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Ubiquity, Volume 2000 Issue October, October 1 - October 31, 2000 | BY Richard T. Watson 


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Doing business in a world that is ubiquitous, universal, unique and in unison.

In the last few years, e-commerce has joined the vocabulary of many languages. Already, m-commerce (mobile commerce) is gaining currency as cell phone owners acquire access to mobile services such as Delta's arrival and departure information service for mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Where are we ultimately headed? I believe that in the next few years we will see the emergence of a multi-faceted u-commerce, where the u stands for ubiquitous, universal, unique, and unison. In this column, I elaborate on each of these four features of the next generation of commerce.


Computers will soon be everywhere. They will be embedded in all consumer durable devices -- the fridge, washing machine, oven, and many other familiar household objects. Already, your car has somewhere between 30 to 40 processors. Furthermore, every one of these devices will be connected to the Internet via the electrical wiring or a household wireless network. These low-cost Internet-connected computers will add intelligence to everyday appliances to improve their usefulness. Imagine an oven that can download from the Internet a recipe for cooking your Thanksgiving turkey so that it is finished precisely at 2 p.m., exactly as you like it. Envision a car that can detect when the battery is about to fail, search the Internet for the best local deal, and determine from your calendar when to schedule installation.


Your current collection of computers: desktop, laptop, cell phone, or PDA are limited in their usefulness because they are not usable universally. For example, your cell phone is unlikely to work in Europe because of different standards and network frequencies. In the future, you will have a universal phone that will enable you to stay connected wherever you are. Your laptop and PDA always will be connected to the Internet via a wireless network or satellite, whether you are at home, at work, on a plane, or anywhere else.


Information easily can be customized to the current context and particular needs of each person. Imagine that you want to receive each day the two top global and three major US news stories, and the most important news of your current location. You will be able to customize news services so that you get your unique news profile delivered to your current connected device in the appropriate format. If you connect via your desktop, you will get full text, images, video, and audio. Connect via your cell phone and you will get 60 seconds of audio, and via your PDA roughly a hundred lines of text.


When you have complete agreement between the phonebook, calendar, to do list, and other such files across your range of your electronic tools (i.e., cell phone, computer, and PDA) you have unison. This means the phonebook on your computer matches that on your cell phone and all other electronic phonebooks you maintain. A change in one phonebook is transmitted to all others. You will be able to keep any specified files in unison. The electronic shopping list on the fridge, which is the heart of most home information systems, will be synchronized with other devices. Thus, when you are at the supermarket, you might consult your cell phone's screen to find out what you need to buy.

Business implications

When asked why he was so successful as an ice hockey player, Wayne Gretsky responded by stating that he always skated to where the puck would be rather than where it was. In this article, I present some thoughts on where the commerce puck will be in a few years. How do you prepare yourself to skate to where the puck will be?

Get into the stream and track what is happening by participating in the change. Sign up for a customized news service, such as, so you learn how information can be uniquely tailored. Visit one of the new sites devoted to achieving unison. For example, offers a free service that will automatically synchronize a variety of devices. Learn by experiencing.

Envision how ubiquity and universality will change your business. If you are a manufacturer, could you embed chips in your products? If you are service provider, what services could you sell to the connected home? What services can you offer to customers who are always accessible? Create some prototypes and test them. Learn by envisioning and experimenting.

Richard T. Watson is a professor of MIS and Director of the Center for Information Systems Leadership in the Terry College of Business. Copyright (c) Richard T. Watson ([email protected]).


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