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The Business Crystal Ball

Riding the next technological wave

Predicting the future has never been easy, but in business we have certain indicators that provide us with a good idea of what could happen. Companies such as British Telecom employ "futurologists" - not a job the school careers officer usually talks about!

Business today is moving at such a fast pace, it is almost impossible to believe that we could have survived without mobile phones, computers and email.

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted in 1960 that "computing power" will double every year. It appears this has slowed to 18 months now, but it is thought that Moore's Law will hold true for at least another two decades. This will, therefore, continue the pace of technological improvements.

Consumers are also becoming more technologically aware, using mobile phones, MP3 players, personal computers, etc., and as a result they are expecting immediate connectivity and information.

The Changing Media Landscape

When presenting views of the future, I regularly use a movie produced a few years ago in the USA, which predicts the end of newspapers and news organisations. "Googlezon" (http://epic.makingithappen.co.uk/) follows the merging of Google and Amazon and its affect on news media. Please watch it and decide how you could be affected if this prediction comes true.

The world is, of course, becoming more mobile. We are now used to mobile phones, but with the advent of WiFi (Wireless Internet) we are able access broadband facilities on the move. Podcasts to WiFi computers and MP3 players means that radios will eventually disappear, with music and news beamed locally to these devices.

A company that has published their views of the future of their technology are Vodafone. The Vodafone Futures website (http://www.vodafone.com/flash/futures/) demonstrates how mobile communications increases its impact on our lives, improving the quality and increasing our leisure time. We have, of course, heard all this before – do you remember the paperless office! Vodafone's predictions are, however, very interesting, and they will offer many new opportunities for businesses.

Predictive Services

Do you use Amazon? Do you use the recommendations – "People who bought this product also bought …" This is trying to target products to you, based on similar patterns, and should leave you with a warm feeling inside – like the barman at your local pub knowing what drink you want as soon as you enter the building.

This is all leading to the delivery of more personalised services, which, hopefully become more relevant and in turn generate more traffic, sales and/or profit.

Google are also testing a personalisation tool, based on your searches and the information you click through to. This should speed up future searches, but will have serious implications on Search Engine Marketing, as personal factors will be difficult to predict. There are a multitude of supposed Search Engine Optimisation experts in the marketplace, but many of them are oblivious to the threat, and are unlikely to react to it quickly.

Personalisation is the key to future customer relationships, and the predictive services will therefore play an important role. If you can predict what your customers are likely to need or desire, and when, you can provide relevant and timely services.

Security

Since its beginnings, the Internet has been plagued by poor security. Whilst it has improved significantly, identity fraud is running at its highest level ever. One problem is that all registration services, for banking, emails, information access, etc., require a password – I for one am already at password overload. This is going to increase as more personalised services are offered.

Many people use the same password and username combination for all accounts – no wonder we have a security problem if they are discovered. When I worked for a mobile network, in charge of the portal registrations, I forced the company to remove the "Mothers Maiden Name" as the security question, as this should be kept solely for your bank account, for example. You should decide which question you want to keep secure. How often have you been asked to provide it – and how secure do you think it now is?

The future of security is in biometrics, as we are seeing with passport and identity security. Your fingerprint, iris scan, etc., is totally unique to you and will cut considerable amounts of fraud. The general rule for security is to ask for something the person has (e.g. credit card or membership number) and something they know (e.g. the PIN or password). Biometrics will provide the "have" criteria.

The Connected World

San Francisco recently went WiFi – the whole city is a so-called hotspot, providing access to information everywhere. The recent rise in broadband telephony, or Voice over IP (VOIP), has led companies to develop WiFi telephones that can link you your telephone account when you enter a hotspot, and you can enjoy free calls. Combine this with your emails, instant messaging and Internet browsing, and you will be constantly connected.

The future will not wait for any of us, and is likely to provide amazing opportunities. The cost of these technologies are reducing every year, making many of them affordable for smaller businesses. Unfortunately, it will also leave some companies behind; many of them smaller businesses with less capital spend. There has never been a need to be "bleeding-edge" but as technology fragments and progresses apace, laggards will die as they fail to deliver the services customer will come to expect – make sure you are not one of them.

About the Author.

Thom Poole is a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a member of the Marketing Society. A marketer with over 19 years experience in online marketing and web strategy, Thom is strategic e-marketing consultant for Jack Marketing Solutions, working with SMEs. He also teaches people web design from beginners to professionals, as well as CRM, eCommerce, etc., and is a lecturer for the London School of Business & Finance and Birkbeck College – University of London. A regular speaker on the CRM and e-marketing event circuit, Thom has also written a book on ethical e-marketing, called "Play It By Trust". The book is available at the publishers as a hardback or download.

For more details visit www.jack-marketing.com

Article first published: Daily Telegraph Business Club (August 2006)

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