The Next Big Thing? These Are 5 Technologies My Clients Are Begging For
Gene Marks ,
I write about technology developments for small business owners.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Note: this post mentions companies that are clients and partners of my company. I was not compensated to write this post.
Wearable tech. 3D printing. Space travel. Low energy transmissions. Mobile payments.
Nope. No one I know is begging for this stuff. Not that they’re not important or potentially lucrative. These are all the cool things we read about every day that are promised to soon change our lives. Startups across the country are receiving millions to finance these and other similar innovations. But it’s still a big gamble. Who knows what will be the next big thing? I wish I had millions to invest. Because I wouldn’t need to take those kinds of risks. I think the “next big thing” is very obvious. Actually there are five big things. I know this by listening to my clients. And they are begging for help.
Last week I got together for a morning with fifteen other small business owners and managers to discuss technology issues that faced our businesses. The people in the room were my clients, partners or professional friends of mine from around the Philadelphia area. They represented companies that range in size from 30 to 250 employees. The event was organized and videoed by Xerox Corporation, another client of mine, who hired me to lead the conversation. They called it a “dreaming” discussion. Personally, I didn’t hear a lot of dreaming. I heard a lot of begging. Begging for help with existing technologies and searching for a better way to do things. That’s because these business owners and managers, like most of my clients, are struggling with technology. A recent study by online marketing firm Yodle confirmed this. I saw it and heard it loud and clear. Hey Silicon Valley, want a few sure-fire, less riskier investment ideas? Here are five problems suffered by millions of enterprises that are begging for help.
1. Easy Integration
Every client I know is struggling with duplicate data entry. They have multiple systems using different databases for accounting, inventory, customer relationship management (CRM), their website, etc. etc. They have been pieced together over the years. Some are cloud based. Most are on-premise. None of them talk to each other. The same data is input into multiple systems and is not consistently updated. “Links” provided by a few third party developers are weak and often go unsupported. Time is wasted. Everyone at the “dreaming” session had this problem. Everyone has failed to find that one-stop application that does it all. That solution doesn’t exist. No one had an alternative solution, short of hiring a developer to create bridges for an unknown cost and uncertain long term results. Sure, there are plenty of database tools available. But go ahead…you try using one. I dare you. Within an hour you’ll throw up your hands and ask for a consultant’s help. Does it have to be this complicated? Can someone come up with an inexpensive, easy to use tool that will bridge multiple databases and can be configured and maintained by a non-technical person?
2. Fast and secure mobile
No one in the room was succeeding at mobile. Some have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, others haven’t even considered it. About half supply company-owned devices to their employees. All are confused by the different choices dangled in front of them by Apple,Google and Microsoft. And the worst part? Speed. Slow connection speeds make even the coolest mobile app (and there are still a significant lack of those for enterprise use) difficult to work with. Mobile workers are hamstrung by slow connections from their mobile providers, overloaded routers at Starbucks and spotty access points at the airport. We need a faster and secure way for our mobile people to easily connect to our companies and I’m convinced that there’s a software solution for overcoming this problem. And the company that comes up with that platform-independent answer will make a lot of money for its investors.
3. Cheap Cloud.
By now most small companies understand what the cloud is. But judging from the participants in the session I conducted, few are fully going there. Some had fully cloud based applications, but most were still using their reliable on-premise solutions. Almost everyone had explored having these systems hosted by someone else in the cloud but were all held back because of the cost. It’s still around $100 per user per month, on average, to hire a cloud based service provider and this cost remains way too high for a typical business to make a change. Everyone agreed that it was cheaper just to buy another server. Small businesses want to move to the cloud. But it’s still too expensive. The company that figures out how to provide a cheap, secure, fast way to host existing applications in the cloud will hit a home run some day. Who will that be?
4. Social CRM
Among the fifteen companies represented that morning were manufacturers, distributors, IT firms, and software developers. They all used some type of CRM system. But less than a third of them actively used social media for their business. Nobody was tweeting, by the way. There still remains a significant disconnect between social media and CRM. Business owners and managers know that there are potential opportunities for them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But they don’t understand how to exploit those opportunities. They need something that will identify prospective and current customers with a need for their products on social media and then bring that opportunity’s contact and historical activities into their CRM system for follow-up and messaging. “Give me an application that will search and identify leads for me on Facebook and then automatically import that contact data into my CRM system so my sales guy can follow-up,” one participant begged.
5. Real Batteries
Admittedly I didn’t have the time to bring this topic up at the session, but I wish I did. So much time and money is being spent on little games and apps and tools to improve our lives. But I wonder if any of these entrepreneurs and their investors have been to an airport lately. Because there you’ll see people getting into fistfights over an available outlet to charge their mobile phone. Or at a Starbucks where outlets are at a premium. The best laptop batteries give 4-6 hours of time, barely enough for a cross-country flight. And the best electric cars won’t make it from Philly to New York without dying for a gasoline injection. It’s the batteries, stupid! Small businesses, big businesses, consumers…we all suffer from limited energy sources. Millions are being invested in companies that are creating hotels for pets and Dick Tracey watches when what most of us need to really be productive is an iPhone that can last all day without a charge.
In my opinion the real answers must come from the giants, like Microsoft, Apple or Google. Only they have the ability to distribute to the mass market of millions of businesses. But they’ll need the technology from someone. And that someone may already be out there. So maybe it’s not a technical problem. Maybe it’s just a marketing problem. In any case, I hope some smart investor is reading this. Because my clients are begging for help.
Besides Forbes, Gene Marks writes daily for The New York Times and weekly for Inc.com.
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