Emerging Technologies in 2014

Last month, we laid out nineteen questions that businesses should be asking themselves about their technology infrastructure. We will be sharing some thoughts on each of these questions throughout the first half of 2014. We welcome your reactions, questions, and thoughts.

Question: What are the emerging technologies that could potentially drive higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in my organization that I need to know about?

Popular mythology holds that “the future is now,” but this is more truism than truth. William Gibson’s take was more accurate when he said “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.” The challenge we all face is to discover where on the technology curve we’re most comfortable: the bleeding edge, mainstream adoption, or trailing with the tried and true—and where on that continuum we objectively have decided that our business requires us to be. The problem, and the essential point that Gibson makes, is that the distance between the leading and trailing edges is growing shorter. The need to keep abreast is increasingly apparent, and the window for decision-making is brief. Increasingly, businesses should consider enlisting a trusted partner and advocate who is well-versed in technology to help guide the way.

Two of the most significant modern technologies that command our attention—and our decision-making—are the Cloud, and, in the retail space,  Mobile Point of Sale (MPOS) solutions. Each of these areas can have immediate—and potentially dramatic—impacts on business health and viability. Let’s begin 2014 by looking at these emerging technologies more closely.

The Cloud

“The Cloud,” in fact, is nothing of the kind. Again, it’s popular mythology—a way of simplifying and encapsulating a staggeringly complex universe of interconnected and mutually-reinforcing technologies: a vast network of remote-access servers connected to you, and to each other, by the Internet.

For our purposes, however, what the cloud can do is far more important than what it actually is. For most applications, the cloud functions as storage—unlimited, offsite, rapidly accessible storage. It’s your computer hard drive on steroids, resident in a world-class data center, and replete with round-the-clock oversight monitoring performance continuously. It’s your local server farm taken offsite, but behaving with the speed and responsiveness of local machinery. It’s a software installed base that is always current. It is the elimination of daily worry related to your IT infrastucture; it’s piece of mind in an emergency.

Cloud computing is already well on its way to revolutionizing the way we use technology. Because the cloud permits you to access your data from any device connected to the web, local hardware no longer need do the all the heavy lifting. Think of it as a migration of intelligence from your desktop to the network itself. Mundane matters of data storage, retrieval, and presentation become the purview of browser-based “thin clients,” which manage the flow of information between the desktop and the cloud. This frees your local resources to handle compute-intensive tasks, and extends the life of older hardware by distributing a portion of the computational burden.

One of the most popular uses of cloud technology is cloud storage, which allows data to be stored, accessed, and managed remotely. However, all good cloud storage systems and most providers offer more than just the space you need for your data; they also offer multi-platform support, app integration, trustworthy security, and quality service. Business continuity solutions are perhaps the best example. With a cloud-based solution, you don’t have to worry about losing your information in a fire or a freak beverage accident. With a few clicks and an Internet connection, you can recover any or all of your data from virtually anywhere in the world.

Cloud storage applications such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and every conceivable modern e-mail client are all prime examples of the cloud at work as an ordinary storage mechanism. A cloud-based system can conceivably host anything, however—not just your files and your email—and most of the major software manufacturers offer cloud-based applications solutions as well. This is known as Software as a Service (SaaS), and examples include Google Apps, Apple’s iCloud, and Microsoft’s Office 365. Cloud computing applications usually manage their own local installation and maintenance functions, and offer both operating system- and browser-based user interface access. The latter is becoming increasingly popular as a way of standardizing across heterogenous hardware and software platforms, and can be particularly attractive to businesses with older legacy desktop hardware and software.

In short, cloud computing solutions can transform your business operations at a fraction of the cost of modernizing your entire desktop and server environment.

Mobile Point of Sale

Mobile Point of Sale (MPOS) technology isn’t quite synonymous with the cloud itself, but it balances perfectly on the cutting edge of cloud technology, and has therefore revolutionized—or is in the process of revolutionizing—the entire retail business industry. MPOS differs from traditional point of sale solutions in that it utilizes wireless communications and the cloud in such a way as to make each business transaction quick, painless, secure, and reliable. Good MPOS is faster than cash, and substantially easier for a business to manage.

When a business utilizes a MPOS system, efficiency skyrockets. Private vendors and large corporations alike have rid themselves completely of outdated machinery, such as cash registers and receipt printers, and instead have substituted portable computer hardware like tablets and smartphones. This allows for lightning-fast, streamlined service from the employee, and minimal wait times for the customer. This has resulted in increased sales, decreased abandonment rates, and a vastly improved customer experience.

Like many cloud storage applications, MPOS systems usually involve downloading a unique application on the hardware platform of choice. When using a portable computer, for example, additional hardware such as card readers or swipers may be needed—although some systems have adopted what has become known as “contact-free payment.” These range from chipped cards that eliminate the need for a card swipe, to the ability to simply wave your mobile phone in the near-field vicinity of a designated terminal. Customized MPOS options allow for tailored transactions as well; the POS app, for example, when activated at a particular business outlet, might list special offers or coupons based on a customer’s shopping history. In fact, the entire concept of Mobile Point of Sale can effectively eliminate the actual geographic point at which a sale is made. The entire store becomes the cash register.

Overall

The cloud (and its subsequent uses) is rapidly snowballing into a de facto technology standard in the business world, and that means that its business advantages are too compelling to overlook. In a world that prizes innovation, utilizing cutting edge technologies can be as important for business as it is for the customer, and MPOS is the poster child example of a cloud-enabled technology that can transform business operation.

2014 promises to be a year full of continued revolutionary advancements We will continue to share our thoughts on the 19 questions that all businesses should be asking concerning their IT infrastructure throughout the first half of 2014. If we can assist you as you think through your business and the IT infrastructure needed to support it please contact me by clicking here.