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Technology Trends for Business

High Tech means high results. High technology is still expected and sometimes required to deliver more effective and easy to use products, programs, and services especially in a down economy.

This article was written and published in the Jacksonville Advantage magazine by Dawn Josephson on July 20, 2010.

To say that technology has transformed the way we work over the years is definitely an understatement. From faxes, e-mail, and the Internet to smart devices, cloud computing, and social media, technology has touched virtually every business, both large and small. And despite the stereotype of hip, young entrepreneurs being the only people to embrace today’s technology, the fact is that even the older baby boomers are seeing the value of technology and are jumping on the bandwagon so they don’t get left behind.

Randy Elias, “Guru”/Owner of TechSync, Inc.
(www.techsyncpros.com), a full-service technology solutions provider, has helped business owners as old as 70 implement new technologies into their organizations. “Five years ago I would have said that the older generation still downplayed the role of technology and how it could automate their business,” says Elias. “But today, they realize they need technology if they want to stay competitive.”

Part of the competitive advantage today’s technology offers is the ability to be mobile and work remotely. “Many companies are cutting down on the number of physical employees in the office and letting them work from home as long as they’re getting the job done,” explains Elias. “In my own company, I have three employees, but none of them work in my office. We’re scattered across Florida and stay connected with various online collaboration tools.”

Such tools, including Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live Workspace, enable two or more people to work in a document simultaneously and see each other’s edits in real time. This means co-workers can collaborate on projects at the same time without having to be at the same desk or even in the same state. Called “cloud” technology, these collaboration tools are Internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand. Think of it as working on a virtual server over the Internet.

A new sales paradigm
Ben McDonald, CEO/Owner of Londonberry, LLC (www.londonberry.com), a company that offers strategic technology advice, says that online collaboration tools and video conferencing have completely changed the sales process in many businesses. “The old mantra used to be, ‘If you’re a salesperson and you’re in your office, you’re not doing your job,’” says McDonald. “That’s not the case anymore. Salespeople can do deals over Twitter, direct messaging, video conferencing, Web-based meetings, e-mail…the possibilities are endless.”

One tool that McDonald sees as revolutionizing the sales process is Skype, a software that enables free video and voice calls, as well as the ability to send instant messages and share files with other Skype users. “With Skype, you can show people what you’re talking about rather than just try to explain it verbally,” he says. “You can also create a much tighter bond with someone because you get to see them, not just hear their voice.”

He admits that video conferencing and collaboration tools such as Skype are not a substitute for face-to-face communication; however, they are much more intimate than a phone call. And when it comes to smaller deals or creating the first part of the relationship, you can get much further with video technology than you can with a phone call. “With companies having to trim expenses, Skype is a great alternative to having salespeople travel to a prospect’s or client’s location,” says McDonald.

Effective advertising options
Henry Ford once said, “Half of all advertising is a waste of money; we just don’t know which half.” Today, technology is taking care of that dilemma too.

“In the past, people would build ads without the expectation of getting feedback,” says Les Hill, software developer with Hashrocket (www.hashrocket.com), a Web design and development shop. “Now with the technology of Facebook fan pages, Twitter, and other online advertising outlets, companies can target their advertising and track what the public thinks of their company, products, or services.”

Hill cites an example of a local restaurant tweeting their daily specials each morning. “This is something very simple and that doesn’t cost anything,” he says. “Yet it’s something that enhances the business and the customer experience.”

Additionally, companies can do a Facebook ad, which is more targeted than a typical pay-per-click ad. “This kind of advertising is not the realm of big corporate giants,” explains Hill. “It’s designed for small to medium sized businesses. You can create a pay-per-click Facebook ad that’s specific, such as people in Jacksonville who like pizza. You can even limit who sees the ad by age, gender, education level, and more. There’s a rich demographic targeting scheme that’s available to business owners on Facebook. So it’s no longer mass marketing; it’s now about niche marketing…all thanks to technology.”

Future trends
The one thing we know for sure about technology is that it will continue to evolve. Things that we can’t live without today will become obsolete tomorrow. Elias predicts that the fax machine will one day be obsolete, as will desktop computers. “We’re selling more laptops and mobility devices these days,” he says. “Even the new iPads have enough functionality for the day-to-day business tasks. And as they evolve, they’ll be able to do more.”

McDonald says we’ll also see rise to some new technology-oriented industries, such as technology consulting. “Tomorrow’s consulting services will cater to teaching people how to get up to speed quickly on a certain technology,” says McDonald. “Business owners will see it as more cost-effective than having their employees try to learn the technology on their own.”

But to get a true sense of what will be hot in the business sector tomorrow, Hill suggests that people look to what is popular in the consumer market today. “Technology tends to start in the consumer sector and then migrates to business use,” he says. “AOL came out as personal e-mail accounts, and Facebook started as a way for college graduates to keep in touch. So look at what’s popular among consumers and then start planning for it to extend to the business world.”

The good news is that most of the popular technology tools for business are free or very low cost. Therefore, there’s no reason not to go high-tech. “Remember that change is always good,” says Elias. “If you want a successful business for the long term, you have to embrace change, whether it’s a change in your staffing or your technology.”

Check out these free tech tools
Although name brand productivity software titles often cost hundreds of dollars per license, you can find some bargains in Cyberspace that will up your output. And some of those bargains are actually free (at least for a trial period). Check these out:

Online collaboration:
• Google Docs, www.docs.google.com. Free online document collaboration.
• Basecamp, www.basecamp.com. Free trial for online project management software.
• Project2Manage, www.project2manage.com. Free (with limited options) project management software.
• Office Live Workspace, www.workspace.officelive.com. Free collaborative projective management workspace.

Videoconferencing:
• Skype, www.skype.com. Free phone calls and videoconferencing to other Skype members.
• ooVoo, www.oovoo.com/, free video chat.
• Palbee, www.palbee.com, free online service for video meetings and recording and storing your own presentations online.

Social media:
• Facebook, www.facebook.com
• Twitter, www.twitter.com
• LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com
• Plaxo, www.plaxo.com

Thanks Dawn!
This article was written and published in the Jacksonville Advantage magazine, the Handbook for Small Business by Dawn Josephson on July 20, 2010.
www.advantagebizmag.com

Dawn Josephson is a contributing editor to Advantage: The Resource for Small Business. She can be reached at dawn@masterwritingcoach.com.

Frank Eaton is CEO of Frank B2B Communications, a business-to-business marketing and consulting company in Jacksonville, Florida www.frankb2b.com

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