The “drive” towards frictionless data
If you’re of a certain age, you may recall transferring data from one computer to another using “floppy disks” (if you’re a millennial reading this, you can Google it). This technology worked relatively well until new applications, such as image editors, began to output larger and larger files that no longer fit on a traditional floppy disk. Enter the USB “flash drive.”
This new micro-technology developed in response to the inconvenience and resulting friction of having to deal with piles and piles of low-capacity floppy disks. Because the flash drives were so easy to use and efficient (even the smallest flash drives could store the equivalent of multiple floppy disks) the technology took off. The first patent for the “flash disk” was filed in 1999 and by 2006, over 80 million of the devices were being sold every year.
Although USB flash drives are still used today, their ubiquity is on the wane. New technologies such as Wi-Fi data transfer and cloud-based data storage platforms are providing near frictionless alternatives as compared to moving data around with a physical device.
The impending demise of the USB flash drive provides insight into the future of invoicing as well. While the benefit of the USB drive lay in its capacity and portability, allowing it to store larger and larger amounts of data, and enabling workers to copy files or move them from one location to another, its obsolescence was guaranteed by high-speed internet. The latter technological advancement made it possible to send such files almost instantaneously and to store these files in online repositories where authorised users could access them at any time.
In a similar vein, the familiarity and trust inherent in a paper invoice lay in its physicality and singularity, in the way it could be held, sent and received. Also like a USB drive, however, a paper invoice was designed for a single user (one set of eyes at a time), which placed a limit on how it could be shared.
As business became more digital, the demand grew for data that was unencumbered by physical (and temporal) restraints, that could be instantly and securely accessed by any authorised user, anywhere, at any time.
The beauty of the USB flash drive lay in the power it gave an individual to move huge amounts of data via a simple, utilitarian device. But with this power came the responsibility to safeguard, manage and distribute the data. In contrast, e-invoicing and other cloud-based technologies free their practitioners from the burden of managing how and where their data is stored and distributing it to the right recipients. Which is why the true meaning of frictionless data seems to lie not in the smaller space it takes up, than in the power we have to share it, seamlessly, securely and simultaneously.