Archive | Future

Most businesses could collapse in the next decade

Let’s face facts: the digital world is fundamental to all businesses. Even if you sell offline or operate mainly in the “real world”, the digital world has an impact on your business. Whether it is for communications, such as email, or as a starting point for buyers researching your business, the Internet is central to customers.

The problem is that most businesses themselves use the Internet as a “nice-to-have” and not as central to their business. When I speak to Chief Executives and point out this difference they nod their heads in agreement. But then they say it is “impossible” to change their business to focus on the Internet because it would involve too much change.

Now, though, they are in for a shock. The highly respected consultancy firm Forrester has said that unless businesses make this change they will “face an extinction event” within the next decade.

Graph of Forrester Research

They are saying this because their latest research shows that only 21% of companies have a clear vision for the future use of digital within their business. That’s in spite of 90% of firms agreeing that digital will revolutionise their sector within the next 12 months….! And they are not the only consultants sounding the warning bell – just three months ago Capgemini published their own research suggesting that businesses simply have to make the Internet central to their company, regardless of their sector or industry.

According to Forrester, businesses are now just “bolting on” the Internet to their existing business structures. But what is required, they say, is a complete “re-set” – a fundamental shift in the way businesses are structured and run. Business leaders I meet are totally unprepared to do this because of the seismic shift required. Yet the warning from Forrester is stark: do it or die.

When you look at successful businesses online they are mostly businesses which focus their firm on the Internet – Google, Facebook, Amazon for instance. But it is not just technology-based companies like these online startups which have embraced digital as central to their business. Back in 2012 Starbucks transformed itself into a digital centric company.

Business leaders, used to a non-digital world, find it hard to make the transformation necessary. So, what is the solution? The first step must surely be to conduct an immediate review of the kinds of people setting strategy and plans for your company. The data from Forrester and Capgemini both point to the need to use the services of those “digital natives” in central roles in your company. The future of your business could well depend upon giving the strategic reins to your grandchildren.

Categories: Future

World Wide Web – is it really 25 years old?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and World Wide Web Consortium.World Wide Web – three words, huge impact. It is so much an every day part of our lives these days that it is hard to believe it is only 25 years old. Or is it?

Today, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is amongst many people celebrating a quarter of a century of dramatic progress. But it isn’t really 25 years of the web.

The 12th March is the date on which Tim Berners-Lee submitted a paper suggesting the use of hyperlinks to connect pages of content. However, it was not until August 1991 that he actually turned his notion into a functioning website. Even then it was only text-based with no fancy formatting at all. The first websites as we know them today were not created until May 1993, because it was not possible to include any kind of graphical formatting until that time.

So whilst it is true that the paper that heralded the web was put forward on this day 25 years ago, it is only 21 years since the web as we know it was created. And even then, it didn’t look anything like the web we have today. Just take a look at how Google looked on its début in 1998.

Google in 1998

And if you think they haven’t moved on a lot, take a look at one of my original websites from 15 years ago…!

gjoldwebsite

Things have moved on, not just in design terms but in functions. After all, when the World Wide Web was first proposed a certain Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and originator of Facebook had not even started school. At just four years old he was still probably playing with Lego, blissfully unaware that there was developing technology that he was going to master.

Even though the commercial web we use today did not really arise until 1996, a lot has happened in the short lifetime of the idea that is the World Wide Web.

So what will happen in the next 25 years? The person who is going to revolutionise our world again is probably in a nursery school right now, hands deep in a sandpit. Maybe it is your child or grandchild.

One thing is for sure, though, in 25 years time we will look back at the websites we have today and laugh at how simple and relatively useless they all were.

Categories: Future

Company websites are history

Website development process over blue background.

The chances are that as you read this some business, somewhere is signing a contract for the development of a new website. Meanwhile, a meeting is being held in a boardroom somewhere that is discussing the future of the company’s website. At the same time, those companies that have yet to get a website – 47% of all businesses in a recent study – are making the decision today that they are going to get a website after all.

Yet, while this is all going on, Internet users are abandoning company websites in their droves. According to one study, there has been a fall in visits to company websites of 23% in the past 12 months. Seven out of ten companies in the Fortune 100 have reported drops in visitor traffic. Another study found that 28% of audiences thought that business website content was “in the dark ages” and that 60% of all web content produced by companies went unread.

Businesses are busy producing more and more content for fewer and fewer visitors. Madness.

What is going on?

The fact of the matter is, Internet users have moved on much more quickly than businesses. Most companies are lagging way behind what visitors expect. They no longer want an all-singing, all-dancing website. What they want is a company’s “presence”. They expect a businesses they want to engage with to be on social networks, for instance. They expect to engage via YouTube or Vimeo. And they expect the company to appear in forums and to have apps available as well. Going to the website for a business is so “old hat” these days, at least that’s what Internet users appear to think.

Nowadays, when people want to find out about a company they’ll pop along to visit the company page on Facebook or Google+. If they want to know about the products a company sells, they head over to the relevant LinkedIn product page. If someone wants to read your press releases they can find them on Google News. And if they want to check out your financial picture, then Yahoo! Finance can help. In fact, people are spoilt for choice as to the places they can go to find out about a business. They don’t need to go to a corporate website.

Companies, however, think differently. That’s because to them it is about control. They want to be “in charge” of what people see about them online and so by having their own space, their own company website, they can feel they are controlling what people get to know about them. This misses the fact that their customers can be busy chatting about them in Facebook, promoting the company or being negative, over which there is no control. Companies are struggling to accept that the Internet has changed the balance of power and removed much control from companies.

So, that’s why they cling on to running a corporate website. It gives them a sense of control; it make them feel in charge. Meanwhile, Internet users are ignoring them because they have their own sense of control, being able to decide where they go for company information and how they get it.

Companies need to admit it – corporate websites are history. Time to move on and starting working on “web presence”.

Categories: Future, Internet Marketing

Is your business missing the most obvious technology?

Connecting with the digital brainTechnological advance is rapid, there is little doubt about that. Indeed, we probably live in times when advances are so fast we can hardly keep up. I recall my Dad coming home when I was a youngster with the first ever “electronic calculator”. It had bright green lights and could do adding up and taking away and we were able to type in a series of numbers to spell out rude words when you looked at the display upside down….!

There were no personal computers at that time; even the “whiteboard” had not been invented, my teachers still used chalk on a blackboard. Gosh I am old…!

In my lifetime things have moved on dramatically. Now a teacher in Thailand can deliver a lesson to a student in Turkey “live” using an “electronic whiteboard”. Not only that, but the student can send their work back across the ether and it can be marked and sent back, arriving home within hours, in spite of the thousands of miles of separation. It used to take a few days for my Mum and Dad to get letters from the school, just 15 miles from my home.

Many people are now surrounded by technology. There are those clichés suggesting your mobile phone has more power than the mainframes that sent men to the moon.  But it is worse than that. Your mobile phone has more technological power than that desktop computer you bought just a couple of years ago. Moore’s Law suggests that the power of technology doubles every 18 months. Technological capability appears to be growing exponentially.

This means that we are all aware of the immense power of technology and so we often seek solutions to problems by looking for a technological answer. The retail sector is a good example where technological solutions can have a clear impact on the business.

Imagine you are a supermarket owner and you need to adjust the price tickets on the shelves. That takes time and people to do it. The law requires you to display prices, but as a good retailer you want to adjust your prices on a daily basis to make sure you maximise profits. But in doing so, you have to accept the cost of changing all those price tags on the shelves below the products on sale. Enter the electronic shelf tag. This is incorporated into the shelving and as someone changes the price on the central database which runs the checkout prices, it also updates the shelf price across all your stores. This is a clear technological advantage, enabling supermarkets to increase their profits.

However, focusing on technology can sometimes drive a business in the wrong direction. For instance, there are now companies working on “emotion detectors”. The idea is that these will be placed in retail stores so that a computer can analyse the emotional state of shoppers, leading to adjustments in displays to help pep-up the shopper. Nice idea, a great technological advance. But shops already have a fantastic emotion detector – a sales assistant. The human brain has millions of years of evolution that has led to a significant emotional sensor inside each of our heads. You know you can sense the mood around you without even looking at people. The “emotion detectors” are nowhere near as good as the technology inside your head.

Similarly, clothing retailers are experimenting with “virtual mirrors”. The idea is that people will be able to try on several different kinds of clothing and see how they look in various outfits all at the same time. Essentially, it is a large screen that stores images of each outfit a shopper tries on and then shows all of those images simultaneously. However, even if someone is able to compare themselves wearing their outfit they’ll probably get home for their partner to say something like “why did you buy that colour?” Often, people are unable to decide what suits them, but other people can spot instantly what clothing looks good. Rather than a virtual mirror, all you need is a friend with you who will use the more advanced technology inside their head to say what looks good on you.

Sometimes, we get so hooked on technology we assume that it must give the answer to our problems. For instance, you can now get a myriad of technological add-ons to manage your emails. Yet you have a better management system already, the technology in your brain where all you need is to reset your attitude to email and suddenly it is managed. People are now spending hours managing the apps that manage their emails when all they need to do is use their brain.

Businesses could well increase their profits if they ask a simple question before looking towards a technological strategy for their business: could a human being do this? The answer is frequently, “yes” – and often at a lower cost. Perhaps it is time to think people first, technology second.

Categories: Future, Online Business

The end of human communications as we know it

Infographic Concept with a Human HeadsYour brain is brilliant. I might not know you personally, but I am certain you have a magnificent mind. You can, for instance, instantly analyse a whole set of data and information in the blink of an eye and decide whether or not is safe to cross the road, all whilst listening to some music or chatting to friends. Your brain can multi-task, it can protect you, make you laugh, give you positive feelings and help you communicate with your friends all at once. Frankly, the human brain is remarkable.

However, Google do not appear to think so. Even the giant Ph.D brains at the planet’s biggest search company believe our brains need support. They have revealed this in a new patent application which is aiming to get the Internet to communicate on your behalf.

Yes, I know there are automated systems that can Tweet on your behalf, or there are email autoresponders which can send replies as though you had done it yourself. But all of these automated systems require human input. They need you to have written the messages in the first place.

Google’s proposal is that it can develop a system which will send out messages and replies as though you had said them yourself, but for which no actual input is required.

I’ll say that again because it is quite stunning. Yes, you read it right, Google is proposing a system which will write your social media messages on your behalf without you even having to do any thinking.

The system will use – you guessed it – an algorithm to determine the kind of things you say in certain circumstances and then  just suggest the appropriate words to create new messages. In other words, someone will send you a message on Google+, presumably, and Google will then suggest a reply to that message on your behalf. You don’t even need to think.

Worse, of course,  you can see the logical conclusion of this. Eventually the “social” network will be full of automated messages talking to each other, removing humans from the loop entirely because no doubt there will be some bright spark who adds a “default” which just accepts the suggested message and the system sends it out on our behalf.

And that means one thing – the social aspect of the network will have disappeared. It will be computers “talking” to each other.

In one simple swoop, this “brilliant” idea from Google could signal the end of Google+ before it has even become established.

Marketers, of course, will love the new idea because it means they will be able to tailor personal messages to potential customers much better. However, those tailored messages will be talking in the dark.

Pointless.

Ultimately, human communication is about people talking to each other based on thinking about what to say. Social networking “experts” seem to focus on the word “networking” and forget the word “social” and what that really means. We are all fed up with automated messages on Twitter and autoresponder emails that are weakly focused and badly written. If Google’s patent gets granted and their system becomes part of Google+ we can expect that annoyance to continue. And guess what will happen then?

That’s right – we’ll all start talking to each other again and wonder why we ever stopped.

Categories: Future