How Urbanization Is Creating New Digital Opportunities for Tech Providers Thinkstock

How Urbanization Is Creating New Digital Opportunities for Tech Providers

Don't miss the digital transformation forest for the trees.

Since the dawn of mankind, tech has been the driving force behind the way we as human beings interact with and experience the world. From the first stone tools to the latest mobile apps, the discovery of new technology and innovation in the ways people think have gone hand in hand. This relationship has, perhaps, never been as evident as it is today, in the midst of the Digital Transformation (DX). Technology forms the lens through which we see ourselves, each other, and the societies in which we live. It makes it a very cool time to be a tech writer.

When we talk about DX tech here in the channel, most of the time we're referring to bringing enterprise technology and processes into a digital age. Integrating the cloud, selling to lines of business, building a services-based revenue model. But every now and again, it does us good to step back and see the bigger transformation picture, if only to get a sense of our own place in it and how we might ride the paradigm shift to success instead of letting the pace of change drown us.

I attended the annual luncheon of Downtown Dallas, Inc. today, at which local government and community leaders come together with residents (like me) and business owners within the urban center of Dallas to discuss the year's areas of focus and sketch out a vision we hope to see unfold. Our keynote speaker was Greg Lindsay, a senior fellow with the nonprofit organization NewCities and co-author of the book Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next. Lindsay explained the way that technology is impacting the way we live and how we'll build our cities through advances in transit, new workforce trends, and evolving outlooks on what it means to be "locally close and globally connected." 

Urbanization has been a much-touted trend of the last several years, and Lindsay only sees it continuing. "As cities get bigger, they get better," he says, paraphrasing Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West's unified theory of urban living, in which the physicists applied mathematical principles to explain how city growth affects societal interactions. He outlined major trends associated with urbanization and the explosion of digital technology, which also point toward emerging opportunities for the channel.

Transit-as-a-Service

"Transportation shapes cities," Lindsay told us. Universally, and throughout history, evidence shows that people are willing to commit to a commute of about half an hour before becoming annoyed. Whether in a horse and buggy or a late-model sedan, most people are comfortable with a travel time of approximately 30 minutes between their home life and their work life. As technology has advanced to allow people to travel farther for their daily commute, however, it's changed the way we interact on a social level. "It's not purely about getting from point A to point B," Lindsay says. "It's about where you go in between." In other words, you're far more likely to meet friends for happy hour or a little after-work shopping if your commute home is a 30 minute walk as opposed to a half-hour solitary drive down an interstate. Urban planners are taking notice, and allocating funds for urban housing and development that once would have been given over to the construction of superhighways.

This is a gigantic part of why you see so many transportation companies investing in alternative means of transit. The days when every family had two cars and were happy with a long drive separating their home in the suburbs from their lives in the cities are behind us. When people live in the same communities where they work and play, they need transportation that's more communal--and just about entirely digital. Companies like Uber and Lyft are raking it in hand over fist running a business that's built and run on mobile connectivity. Zipcar was one of the first companies behind the carsharing fad, but traditional car rental companies such as Enterprise are quickly catching on. Customers reserve the car via a mobile app, unlock the vehicle with a smartcard, and pay via electronic transfer. Washington D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare program applies the same principles to bicycles and has had enormous success. Car companies such as MINI are even designing their vehicles specifically for a sharing economy now.

In other words, one of America's most sacred commodities, the automobile, is now becoming a service. Sound familiar? 

Buildings of Leads

When I first graduated into the adult workforce as the executive assistant to the president of a very conservative corporation, the rules were clear and firm. The workday was from 8:00am to 6:00pm. I received one hour for lunch and two 15-minute coffee breaks during the day. Only executives and their assistants were issued company Blackberries (these were the days when it was still looked upon as a mark of success before we all realized we'd been tricked into working after hours). Men were required to wear a suit and tie; women, hose and heels. I received two weeks of vacation time, and I was not expected to check email while on vacation. My computer and my files--most of which were on paper--stayed at the office. I was issued a paper check every two weeks, which (let's be honest) at times was the only reason I made it into the office some Fridays.

This type of work situation is foreign to a new generation of American workers. Today, most of us are issued a laptop when we're hired. Yes, that means we're often expected to be plugged in way after our eight-hour day is supposed to end, but it also means we have much greater flexibility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 24 percent of American workers did some or all of their work at home in 2015. FlexJobs, a job posting site for telecommute workers, estimates that telecommuting grew 103 percent over the last decade. Whether workers are 100 percent remote or just working remotely a day or two a week, flex work situations are exploding in popularity as millennials assume more power in the workforce. This is leading to massive success for coworking companies such as WeWork, which set to receive a $3 billion investment from Japan's SoftBank. 

Lindsay points out that we're seeing way fewer instances of "isolated geniuses in garages" like Hewlett and Packard or Jobs and Wozniak these days. Instead, communities of entrepreneurs, designers, developers and business wunderkinds are forming inside coworking spaces such as WeWork. They're finding partners, investors and customers all within the walls of the coworking space, forming a microcosm of the greater business network. For IT service providers, especially those that specialize in SMBs and startups, coworking spaces have created a place of incredibly rich opportunity.

It can be easy to become too focused on the latest product release or channel program update from the big vendors, to the exclusion of noticing the ways in which new technology is changing the rest of the world and creating new opportunities. But you can bet that new entrants to the IT services market are taking note of these trends and making plans to capitalize on them. Make sure you're not missing the digital transformation forest for the trees.

 

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