WE have never been more connected. Electronically. Virtually. Online.
In many ways now, we need to recognise what that means and adjust our offline connections, crossroads and meeting places to reflect that need.
The natural meeting places where we congregate outside of work, schools, universities, and home are shopping centres, libraries, sports stadiums, parks and entertainment or leisure facilities.
In the new digital economy, connection, collaboration and integration are the currents carrying us towards our destination.
So now we need to add this new capacity onto our built environment and extend the physical to match the virtual. It won't be cheap, but it needs to enter into the consideration of planners and architects more than it has today.
We need more real world collaboration spaces to match the virtual. And we need to integrate our living, working and activity silos together in the same way we integrate our virtual activities and processes together.
Where are the existing collaboration hubs?
University precincts, schools, hospitals, child-care and aged care facilities. Libraries, fitness centres and shopping centres. Transport hubs.
These environments are evolving already. Most shopping malls have offices attached, but this is still old world thinking.
Universities provide precincts for students and sometimes even related startup industries, but still old world thinking.
Incubators and enterprise centres also try to aggregate startups but still old world thinking.
Digital Work Hubs provide office facilities, meeting rooms, cafes and kitchens but still old world thinking.
City centre new commercial office developments are now providing a range of comfortable meeting space, cafes and board rooms to support the offices but it is still old world thinking.
It has to go one step further.
Add all the above into a number of carefully selected strategic suburban offline and online environments and connect to surrounding homes and the SoHo's.
Connect it all together with booking and payment systems, transport and delivery, virtual classrooms, meeting rooms, and collaboration environments, and you begin to get the idea.
It's happening online. Now it has to happen offline.
It's about adding extra and relevant "stickiness" to customer relationships for councils, commercial developers, retailers and small businesses of all kinds.
If your online customer relationships have just been stolen by competitors, or you have been disintermediated, then you need to consider your future.
You can review what you do or retire of course, but unless you are one of the lucky few, you can't continue business as usual.
Telstra retains customers through bundling a group of products and services together to add value to customers. The bundled offer can then be discounted if competition on any of the services arises to make the bundle even more "sticky".
Customers who are thinking about moving, find it all too hard and remain...at least for the time being.
Shopping centres have been steadily extending their offering to include entertainment, gyms, child-care and food courts and are now adding work-spaces into the overall environment.
This has the added value of not only delivering a greater number of regular customers for the centre management but also brings them into direct relationship with shops and traders who are being impacted by online sales.
It's time for councils, state government and developers to think collectively and more broadly about the issue, focused on the shared value outcome of building new knowledge centres based on suburban shopping centres, libraries, art galleries, lecture theatres, play centres, medical centres, gyms and meeting spaces.
And linking these new knowledge centres electronically to surrounding SoHo's and households intelligently.
The hard infrastructure needs to be supported by soft infrastructure - wired and wireless broadband, collaboration software, booking and payment software and IT support services.
The business intelligence "logic" of what collaboration can offer needs to be overlaid as well, so that the right connections, groupings, meetings and collaborations can happen actively as well as accidentally.
All supported by local business media - offline and online.
In the 21st century, we have to move beyond serendipity and accident, and incorporate the potential power of cross-pollination into our planning.
We can replicate and layer the online opportunities with real world opportunities, providing a rich layer cake of digital world and real world opportunity - the best of both worlds.
Providing the new meeting places for the 21st century.
- John Sheridan, July 2013
* John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping organisations and communities adapt to, and flourish in, the new digital world. He is the author of Connecting the Dots and getting more out of the digital revolution. Digital Business insights has been researching and analysing the digital revolution for more than 12 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs.