Wiser Technology Advice Blog

Once upon a time in the 21st century

Sonya Weiser - Friday, October 26, 2018

For my final trip down memory lane, I’m going to have a look back at how technology has changed in the 21st century. The world’s changed rapidly since the year 2000, with an ever-increasing rate of change.

The death of corporations

A major change we’ve seen in the world of business is the decline of the power of corporations. The traditional command-and-control style of management is no longer accepted by the new generation of young people joining the workforce.

Corporations are losing their power because of the reduction in cost of doing business and today’s abundance of freely available information. Large media corporations used to control the stories we read in the newspapers, the music we purchased on vinyl and compact discs and the entertainment we watched in the cinemas and on television.

But information, stories, entertainment and music are now easily accessible online. Television is dying, people now want to watch videos on demand, on their laptops, mobile devices and internet TVs. Newspapers and magazines are going out of circulation, print media is going to disappear as people expect to read what they want, when they want on their mobile devices.

Since its introduction at the start of the 21st century, social media has become a very powerful platform for sharing ideas and information. But there have been some notable failures – remember MySpace? That started as a really exciting leading-edge social media platform, but it was beaten by Facebook when the media giant News Corporation acquired Myspace in 2005. Large corporations are no good at running leading edge technology, as there’s too much time spent worrying about internal corporate goals and politics, and not enough attention paid to what customers actually want.

If you want to get the attention of customers in the 21st century, what you must aim for is a social media campaign that goes viral. If you can build a loyal following of fans, you can build a community of customers that will go to your brand first and the market will reward you.

Another sign of the times is the cost of doing business decreasing, mainly due to the cost of technology dropping exponentially. New technology costs drop by half every year. A product might start out as a multimillion-dollar piece of equipment only available to a few, but with halving of the cost year on year, over time technology becomes almost zero-cost.

For example, when global positioning system (GPS) technology was first used, it was so prohibitively expensive only the military had access to this technology.   The first of a 24-satellite of the military GPS system was launched in 1974. The first business use of GPS was permitted by the US government in 1983 for use in commercial airplanes, introduced as a safety feature after a Korean plane was shot down by the Russians. In the 20th century, no one would have predicted the cost of GPS to reduce to almost negligible and be included in everyone’s mobile phones as a standard feature.

When you have multiple pieces of technology included in a product, the reduction in cost has an aggregate effect. A good example of this is driverless vehicles, which require multiple types of new technology products and software. With each piece of new technology halving in cost year-on-year, soon the cost of the overall product will be the same or less than traditional motor vehicles.

The other major disruption to our society in the 21st century has been the shift from buying products to buying a service. Soon no-one will bother to own their own car, instead we’ll all use on-demand ride sharing services like Uber to be driven by an automated, electric car to where we want to go.

For small business the cost of new software was traditionally prohibitively expensive. Back in the 20th century, automating your processes meant investing huge amounts of time and money into developing software systems. Now in the 21st century we simply buy the service from software based in the cloud. The trust in the Software-as-a-Service systems has grown to the point we put all of our sensitive financial, commercial and customer information into the cloud, in systems such as MYOB, Xero, Office 365.

Australia has lagged behind in one aspect of new technology, which is the speed of our internet. Our beautiful country with its wide-open spaces makes it difficult to get high-speed connectivity for everyone, but again the cost of the technology is rapidly decreasing and we’re starting to see the benefits. The NBN is getting close to completion, but that is just the beginning. In suburban Adelaide we have the Gig-City network connecting universities and research precincts, and in the city centre buildings are now connecting into the 10-Gig Adelaide network. Telstra have launched the 5G mobile network, which is necessary to support the internet of things, enabling sensors to communicate at the speed we need, for example in driverless cars communicating with traffic lights and other infrastructure.

Over the turn of the century the internet stocks boom reached its peak, then we were hit by the dot-com collapse in the year 2000. Will we see the same boom and bust with block-chain technology and the rapid proliferation of the internet-of-things? The next ten to twenty years will be very interesting indeed.

What’s in it for you?

There’s a brave new world of opportunity for small business that you can take advantage of, if you’re ready to be on the leading edge of change.

New, disruptive businesses succeed when they find a way to provide services with almost no cost. For example, AirBNB have almost zero-cost to add new rooms to their list of available accommodation. But for a large, corporate hotel chain such as Hyatt, they have to build a whole new hotel to be able to provide new rooms.

Having a strong online presence can give the impression that you have a large global business, which in reality is run by just a handful of people. All you need is a great marketing campaign and reliable, repeatable processes that can support global demand. The cost of running a business providing services through online platforms is negligible compared to traditional shop-front businesses.

Small business is the way of the future, you have the opportunity today to compete on a global scale from your small, local base.

Some words of caution!

Like any new technology, cloud software’s not perfect, so you must have a backup plan in place. For example, the popular customer management system Zoho disappeared for a day and couldn’t be accessed at all when its domain name registration was pulled by their provider.

You must carefully manage security and privacy of your customers’ information. I recommend that you only keep the data that you must, and have clear policies about why you need that information.

Cyber security is of course a big risk to all businesses and it is almost impossible to prevent attack, but of course you must try.

When things go wrong you should be able to recover quickly, by having a risk mitigation and disaster recovery plan in place. You can also buy cyber insurance to help with the cost of recovery when things go wrong.

What’s next?

Do you want to take advantage of the new world of business but don’t know where to start?

Beware of slick software salespeople, they’ll try to convince you that their software systems and technology will solve all the problems of your business. But please don’t let tail wag the dog, rather than leaping into use of software that sounds great you should always think through what you need then look for software that suits you.

My role is to constantly research what’s possible, and to deal with the pesky sales people on your behalf. If you find it all overwhelming and want some independent help, I’ll advise you on what’s possible for your business, and on what you need now and in the future.

Get in contact with me today, I’m always happy to have a chat over a coffee!

Further reading

Here's a few sources to explore if you want to read more about the history and ideas I've mentioned here:

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