Personal and Technological Transformations

Earlier this week, my family and friends reminded me that it was time for the annual celebration of my birth (for too many years to recount here).

Looking back, I can see how much the world has transformed — and the pace is clearly accelerating.

When I was in school, my older brother, Ray, was thrilled to get a new electronic calculator. One calculator was all that most families could afford. In those days, learning to do the math on a slide rule was a required part of higher-level math. (I would explain what slide rules are to younger readers, but no doubt you already looked it up on Wikipedia.)

In my third year with a public accounting firm, I was allowed to use a portable computer (from Compaq, one with a 9-inch screen). It was more like a piece of luggage. Since then, computers have grown exponentially quicker and smarter and much smaller. Today, most laptops are smaller and lighter than an accounting textbook.

Yesterday, my latest laptop decided to hang it up. I already had called to replace it when I saw an article titled Bye-Bye, PCs and Laptops. In the piece, co-authors Mike Malone and Tom Haynes, reporting from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, note that the personal computer era is ending; PCs are being eclipsed by every imaginable flavor of tablet, smart phone, and mobile appliance.

Transformation occurs when people think in radically new ways. Today, teenagers immediately think of turning ideas into applications. The potential implications for finance are profound. The cost of data collection continues to plummet. The possibilities are seemingly endless (as may be the security concerns to be addressed). My staff just showed me how cell phones can take pictures of business cards and upload these pictures into contact lists. It can do the same for expense receipts. That really cool Neat Receipts machine I wanted to buy is already becoming obsolete. Presentations can be stored on a thumb drive and then projected onto a screen.

Video games are serving as the new model for corporate training. If NCAA football (available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) can speed up a teen’s quarterbacking chops, what can similar tools do for business leaders’ skill at evaluating fluctuating commodity prices?

Birthdays are a good time to look back to see the road you have traveled, but they are a better time to look ahead and see what else we can explore. How do you think mobile phones and tablets like the iPad will enable finance transformation?

Let me know what you think.