The year was 1991. The nation’s movie lovers flocked to see Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear (and after demanding their money back, took in The Silence of the Lambs). In pop music, C&C Music Factory promised to make us sweat, Madonna pledged to justify her love, and Bonnie Raitt gave us all something to talk about. In the IT world, Linus Torvalds (no, not the guy from Peanuts waiting for the Great Pumpkin) launched the Linux operating system kernel, while Bill Gates and friends released MS-DOS 5.0. And something else happened in 1991 that changed, well, everything: the first web browser was introduced.
However, those who build a time machine (don’t forget the flux capacitor) and head back to 1991 shouldn’t expect to see businesses celebrating the dawn of the web. In fact, this seminal event was greeted by the global business community with a collective meh. The notion of connecting with customers over-the-web, let alone processing transactions, was not just ambitious: it was fantasy. And besides, what could ever replace the trusty ‘ol Yellow Pages?
Well, fast forward about three decades, and we can see that the web has become a must-have, fundamental staple of the business landscape. It’s not optional, and businesses that don’t have a website might as well not exist. In fact, a whole industry has emerged to alert businesses around the clock if their precious, beloved site goes down (perish the thought) even for a few seconds. The web has gone from meh to mandatory.
Why take this trip down memory lane? It’s because as we embark on the millennium’s third decade, we can identify five business technologies that, just like the web, were once largely ignored in the mainstream but have now become essentials for all businesses regardless of age, size and sector:
1. Cellular Internet Backup Devices
Losing internet access due to ISP problems is the stuff of productivity and customer service nightmares — because it means no web surfing, no email, no instant messaging, and the list of terrifying deprivations goes on. Fortunately, that’s where 4LTE (and in the not-too-distant future 5G) cellular internet backup devices ride to the rescue, and automatically kick in to keep the internet access wheel turning until systems are restored to normal. Instead of staff crawling under their desks waiting for the zombies to take over, they keep working without skipping a beat (or an email).
2. Sophisticated, Fast, and Mobile-Friendly Websites
Obviously, every business needs a home on the web. But many business websites are still quite basic (e.g. WordPress templates with little or no customizations), slow-loading, and don’t render properly across all smartphones and tablets. This is more than a red flag: it’s a 5-alarm siren. Basically, these days if a business website isn’t sophisticated, fast and mobile-friendly, then it’s a liability instead of an asset.
3. On-Demand Customer Touchpoint Technologies
There was a time when customers were happy to send emails to businesses, because it was simpler and more convenient than picking up the phone or paying an in-person visit. Now, many customers — especially millennials — prefer (or insist) on non-email methods such as web chat, text messaging and video conferencing. Businesses that effectively connect with customers through these on-demand digital touchpoints will thrive in the years ahead, while businesses that rely exclusively on email will struggle to keep up.
4. SaaS Accounting and CRM Platforms
Let’s tip our hats to a couple of SaaS solutions that have totally changed the game for all organizations, but especially for small businesses that have limited capital expense budgets: accounting and CRM platforms. With respect to accounting platforms, businesses can access payroll, AP, billing, financial statements, tax data and more from any web browser. With respect to CRM platforms, businesses can identify and target qualified leads, shorten sales cycles, increase revenues and profit, and even get push notifications when their VIP customers have a birthday.
5. Hosted VoIP Phone Systems
In the old days — back before smartphones roamed the earth and desktop computers actually did occupy an entire desktop — businesses were forced to purchase big, bloated, and very expensive phone systems that lived in a temperature-controlled forbidden closet somewhere in the back of the office. Adding new lines was time consuming and costly, and ongoing maintenance was an exercise in ongoing frustration. Today, however, businesses are embracing an alternative that is categorically superior in terms of cost, scalability, accessibility flexibility, features, and integrations with other technologies in the ecosystem: hosted VoIP phone systems. And if you happen to think that hosted VoIP is still in the “experimental” stage, then consider these statistics: VoIP is now the number one phone choice by businesses in the U.S., and CAGR of the hosted VoIP service segment is projected to grow a whopping 15.3% from 2016-2024.
The Bottom Line
In different ways, each of the technologies described above help businesses cut costs, improve customer service, increase competitive advantage, generate sales, enhance flexibility, drive innovation and reduce risk. In light of this, the question for businesses that don’t have all of them in their ecosystem isn’t “do we need these?”, but rather “how do we get these as quickly as possible?”