The future of online business promises to be exciting, profound, and completely unpredictable. Over the last few decades, the pace of change appears to have accelerated. Due to new developments in communications, transportation and technology, the business world is one big jumble of dynamic change and complexity.
No business is immune from the effects of this rapid change. Small manufacturers in the Midwestern United States now have to contend with "manufacturing cities" in the heart of China. Once secure and profitable providers of business process services in India now have to look over their shoulders at upstart Filipino companies.
And it's not just about international competition.
A spa and massage business in a town near you has to worry about everyone from dentists, to chiropractors and even allergists muscling in on their business. And all this is in addition to competition from "mall massage machines" and add-on services provided by strip mall pedicure providers.
Digital Technology and the Future of Business
Of all the rapid changes going on in the world of business today, none is more potentially disruptive than the advance of digital technology into the lives of consumers through connected devices and the implications for businesses of every kind.
Once upon a time the internet "existed" only on a computer. At least that's how we visualized it. Today, every owner of a Smartphone or mobile device carries the internet with them. As the trends toward mobile internet and integrated devices picks up steam, many are asking how business will change in a world where the consumer is "always logged on".
Particularly, what happens when the internet escapes out of the devices and inserts itself more ubiquitously into our every day lives?
For instance, what happens when our shirts are embedded with a microchip that takes readings and tells us our blood pressure and our cholesterol levels?
Today, many cars come equipped with global positioning systems, automatic parallel parking and the ability to map out a path to our destinations and make an emergency call when we need help.
If you're a busy small business owner, the point of this article is not to get you bogged down in the fantasy playground of an over-caffeinated futurist. Rather, my aim is to point out some practical strategic applications to making detailed observations about the changes in technology and how those changes affect the behavior of the people you hope to sell to – the consumers.
How to Leverage "Ubiquitous Computing" for Business Success
In many of my talks and articles, I share with business owners how to stop fighting uncertainty and prepare their businesses to harness it as a competitive advantage. When it comes to rapid technological change, there are some principles that can help your business to thrive from it rather than to be blindsided by it. Here are a few of my best ideas in this topic.
1. People Will Use Future Technology To Meet Ancient Needs
It is a well tested principle of the social sciences that basic human psychological needs have not changed in millennia and are not likely to change. When you come across a new technology, think about how people are likely to use it to solve an old need. This is especially important if this technology may affect your industry or your business.
2. Keep An Eye On The Trends
One of the most effective ways of incorporating every day innovation into your business is to set up a system for scanning the horizon for new developments. If you own a small business or are an entrepreneurial professional, you can identify special blogs, websites and thought leaders to track with RSS feeds and bookmarking technologies.
If you run a bigger company or organization, consider a systematic process of scenario planning at least once or twice a year. These scenario planning sessions should account for new technologies that have made an entry into your space, and new technologies being tested in adjacent industries.
3. Get Customer-centric … fast
Developing a truly customer-centric business is perhaps the most fool-proof way to make sure that you do not get blindsided by a "killer app", or a technology-driven consumer trend that drives you out of business. No matter whether you're a manufacturer, or a local retail establishment, you can find out what your customers want, and use that knowledge to establish a robust dialogue with them.
Being customer-centric can also help you keep an eye on the new breed of competitor; a competitor who is not nominally in "your industry", and yet proceeds to put you out of business because they are substitutes for the same "end benefit" that your products or services deliver to the marketplace.