June 16, 2024

Why the Smartphone Gets Too Much Credit

Author: Ryan Smithson
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What if I told you the smartphone didn’t actually change the world?

Yeah, sure, you’re thinking. The way I navigate in my car every day? The way I keep up on every second of the news? The way I listen to audiobooks and podcasts and my favorite band? (Pink Floyd, of course.) The way nearly everyone keeps in touch with friends and family on social media? You’re telling me that device didn’t transform the world?

Yes, that’s what I’m telling you. Because it’s not the smartphone. It’s the software that runs it.

Let me take you back to the 1980s when personal computers first started revolutionizing the world. You had one machine with installed software running on a single database and hard drive. If you needed to share data, you printed it on paper and handed it to someone.

Then the 90s brought networking, enabling multiple computers to share data and access shared databases. But this still required individual software licenses and local servers, resulting in expensive IT overhead.

With the disruption of the internet in the early 2000s, data could be shared instantly across the world, but because of the slower bandwidth, software applications and databases remained a mostly local endeavor. This meant the persistence of high IT costs and, again, multiple software licenses for each user.

What makes today’s technology different — what has enabled and accelerated the on-demand age of the smartphone — is that even the software can be remotely hosted, accessed, and updated.

Think about it like this. Have you ever opened a phone app and found a serious bug? Overnight, the app went through changes, magically, and the slick new interface “broke” something fundamental. Maybe you reported it to the app creators, or maybe you didn’t, but chances are you opened that same app the next day — the same “button” on your phone — and again, magically, everything was normal and it worked like it should. Well, it wasn’t magic. It was a software update.

If that happened in the 80s or 90s, you’d contact the manufacturer and wait for months while they analyzed the problem, created patches or bug fixes, finished regression testing, and then shipped you the new version via snail mail. Remember the boxes of floppy disks and CD’s in your computer desk that had to be manually inserted in order to update the software? That’s the difference.

That’s really what has created this on-demand world we live it. The smartphone puts it all in one place and makes it portable so, yes, this mobility has transformed the way we use software applications (or “apps,” as the kids say). But the smartphone is simply the delivery method. Saying smartphones are the reason for the on-demand age is like saying fiberoptic cable is the reason businesses go paperless. It’s certainly a piece of the puzzle, but the real reason college students no longer learn how to write business letters is because of email.

It’s the software model that has transformed our world, creating new opportunities, even whole new industries. Software as a Service (SaaS) is quickly replacing licensed software for businesses and organizations everywhere, resulting in a rapid shift to “the cloud.” Here are the four main reasons that’s happening, and why you should be considering it, if you’re not already:

  1. Mobility — Pulling out your phone on the sidewalk to check tomorrow’s weather is way more convenient than finding a TV and waiting for the weather station to cycle around to your local area.
  2. Security — Everything from disaster recovery to database backups to guarding against ransomware is easier when an experienced company manages the servers and databases for you. This also greatly reduces your IT overhead.
  3. Cost — In addition to the cost savings of remotely hosted data, a subscription model for unlimited users is cost beneficial for both the company and consumer. If licensed software is buying CDs one at a time, SaaS is a low monthly payment for unlimited songs on Spotify.
  4. Scalability — This can’t be understated. In the same way that CD’s have limited storage, the license software model doesn’t scale well. Spotify, though, is infinitely scalable, not because the music is any different, but because of the ability of the SaaS platform to grow with demand.

School districts are affected by these changes as much as the rest of the world. As the demand for transparency and instant information continues to grow, school districts around the world are moving to SaaS for everything from online parent registration and gradebooks, to bus schedules and fleet maintenance. It’s not just parents wanting to know when the bus will arrive or how Johnny’s doing in math. It’s principals who need to give a list of bus assignments to their teachers. It’s teachers who want to print Johnny’s bus pass. It’s secretaries who want to look up Johnny’s bus stop and save a phone call to the already busy dispatch office. It’s software helping drivers build a dynamic route based on students boarding the late bus for an after-school run.

Of course, parents have an on-demand lifestyle too. Every school district and bus contractor I talk to fields phone calls from parents who wonder why they can’t “have an app for that.” Imagine how many calls would be saved if parents could get an automatic notification when their bus is on its way. Imagine the impact to your level of service if mom can make a request on her phone for a different bus stop next week while Johnny’s at grandma’s house. Imagine if dispatchers could electronically track bus substitutions and approve or deny one-off parent requests for daily bus passes. We at Tyler are excited to bring these possibilities to life harnessing technology. It’s all about software that stays updated as new features and functions get built in — without any IT involvement or software relicensing fees. None. That’s the power of SaaS.

If any of this rings true to you, please contact Tyler and we’d be happy to talk with you about our transportation solutions. Please also watch this webinar to learn how we continue to push the bar for K-12 software in this ever-evolving on-demand age.