MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor on implications of 'the mobile wave'

The BI (business intelligence) vendor chief has a New York Times bestseller on his hands

MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor's big interest these days is "the mobile wave," which refers to a re-ordering of technology and modern life through the proliferation of iPads, smartphones and the increasingly sophisticated software that runs on them.

It's also in the title of his recently released book, "The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything," which has made The New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list.

Mobile software has also become an important focus of MicroStrategy's BI (business intelligence) software portfolio, but during a recent conversation with IDG News Service, Saylor was most interested in discussing what's holding back widespread mobility, and what it portends.

IDGNS: Do you see any obstacles in the way of "the mobile wave?"

Saylor: It only took 25 years to put mobile technology in the hands of six billion people. The technology has been proliferating pretty rapidly. [But] there's a limitation in the rate at which we can manufacture certain components.

Qualcomm has said that they're at capacity manufacturing the Snapdragon chip. Google and Amazon had a hard time producing a 10-inch tablet computer so I take that to mean that there's a shortage of 10-inch touchscreen glass in the world and I think Apple has bought it all up. I think manufacturing capacity constraints are an obstacle, and as we tool up to be able to produce hundreds of millions of tablet computers, that will take time.

I'd say certainly within five years we'll have five billion people with a smartphone and within 10 years I think we'll have five billion people with tablet computers. I think manufacturing is going to be the number-one obstacle. The number-two obstacle is just logistical constraints and the rate at which it takes time for sophisticated technology to diffuse into the hands of everybody.

IDGNS: The content we are getting on our phones now is a lot richer than it used to be, and it's only going to get richer in terms of the data intensity. Do you see problems with the global network infrastructure keeping up?

Saylor: The friction comes in the form of increased monthly fees to people that are on mobile phone networks. That will drive people to adopt more terrestrial networks and try to take advantage of Wi-Fi more often. Certainly, bandwidth is becoming more costly. There was a time when television was free and you bought the TV and you put up an antenna and you watched for free. People started paying $20 for cable and then $100 for cable and then $200 for cable, and I would say there are plenty of people right now that probably pay $100 to $200 a month for their mobile phone service.

IDGNS: Where should enterprise technology companies place their research investments now with respect to mobility?

Saylor: I think the most important thing right now would be to say, 'how do I mobilize existing enterprise applications off of the entire generation of applications that were created around Windows computers or on web devices.' I think all of those are obsolete at this point. If you can do the business process on a mobile phone or an iPad it's 10 times easier and probably 10 times better.

The number-two interesting research idea is to create mobile applications to automate business processes that were never automated before. There is a whole class of things that people have automated, like the [general ledger], payroll, [human resources] processes and order entry and that's well-understood.

But there's another set of business processes, like taking home room attendance, or issuing a prescription, or issuing a traffic ticket. Those were never automated during the last round of automation, because it doesn't make any sense for a police officer to carry a laptop computer around to issue you a traffic ticket and it didn't make sense for teachers in elementary schools to take attendance using that.

I think that there's a set of business processes that are ready to be automated and become enterprise software, if you will, and there's another set of business processes that already were during the Internet wave but they're now obsolete. They can be mobilized and upgraded dramatically to be much more powerful and easy to use.

IDGNS: When you talk about the mobile wave, are you really saying that all these Windows PCs in every company are going to be gone, or are you talking about coexistence?

Saylor: If you take people like me, 95 percent of my processing has shifted off of my desktop to my tablet or my smartphone. I think that the growth rate on desktops has stalled out, and I think desktops will be stagnant or will actually shrink.

I don't think they'll go away, because I think there's a legitimate use of a desktop for document production. If you're creating spreadsheets, if you're doing Adobe Pagemaker stuff or photographic retouch or video editing, well, then a desktop makes sense. It's just that there's a world of people out there that don't create documents. They consume documents.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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