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Denis Pombriant Business, Software & Carbon

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By Denis Pombriant, of Beagle Research

Social, Mobile & Carbon. The Link Between Economics, Business and Technology.

We are in the middle of a huge transition, maybe even a paradigm shift, in which we are simultaneously moving towards greater mobility and social awareness in business. Either of these alone would be a big deal but together it's like trying to deal with rent and alimony. You know?

More interesting to me is the idea that new technologies come and go — and mostly it's the latter. So what are the compelling stories that are causing us to focus on social and mobile? You could simply say that there are cost advantages for companies adopting these tools and you'd be right. A tablet is less costly than a PC or a laptop, it enables the user to more or less be anywhere and still access critical information to get work done. And using a tablet in the moment takes latency out of many business processes. All that's good.

Much the same can be said of social technologies. They are giving all of us better ways to communicate and, most importantly, to understand each other. You can't have enough understanding in marketing, sales and service. Moreover, social media makes the act of discovery vanishingly cheap.

But all this is preamble for what I think lies ahead. There is at least one more big issue that will adversely affect your world — carbon. The escalating costs of energy and transportation, which is directly tied to carbon — are going to be the major stories of the next decades. Therefore getting carbon out of your business processes is highly important.

While most people will view this as an anti-pollution idea and good corporate citizenship — and it is — it has an even more serious driver and consequence. As important as carbon abatement and climate change limitation is, it is secondary to the idea that the planet is running out of fossil fuels like petroleum and coal. Why secondary? Because without the affordable fuel to grow food and bring it to market (just to name one idea) you'll die in a food riot long before the planet heats up enough to threaten your grandkids existence.

You might like to think that the earth has a limitless supply of fossil fuels but for that to be true the earth itself would need to be limitless. Of course nothing is limitless though some things are so big that they appear to be. In fact, the earth was endowed by about 2.5 trillion barrels of crude oil which we began tapping in earnest in the 1850's at Titusvill, PA. Since then we've discovered all kinds of uses for petroleum as fuel and as raw material for numerous materials from rubber and plastic to paint and pharmaceuticals.

But we're running out of the stuff. Estimates from petroleum geologists and others in the industry are that the planet now contains about 910 billion barrels of crude and it's in harder to reach places of extreme weather or ocean depths. Oil and therefore transportation will never be as cheap again as they are today. Check that, transportation that is not tied to fossil fuel has a chance of being this cheap again but that will require a massive investment in infrastructure and I doubt anyone has the stomach for that — yet.

So that leaves it to the business community to fend for itself. Taking carbon out of your business processes is not simply good environmentalism but smart business. If you can find ways to visit customers over an IP connection or replace the visit with a video you are taking carbon out of that process. If your people can stay in the field longer between visits to the office, you are taking carbon out.

Salesforce.com's CEO, Marc Benioff recently posted on Facebook a link to a report saying that Salesforce.com is a rising leader in the effort to get carbon out of business. I didn't know there was such a survey or report but I am glad there is. Clearly this is just a beginning and there is much more to be done.

Getting back to social and mobile, they're important for reasons we have not fully apprehended yet. They are some of the tools that will help us drive carbon — and cost — out of our front office business practices. The tech sector is about to be called on to pull our collective chestnuts out of a big fire and those who lead this process stand to make a lot of money. Google, Cisco and Salesforce are all at the top of this report and your company ought to be trying too.

I am writing this column to help develop awareness of the link between economics, business and technology. One place to start is in examining the high costs of front office business processes caused by energy and travel needs and the technologies that will help us get through this looming crisis. End

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The escalating costs of energy and transportation, which is directly tied to carbon — are going to be the major stories of the next decades.

 

 

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