Howard Smith

Main SMB technology trends for 2012

A webcast recently hosted by ZDNET has pinpointed the technological trends that will affect small businesses in 2012. Among the things mentioned there were: the rise of the mobile and the cloud- computing, the progress towards a paperless office and the consumerisation of the IT. Here’s a brief and objective overview of these trends. You decide whether these are accurate predictions or not and whether you already see them happening or they are a little bit far-fetched.

1) The mobile

Everybody would agree to the idea that smartphones are a revolutionary tool for SMB owners due to the variety of apps available, enabling them to manage their businesses on the go. 60% of ZDNET’s poll respondents considered the pervasiveness of the mobile an increasingly important trend in 2012, placing it at the top of the list for a 2nd year in a row.

“There’s an app for everything“ they say but panelists raise attention to the potential risk of being “locked into an app“ or not being able to recover your data once you decide not to use that app. Investigate the matter before you invest into an app.

Of course, if the mobile is an important tool for you chances are that it is so for your customers as well. SMS campaigns enable you to direct your message straight to the mobile phones of your target audience.

2) Portability

Or in other words the ability to ’transport’ your information on and across mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, USB drives, servers and everything in between. Even though this might seem somehow extreme, some businesses might adopt a “desktop-less” approach in the coming year if their employees use only “light” applications (like Word, a web-browser and an email application). This trend too was mentioned last year, when IT commentators from J. Gold Associates predicted that laptops will slowly replace PCs by 2013. ZDNET panelists take a slightly more balanced approach, saying that it all depends on the type of the business.

They also drew attention to the risk associated with another movement- the Bring Your Own Device approach that could imply losing your data together with your staff. If all your data is stored on your staff’s personal devices what happens when they leave the company? What can you do to recover your data completely? Despite the fact that BYOD seems an attractive option for the SMB’s not wanting to invest resources in laptops and mobile phones, the companies adopting it must assess the risks carefully.

The better alternative is storing your data in cloud-based applications and giving and/or denying access to your employees as needed. That’s the idea behind digitalsignage.NET. We store your data for you in the ’‘cloud’’ (on one of Amazon’s servers) so that only those you give access to can access it. In our case, we store the media files of our users that then gets displayed on digital information displays in their locations. As one of the panelists said, control and security are ’’not something to joke about“.

This approach makes even more sense given the fact that we tend to work across desktops anyway and we will do so even more in 2012. Hosting data in the ’‘cloud’’ implies that you can access it from any location provided that there is an Internet connection available.

3) Displays

We’re particularly thrilled about this trend, given the fact that we produce a software for digital advertising displays. David Gawirtz, the editor of ZDNET foresees an augmented use of displays by small businesses to communicate to their various target audiences when “captive” (they spend a while in their locations). As the technology (formally known as digital signage) has become cheaper every year (thanks to SaaS services and the decrease in the price of screens), more and more small businesses make it part of their marketing and communications (see how our customers are using it). At the end of the day, its use decreases the consumption of paper which brings us to the next point.

4) Going paperless

In 2012? Really? No, not really but printing has become a secondary support activity, panelists note. Marketing communications in particular have gone “digital“ due to the cost-efficiency of the medium and the user-friendliness of the tools it offers. Indoor digital signs for exampl****e, allow you to update your communications in almost real-time without having to incur the cost of printing and replacing posters. A screen on a wall could be used to advertise your latest promotions, new products or services and whatever information you may want to show, whenever this matters the most (mornings, afternoons, on a particular day of the week). The flexibility of digital media cannot be matched by its printed counterparty and it also comes at a lower cost.

In 2012, more SMB’s are expected to outsource imaging services given the fact that they don’t need printing services as much as they used to. This will enable them to cut down the costs of supplies and remove the hassle of managing this side of the business themselves.

The summary would not be complete without mentioning social media as a major SMB trend for the year ahead. This will continue to be adopted by the companies that haven’t done so yet as more and more efforts are put into it making it more measurable and lucrative. The panelists highlighted its customer-relationship building potential rather than its advertising one. At the end of the day, being ‘social’ means being helpful and conversational instead of just wanting to ’‘sell’’. We have advised our end-users on several occassions to post their social media updates on their video screens as a way to promote their social channels and make their content more interesting and lively.

Here are the two main ideas we’ve got from the webcast-

1) The Internet collapses distances allowing small and medium businesses to reach a much wider audience than before scattered around a larger geographic area. This was a priviledge once reserved to large corporations only. Take the example of digital signage that via remote displays, allows an organisation to reach prospects miles away from itself, with the click of your mouse.

2) “We no longer live in one environment“ which means that we should be able to move our data across platforms, applications and devices. You no longer depend on your desktop PC to check your emails, you can read and reply to them from your laptop, tablet or mobile device. You don’t have to be in your office to update your website or your digital information displays. You can do it from home, even from another country using (to a certain extent) whatever Internet-enabled devices you can access. This will enable SMB’s to establish a harmonised communication strategy online, offline and, on-mobile.

If you wish to find out more about the usefulness of digital information displays as location-based communication tools, download our white papers or contact us for a free consulation.

Dynamax Technologies is one of the longest standing digital signage companies worldwide. Our digital signage software solutions have been used by the largest media companies such as Clear Channel and JCDecaux as well as by smaller organisations such as Merseyrail or East End Foods. Learn more about us here.

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