As we start a new year, I felt it was time to hold a mythical business meeting with the mythical marketing department here at Vertical Financial Systems (VFS).  A lot has changed in technology since VFS was founded, and I got to thinking about what the future holds for small business technology.

So I asked myself the marketing department – where will the small business spending on technology services go in the next few years?  Here are some thoughts that came out of that ‘meeting’:

Spending on business websites may be almost nothing going forward.  For a few dollars a month, anybody can spin up a website in WordPress at GoDaddy or SquareSpace or any number of providers, using pre-defined templates and designs.  No hiring designers, coders, system admins, nothing.  Just hire an English major (or better yet an intern) to write up your pages and you are in business.  In the 2000’s this was a pretty decent business for a large number of people, but I can’t see why most businesses would spend a lot of money on that anymore.

The rise of smartphones has made that platform the application platform of choice.  Unfortunately, it is still painfully expensive (as compared to web development) to build out an application.  Plus, you have to write it essentially twice – once for Android, once for IOS (though few people are writing for Microsoft anymore).  Software is slowly coming out to make this development easier, but I think we are still a few years away from getting the costs significantly down.  The pain isn’t only in your client’s pocketbook – trying to be an expert on both platforms is no fun either.

But I do think the phone is the future application development platform.  Websites may evolve to be just brochure sites – provide info about your company and service, but not heavy functionality for existing customers.  Stuff like checking order status and billing may still live on the web for light customer service, but the heavy application development should be on the mobile device where native access to GPS, email, camera, etc  is available.  Interestingly, in a previous post I mentioned I got a Wink Hub, and the only way to control that is via a smartphone app – there is no website application or login where it can be managed.  Perhaps the future is just starting to arrive.

Content creation should still be a big market – but not static website content, custom, relevant content pushed to your customer.   Information pertinent to your customer should be selectively pushed to their inbox or smartphone – special offers, account notifications and the like.  So getting content created uniquely for each customer, based on what you know about the customer, seems like the big technology winner.  In order to engage customers, the fusion of marketing and technology will need to be stronger than ever before.  Thinking about this reminds me of the launch of Internet Explorer 4 (circa 1997) – where the big talking point was push technology where you could have web pages pushed to your PC.  The vision was fatally flawed, as web pages were just beginning to be dynamic, and frankly nobody really wanted all that content stored on their PC.  Content deliver has to be smart and targeted.

So to summarize, Web applications are not the big growth industry moving forward, and smartphone application development is still too expensive for many small businesses.  So while we are in this technological transition, it probably is a good time to build up on push technologies, and work to make your existing applications smarter about what your customer or lead is interested in, and  push relevant content to your customers.  This investment will payoff regardless of what platforms emerge in the future.

Lots to think about in the coming year.   Regardless of what new technologies or trends emerge, as always there will be a lot of new things to learn and decisions to be made.

 

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