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The most important new technology transforming IT is cloud computing. Cloud computing has been a buzzword for more than a decade, first as software-as-a-service (SaaS) at the application level, then virtualization at the operating system level, and now down to the infrastructure hardware level. There is also a wide range of providers for these services to meet every need and budget.
newBrandAnalytics, which is a small business that provides social business intelligence solutions, has distributed teams in Israel, India and in multiple locations across the United States. We don’t own a single server and don’t even install much software. For instance, our only employees who use Microsoft Office are those who have to prepare reports or presentations for an external audience. Internally, we use Google Apps, a wiki and open source development tools. Even our source control, issue tracking, build and deployment tools are on the cloud.
Nicolas Carr’s Harvard Business Review controversial paper “Does IT matter?” drew a useful analogy with the early days of power utilities when every factory and company had its own steam power plant until eventually it became a commodity and the factories focused on innovation. The same thing is happening with cloud computing, where barriers to entry are innovation and not how big a data center you can afford to build.
Mobile Applications Explode
I see mobile continuing to grow by leaps and bounds both on the data generation side, where users add reviews on sites like Yelp, upload videos on YouTube and engage with social networks, and on the data consumption side, where smartphones and tablets are being used to view more media content. Combine that with the growth of location-based services, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
As a small business, when you have a customer with a location-enabled mobile device who’s willing to share that information, that becomes a very powerful means to optimize your advertising, marketing and even your operations.
Social Media: Facebook and Beyond
Small businesses focus mostly on Facebook when talking about social media, but that’s a very limiting approach. Gartner breaks social media down into categories. There is social networking on services such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there’s also social collaboration on wikis or services like Yammer and social content creation like blogs, Tumblr, YouTube and Yelp. It’s very easy for a business to focus only on Facebook and Twitter and still get lost in the noise. However, using advanced analytics services allows our clients to track more than 100 different sources of social media across all these categories and get actionable useful intelligence that is relevant and helps the bottom line.
Near Field Communications
People have been talking for a while about this technology, which allows mobile devices to exchange data, simplifies transactions and enables connection with just a touch. Securely broadcasting payment information at a point of sale, such as a store cash register, is the first hyped application. The retail industry is looking to near field communication very expectantly; so it’s a technology of the future, but we don’t know exactly when it will take off.
Overhyped: Group Buying
Small businesses signing up for Groupon or other group buying sites notice a significant traffic spike akin to having your tech startup win at TechCrunch Demo but have not found that sustainable, and most aren’t happy with the results. They’re finding that they’re getting a lot of existing customers using coupons instead of bringing in new ones. And it has been difficult to get demographic or other analytical information from these services that can help the business. Services like Groupon and LivingSocial are solid companies, so they aren’t going anywhere. But in time, I think this fad will fade away.
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