side to side explaining all of the spreadsheet intricacies and the calculations that were possible. Then came the magic moment. I tapped the “Enter” key. Then we went outside for a while and enjoyed the day. About 20 minutes later, we came back in just as the calculation was finishing. They were amazed this work, which usually took two or three people about two days to complete, was done and in only 20 minutes. Then my dot matrix printer started zipping back and forth ensuring that this miracle of technology was captured on paper.

Today, this spreadsheet is a template that is routinely completed in minutes. Not only that, it can be distributed around the world in seconds. It is this almost instant ability to review and communicate business opportunities that has changed the world.

Now fast forward to 2001. Just about all wireless devices are Internet-enabled or can be Internet-enabled. Other Internet access devices are coming. A recent press release says “PlayStation 2 Production to Double.” Why is this important? It is not because demand exceeded supply by such a factor that PlayStations were being auctioned off for many times their suggested retail price on eBay and other Internet auction sites. It is because of the impact this device that costs less than $500 will have on the growth of the Internet.

The release said Sony will ship 10 million consoles worldwide by the end of March. This is important because these devices bring significant new infrastructure to the Internet. In addition to being CD/DVD players, they will support USB keyboards and Web browsers by March.

What does all this mean? We should not think that access to the Internet is plateauing just because PC sales are slowing. In place of PCs, wireless Internet access is everywhere. But the stealth approach to increasing Internet access devices are the gaming consoles of the future, led by the PlayStation 2 and followed by others including Xbox from Microsoft. These devices will be powerful, practical entertainment devices that bring the Internet to our televisions in a non-intrusive manner.

Internet use has not plateaued. But, rather, other devices are replacing the PC as Internet access devices. Wave one is wireless access from pagers, cell phones and other devices. Wave two will be Internet-enabled gaming consoles.

This will increase the number of Internet-connected households. The Internet will increase its impact on business-to-consumer economics. Those readers with consumers as employees or customers should take notice.

Tom Atkins is a Certified Management Consultant and is Director, e-Commerce Strategy, in the Toronto office of Sierra Systems Group Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at[email protected].

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