How Today’s SMBs Are Like the Starship Enterprise

  • November 17, 2016
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Earlier this year, the Star Trek franchise celebrated 50 years of entertaining and inspiring viewers – especially scientists and engineers. “It really fueled our interests,” Robert Hurt, a physicist working at the California Institute of Technology told Computerworld.

Hurt handles projects for NASA and credits the Star Trek character Mr. Spock with fueling his interest in technology. “One of the things that was most formative for me as a child was that… the second in command of the Enterprise [the star fleet’s flagship ] was the science officer. That was a really powerful symbol growing up.”

But Star Trek didn’t sustain a half century of popularity with six tv shows (a new installment is set to premier soon) and 12 feature films by enthralling sci-fi fans alone. Millions of people around the world with all manner of interests are devoted to the franchise. Why? Because like any popular art form, Star Trek imitates life.

Consider how the shows influenced technology R&D over the years. The most famous example is the crew’s “communicators,” handheld mobile devices with quick-flip lids that designers at Motorola say inspired early cell phones. Other renowned examples of today’s everyday technology that debuted aboard the legendary starship Enterprise:

  • Touchscreens – In the 80s iteration of the show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, all the ship’s controls had touchpad interfaces at a time when real-world computing was almost entirely keyboard-driven.
  • Tablets – The crew of The Next Generation also used tablet computers for accessing all manner of content and data; these mobile devices (which were operated by touchscreen interfaces) featured fluid networking with the ship’s computers.
  • Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) with Vocal Interfaces— From the beginning, Star Trek characters could engage the full force of the ship’s computing power by addressing the system’s VPA with a simple vocal command. Often, the voice of the system’s VPA was female, a precedent that surely influenced innovations such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and others.

But what do these fun facts have to do with today’s small to mid-size businesses (SMBs)? Well, consider another of Hurt’s comments from the Computerworld interview: “Science is what we use to face problems and solve problems.”

Now, substitute the word “technology” for the word “science” in his quote to create the proper context: Today, leading an SMB is a lot like leading the crew of the Enterprise. There are wondrous pieces of technology at your disposal – but you face a daunting slate of challenges related to them:

  • Everyone in Star Trek is connected; so is most everybody working in an SMB — On the Enterprise, the ship’s computer could connect and communicate with any one or all members of the crew in an instant. That was one great mobility management program and serves as an ideal for today’s SMB leaders. With the help of a Managed Services Provider (MSP) specializing in mobility issues, they can increase their chances of getting there before their competitors.
  • Every “thing” in Star Trek is connected; the same situation is coming to SMBs – The Enterprise had “sensors” presumably situated throughout the vessel that could report an array of data to the captain for making a variety of decisions. Radiation leak on deck 12? “Computer, begin evacuation and notify sick bay.” As the Internet of Things (IoT) grows, today’s SMB leaders will have similar opportunities. And they’d be wise to seek the help of MSPs specializing in this field.
  • Security is high priority on the Enterprise; same holds for any SMB enterprise – The Enterprise has an entire team detected to monitoring and protecting its extensive network. At a time when 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyberattack are out of business within six months, SMB leaders would be wise to do the same – seeking the help of an MSP specializing in security.

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