May 102015
 
Microsoft-HoloLens-MixedWorld-RGB

A few weeks ago the source of all wisdom for micro-businesses, Flying Solo, and I did a webinar on Future Proofing Your Business.

During the presentation we looked at the big trends that will affect business over the next decade with a focus on some of the demographic, economic and technological changes that are happening today.

The technologies are evolving rapidly and some of those we focused on as being business changing are the driverless car, automation, robotics, the internet of things and cloud computing.

As with all good presentations we took as many audience questions as possible and the feedback was particularly pointed on one topic, “given the degree of automation, where do the jobs come from?”

Finding the jobs of the future

While to some it might be surprising to hear this from a business audience, it’s very much a valid question given most of the solo operators tuned in are in consulting type roles that will probably be eliminated or affected by algorithms or robotics, if not outsourcing through o-desk, Airtasker or similar services.

Exactly what will be the jobs of the future is a difficult question to answer as predicting what tomorrow will look like is a fraught task, predicting in 1990 that web designers and online analytics would be a growth field ten years later is a good example.

A changing economy

What we can be sure of though is that business and employment does change and evolve around technological advances. The third slide of the presentation shows Sydney’s Circular Quay in the 1920s.

The economy though was still predominantly farm based, in Australia around a quarter of the workforce were in agriculture – in the US 27% of the population were farmers – in both countries today it’s below three percent.

All of those displaced eventually found jobs, although the transition costs were great as John Steinbeck documented in the Grapes of Wrath.

Free your mind and the rest will follow

So the key to future proofing your business lies in not being one of Steinbeck’s Oakies and that requires a mental shift, we need to be data literate and deploy the tools that mean our companies are more responsive to changing markets.

One of the keys to business survival in a changing world is to use the right tools, particularly cloud computing services some of which I’ve listed below.

We only touched on a small number of ways that the world is changing, for instance the image illustrating this post is Microsoft’s Holo Lens and we haven’t mentioned Virtual Reality at all. The key is to keep an open and flexible mind.

Office applications

One of the biggest costs for business is the software for writing letters and working on spreadsheet. There’s free and paid for services that you can use on the cloud that cut your costs and increase your office productivity.

Google Docs
Evernote
Zoho Docs

Website platforms

There’s plenty of free, or cheap, tools to get your name out on the web. Don’t forget to register you business name’s domain though.

WordPress
Blogger
Wix

Design software

In a crowded world good design matters, Canva is a good quick way to get a good looking logo and graphics for your business.

Canva

Accounting services

One of the greatest challenges for small business is doing their books and accounting software is a must have for every commercial operation. Online services reduce costs and increase flexibility for businesses of all sizes.

Saasu
Xero

MYOB Business Essentials

Customer Relationship Management

CRM software helps you monitor and understand who your customers are and what you’re doing for them.

Salesforce
Sugar CRM

Backups

Backing up is critical for your business. Having an online automated backup helps you ensure essential data is safe.

Carbonite

Shared storage

Sharing files with others helps your business be more efficient as teams can get work done without using the same computer.

Dropbox
Box.net

Communications

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is a massive cost saver and most of them are cloud services.

Skype
MyNetFone

Project management

Running and managing projects is a complex task made much easier with a good project management program to keep track of tasks and time.

Basecamp
Zoho Projects

Outsourcing

Cloud computing and online services are making outsourcing possible for small businesses. With a browser and a credit card, you too can be in the outsourcing business.

Upwork (formerly O-Desk
Freelancer

May 092015
 
Netsuite Suiteworld 2015

“The cloud has won, the argument is over and any software company that hasn’t moved onto the cloud is doomed,” stated Netsuite CEO Zack Nelson at the Suiteworld 2015 conference in San Jose this week.

Nelson and Netsuite certainly can say their software is selling with revenues increasing thirty percent over the last year, although the company’s overall losses were the same as a year earlier at $22 million.

As with all conferences the focus was on big product announcements with Netsuite showcasing their enhanced Point of Sale services, European data centres and their alliance with Microsoft.

Microsoft become partners

The video appearance of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to announce the partnership covering Azure web services and Office 365 is another step by Nadella to move Microsoft into strategic relationships with key cloud computing companies following another with Dropbox last month and with Netsuite’s fierce rival Salesforce last year.

For Netsuite the partnership offers the opportunity to integrate more tightly into Microsoft’s office productivity and enterprise tools that have been clawing their way back in marketshare after sustained attacks from Google and other cloud services.

In the product offerings, Netsuite was showing its push into ecommerce and retail showing off both its Point Of Sale system and its site builder capabilities with the big boast their back end services are “faster than Amazon’s.”

Taking the game up to Amazon is a big boast and it will be worthwhile seeing how the Seattle based giant responds, certainly for Netsuite’s customers having an e-commerce system that can match the industry leader will be a big attraction.

Rolling out the data centers

Data centers are always an issue for cloud computing services with the questions of redundancy, data sovereignty and latency being raised. The announcement that Netsuite will be opening centres in Europe will help the company in those growth markets.

For the Asia Pacific, there are no immediate plans for data centers in the region but the company’s main push is on developing deeper relationships into the Chinese markets with resellers and partners.

The international push is important for Netsuite with the proportion of its non-US revenues being stuck at just over a quarter for each of the last three years with Craig Sullivan, the company’s Senior Vice President for Enterprise & International Products, flagging China, Brazil and Germany as key growth markets in the coming years.

A native look and feel

In all three countries the company is betting on partners growing market share through a Most Valued Players and reseller programs aided by the company’s claim the software works natively in 19 different languages.

“We want international users feel like NetSuite was designed for them,” is Sullivan’s ambition for the service’s global operations.

Cloud computing may have won the software wars but there’s still plenty of battles to be fought over who will make the profits from the online software market, a fight not helped by evolving business models.

Suiteworld was a good demonstration of what Netsuite is hoping to fight that battle with. Whether it’s enough to succeed either as a company or a takeover target remains to be seen.

May 082015
 
paypal-innovation-tour-039

Are beacon technologies being overhyped? Some industry experts believe they are in the retail sector.

This week’s Netsuite Suiteworld conference had a heavy focus on the retail industry and one of the points being strongly made is that beacon technologies are a long way from prime time in the sector.

A reason for this is the current clunkiness of beacon driven apps points out Miya Knights, Senior Research Analyst of IDC Retail Insights, “customers have to go through the rigmarole of downloading apps, accepting permissions and so on. It’s too hard.”

One of the answers to this could be in creating compelling reasons to install the app, at the eBay Innovation Showcase last year the company showed off some of the potential with how a connected sports stadium could make ticketing easier while improving access to food and drink concessions.

However for many stores Knights’ point is going to remain a problem as creating a value proposition that encourages time and attention poor customers to enable apps will be difficult.

On the other hand, it may well be that beacon technologies are currently better suited in being used for the business operations in roles such as stock control and point of sale systems.

For the beacons themselves it’s likely we’re seeing the hype cycle in action with the technology grinding its way to The Peak of Inflated expectations.

Should it be the case that beacons could be about to become unfashionable, then we’ll start to see the technology find its industrial role.

May 072015
 
Salesforce-no-software-cloud-services

“What’s the biggest risk to your business?” was one of the questions asked of Netsuite CEO Zack Nelson during a post keynote discussion at the Suiteworld event in San Jose yesterday.

Nelson’s response was the shift to transaction based businesses and cited cloud based human resources company Zenefits as an example.

The transactions model can work two ways with either a fee being charged for each transaction – something that data analytics Splunk does – or Zenefit’s model of taking third party commissions.

A commission driven business

Zenefits doesn’t charge for its software instead making money from commissions paid by companies they refer users to. When a client needs workplace insurance or a new benefits package, the service gets a fee from the provider.

Investors love the idea with the company yesterday raising $500 million in a round that values the business at $4.5 billion dollars after just two years since being founded.

Regulators however don’t like its less than transparent commissions with the service in trouble in a number of US states and it’s clear to see how such a revenue model would hit problems in countries with strong disclosure rules.

Both of the transaction models present a threat to current cloud computing software businesses such as Netsuite and Salesforce that charge fixed license fees based on the number of users and the features they want. Both Splunk and Zenefits on the other hand give their software away.

Disrupted disrupters

Just as the cloud providers’ licensing model disrupted the traditional massive negotiated contracts for enterprise software and the fixed cost box model for small business, the online companies themselves might be facing their own disruption to the way they make money.

For executives like Zach Nelson, shifting from one lucrative model to another more uncertain revenue source will be something keeping them awake for a while longer.

May 042015
 
twitter-headquarters

It’s been a bad week for the social media service Twitter with its stock pounded after the leak of poorer than expected results.

Writer Matthew Ingham says Twitter lost its way five years ago when it started closing down access to third party developers, a move that hurt the service’s growth and user adoption.

Twitter’s move was greeted with disappointment at the time and many developers gave up working on the company’s APIs.

With the growth of third party applications stunted, there was little reason for new users to come on board and so Twitter is now disappointing the market with its results.

Basically Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and his team reaped what they sowed in restricting access; they kept control of their data but it’s cost them users and hurt their share value.

Twitter’s woes show that the economics of  cloud and social media services reward business that share data. While there may be some commercial and legal limits to what information can be shared, the default position should be to make data available.

In an information rich society, those who contribute the most get the rewards. This is the point Twitter’s management missed.

Apr 232015
 
Salesforce-no-software-cloud-services

In Technology Spectator today I have a piece on cloud services and how the promise of high reliability threatens the IT manager and Chief Information Officer.

This shift is the same change that’s affected the IT support industry, as technology becomes more standardised and a commodity the need for specialist support and management becomes unnecessary.

In many respects this is similar to a hundred years ago where most factories had their own power plants providing electricity, steam or bel power to drive the machinery.

As mains power became common and reliable, businesses no longer needed specialist staff to ensure the power flowed.

While much of today’s commentary focuses on the CIO role evolving, it may well be the position is redundant.

Apr 212015
 
lenovo-tower-server-thinkserver-td350-front-1

One of the key factors in bringing the Personal Computer era of business to a close was the end of the upgrade cycle where users tended to buy new systems every three to five years.

For companies like Dell, Acer, IBM and Microsoft this cycle was an important and reliable income stream.

In the early 2000s though it stopped as customers decided that with most new innovations coming onto their computers through web browsers they didn’t need to buy new systems.

For the PC industry, particularly Microsoft, this presented a huge threat to their business models and all of them have been trying to find ways to refocus their businesses.

The ModernBiz Technology Make-Over

Late last year I was asked by Microsoft Australia to participate in their ModernBiz Technology Make-Over where a small business running Windows XP and Server 2003 was given a free tech upgrade to the latest equipment.

This was interesting as it was an opportunity to see how Microsoft and the market are adapting to a very changed industry.

As well I still carry the many scars – most psychological but some physical – from my years of running PC Rescue where upgrading companies’ old technology was a core part of the business.

Doing a tough job

The fallacy many managers and inexperienced companies fall for is that migration customers from old equipment to new systems is a simple matter of copying a few files. It is never that simple.

Upgrading company computers a tough field as every business is unique and in workplace where the technology has been in use for over a decade the learning curve onto new software is insanely steep for staff and management alike.

So watching the process from a relatively safe distance where I wasn’t worrying about losing customers’ data or trying to complete a complex task within a short deadline was quite attractive. Basically I wanted to see the other guys sweat.

Another attraction in participating was to see how Microsoft are managing the transition from supplying business servers to provisioning cloud services and how customers are managing that change in product offerings.

Dealing with a shifting market

For both Microsoft and their customers the shift from one off hardware and license purchases to cloud based monthly subscriptions is a major change in mindset, so seeing how small business users adapt to online services will be interesting.

Overall the technology makeover promises to be an interesting exercise on how the small business computer industry is changing.

For his participation in the Modern Biz Technology Makeover program, Microsoft gave Paul a Lenovo laptop which he hasn’t yet used.