With technology and computing changing at an ever increasing rate, we look at the big concepts that will define computing and technology in 2014 and how they will affect your small business.
Wider internet coverage
Online infrastructure is strengthening its efforts to catch up with the rampant needs of an always online audience. This includes the expansion of fibre optic broadband across the country as well as increased 4G and roaming capabilities. Better internet connections will allow for the circulation of larger files and more data, it will also give further rise to the cloud and the gradual transition of services to the cloud.
Cloud computing refers to the concept of a large number of distributed servers being connected via the internet. So long as you have an internet connection, you will be able to have access to your files and software. You are no longer limited to having software or hardware installed to your infrastructure and in many cases this means your files and applications are accessible from anywhere.
Cloud computing is already revolutionising the way we work, and we are going to start seeing more off the shelf and bespoke services and platforms moving to the cloud in the coming months. It extends to data storage providers, such as Dropbox, which allows for the storage of vast amounts of data in the cloud. Office tools such as spreadsheets and word processing have also transitioned through Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365, all allowing for greater working collaboration between staff in real time. Similarly, other business applications, such as accountancy software and project management packages have also transitioned to the cloud.
A major benefit of cloud computing for businesses is that typically all cloud software and platforms are on a pay-for-what-you-use model. They’re mostly billed per person, per month, so can give great cash flow advantages too.
The Internet of things
The number of devices connected to the internet has been growing steadily; there’s already internet-enabled smartphones, tablets, TV and games consoles. This will grow to include everything from thermostats to fridges, vacuums and security systems.
This influx of smart devices gives rise to the ‘web of things’ in which all these devices are connected and communicating with each other. Around the office, or premises, this means there’s the potential to introduce some helpful ‘smart’ gadgets that will help you get the most out of your working day.
Big Data becomes manageable
Big Data refers to the exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured. It also leads to the growth of efforts to understand this data cohesively and in the wider business or industry context. Businesses will be further able to make decisions much more effectively.
Amazon, for example, have been collecting data of their customers for years, not just name and address, but what they have purchased and what they have been looking at. This has enhanced Amazon’s customer service protocol, providing a far more personalised service when staff communicate with their customers, and also provides an enormous pool of data to analyse to assist with their business planning.
On a small business level, the traditional mindset was that you needed to use large resources to make use of big data. Today, however there are so many tools out there to help you make better sense of your market. Google Analytics can provide valuable insight into who is viewing your website, whilst Google Keyword Planner reveals the words and phrases that are relevant to your market. There are a number of off-the-shelf cloud big data platform providers that have almost no barriers to entry for analysing and storing almost any data sets.
Downward pricing trends
Thanks to the cloud and increased competition of a new range of applications, small businesses are already witnessing a decline in the traditional costs associated with both hardware and software.
The utilisation of cloud software means big savings in capital expenditure - soon finance departments will see computing almost entirely as an operating expenditure, rather than a capital expenditure. Businesses will no longer spend resource maintaining hardware, as for most, the entire cloud platforms will be outsourced.
Hardware is always getting cheaper, but specification is also always increasing. It’s important to purchase the right equipment for your staff, but for those who do not need top end processing power, mid-range computers’ price points are always dropping. This is set to continue into 2014.
Content creation is still hugely important for marketing your business online and it’s set to get even bigger in 2014/5. But it’s not just for the big boys: small businesses are increasing able to harness the power of content marketing. This is resulting in the publication trend of big content - content that exceeds the usual confines of an 800 word blog post or a video with no captions. Big content is an all encompassing tool, designed to attract big audiences over a sustained period.
Creating this kind of content requires resources, but it is a real risk/reward dynamic opening up to small business. Although it has been around for some time, 2014 is the year that even smaller businesses will be focussing on the quality of their online content.
Christophe Boudet is managing director of Akita IT in London.