It seems that most of the messages I receive these days require a dictionary of acronyms to decode: IMHO, FWIW ... and the ever popular (and in my humble opinion) most abused: LOL! These have expanded and multiplied from the forums on the old pre-Internet teletext bulletin board services, and they're thriving in the vast new text messaging, tweeting, networked world.
With the exception of my 85-year-old mother who longs to hear the sound of my voice, nobody calls me on the telephone anymore. And when I do engage in a phone conversation, it is usually very goal-directed -- and is normally preceded by an email to make sure I'm available.
I don't think it's just me. We all seem to be moving in this direction. Phone call appointments have become common in the workplace, too. Without them, there's no guarantee your call will be returned.
And at work, the offices are silent. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. Not so long ago, I had a daily list of calls to return. Now, entire days often pass without the telephone ringing. And frankly, sometimes it's a relief! After all, I have emails waiting to be read and tweets to tweet, and I don't want to be disturbed! (Yes, dear readers, you can now follow Vending Times on Twitter!).
Even social events with friends are coordinated by email, text messages or social websites like Facebook. And the landline telephone has become a vestigial instrument. How we communicate has changed, and this has changed our businesses, too.
The cellular telephone, cross-bred with the personal digital assistant and the pocket computer to produce the smartphone, has contributed to this evolution and continues to drive it. Much of the new technology is really cool, but are we making the best use of it to manage our lives and our businesses efficiently? Smartphones are everywhere, like them or not. They work better than ever and the costs have come down, but what are people actually doing with them? The mass media continue to gush about the pleasures of watching movies and playing games on them, but there's more to it than that.
I think there is real value here for an operator. But as bulk vending editor Hank Schlesinger pointed out in the March 2011 issue ("Smartphones Are Becoming Crucial Business Tools for Street Operators"), they have been underused (at least) by many route service businesses.
In the recent past, operators might have equipped their drivers (or themselves) with a cellphone, a global positioning system, a camera (to document location conditions) and, in some cases, a laptop computer running a spreadsheet to record collections. Radio pagers were also popular conveniences no longer needed by route operators. As a teenager, I can remember all the kids huddling in my cousin's room at family gatherings attempting to chat with groups of friends on his CB radio. All of these once were the Next Big Things, but nowadays, all these applications are available on a single instrument.
And we are just getting started. Companies like Apriva now offer service packages that allow a smartphone to be used as a merchant terminal for card payments. This surely has tremendous potential for everyone selling products from a truck, a cart or a small, portable stand: coffee service route salespeople, for example, perhaps especially those who are in charge of "rolling stores," or any who serve shaky accounts on a COD basis. And there are more: catering truck operators, full-line vendors running small foodservice lines, and many kinds of concessionaires.
At the same time, momentum is building for the rollout of new "mobile commerce" services. The use of the cellular network to make cashless purchases has been demonstrated successfully in many places, most prominently Finland, Japan and Australia. And there are "closed" systems in use now that allow the customer to make a purchase with a contactless smart device, such as a smart sticker attached to a handset.
The steps required to use a mobile phone to make a purchase vary by system, but the question of how to allocate the transaction processing cost must be answered by all of them. The same question continually arose while credit card issuers strove to find ways for people to use them for progressively smaller transactions, and it always was answered. Vending "m-commerce" is just a matter of time.
There is tremendous opportunity here, and some danger too. The opportunity is presented by the huge demand for new applications on the part of all the people lining up to buy the newest, coolest thing. Our industry always has had to pay the development cost of most of our technologies; the general public is underwriting the wireless revolution.
The danger is that we may get so involved with one aspect of this tremendous revolution that we ignore other developments that can make us more profitable.