The technologies that will take off among small businesses in the coming year build upon last year's fascination with Web applications and collaboration tools.
This is the time of year when all sorts of predictions appear on old media, new media and not so new media alike: from what’s going to happen in the Presidential elections to what energy sources will replace oil and how much closer mankind will actually be to getting to Mars.
Not to disappoint all my wonderful readers, here are the technologies that will be hot for small businesses in 2008. Writing about the future of technology is actually a cozy tradition for me, and this year it is my privilege to do it on IncTechnology.com.
1. Web 2.0 collaborative applications
Small businesses need better, low cost and easy to manage tools to work collaborate within the company and to pool together resources across multiple businesses to better tackle large jobs. In 2008 you will see a proliferation of online tools that will make things a lot easier.
Web 2.0 based applications are software tools accessible via any internet browser and are natively well suited for collaborations. A new crop of developers is taking full advantage of this capability to create great things, sometimes even offered for free!
Office productivity suites that allow multiple users to work together, share information and collaborate in real time such as ThinkFree and Zoho.
Messaging, communications and collaboration environments such as Zimbra and HyperOffice
Don’t you think for a minute that the big guns like Microsoft and Yahoo, that have steeply increased their attention for the needs of small businesses in the past few year (see Yahoo! acquisition of Zimbra and Microsoft’s upcoming Office Live Workspaces) will just sit there and watch. So expect a lot of competition for your attention and lots of low cost ways to leverage the web to collaborate.
2. Cached Web applications
Ok, so what happens to all these wonderful Web tools if you cannot connect to the Web? Expect many of these applications to launch an offline “companion,” software that runs on your computer and replicates the online functionality. Wait a minute, what’s happening here? Software goes online and online applications go offline? Yes, that’s right. Traditional software is here to stay, but the new demands of the market are imposing more and more to make software available concurrently as a service and as a locally stored application, frequently with automatic synchronization of data files between the online and local storages.
In a sense, Microsoft pioneered the concept at a Local Area Network and VPN levels with MS Small Business Server and Web Outlook . Now the concept is going mainstream and “on the Web cloud.” Expect tons of Web applications to come with offline companions or to work in “cached mode” without requiring Web connection; and expect more and more desktop software to become available as a complementary service, part of the software licensing fee.
Mashups are Web applications that derive data from different sources into one integrated tool. A popular example of a mashup, cited by Wikipedia, would be to combine the cartographic data from Google Maps with real-estate listing from Craigslist to get a new Web service that provides location information to those listings.
Consumer mashups are becoming quickly popular, like iGoogle, mapmyrun.com or housingmaps.com. Expect the development of business applications that leverage this concept and bring you the best of all worlds.
Currently the most common type of business mashup is the dashboard. There are tools like Serena that allow building mashup-based applications on the fly. Yahoo! has Pipes and Microsoft and Google are in beta testing with Popfly and Mashup Editor, respectively.
Expect in 2008 many pre-developed mashup services bringing together your most commonly used business Web services.
4. 3g network connectivity
Wireless operators are in full swing with the deployment of their 3G networks, offering data and voice connectivity almost anywhere at the sped of entry-level DSL. 3G data cards are almost free with contracts, all-you-can-use plans are as cheap as $30 per month and reliability has gone up to very acceptable levels. Watch for more and more laptops to come outfitted with wireless WAN cards. The technology is ready, the price point is affordable and the convenience is unparalleled for mobile workers.
5. Online data backup Internet connections are becoming faster everywhere and backup software is becoming smarter and cheaper. A new set of inexpensive online backup solutions that really work is emerging targeting small businesses. Some even have unlimited storage for a fixed fee. Online backup maybe a bit more cumbersome to setup and manage, but ensures a very high level of data protection.
Fingerprint readers and data encryption software will become very popular in 2008, as the technologies are mature and the costs have gone down. Look for tiny fingerprint readers on laptops and keyboards that unlock the computer instead of passwords. Also look for full hard disk encryption to become much more popular to safeguard the privacy of your data: Microsoft has made available BitLocker on Windows Vista Business and Premium versions. A good, easy to manage alternative is PGP.
And what after that. Other technologies that in the next few years will land on the lap of American small business include:
4G mobile telephony Fully IP switched data/voice wireless networks that will deliver ultrafast connections to any mobile device. That is how small businesses will go online in a few years. Keep your eyes on Google.
In-text advertising The new frontier of contextual advertising is in-text. Vibrant Media is the leader in the space, but look for more to start playing.
RFID It is taking time for this new and initially costly technology to take foot, but the pressure of large supply chains, such as Wal-Mart Stores is forcing the adoption. Watch for RFID tags to appear on all sorts of retail goods.
We'll see at this time next year if I'm right!
Andrea Peiro isa recognized authority, author, analyst and speaker on high-tech marketing and use of information technology in small and mid-sized businesses. He has been frequently interviewed and featured in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..