Futurology and Embracing Change – Five Business Trends

The uncertain economy and the exponential growth of the internet are changing the way we work. For employee and entrepreneur, small business owner and CEO alike, looking into the future and looking for trends will help you adapt. Here is a list of five trends that we think will affect business practices in the near future.

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Voice Recognition Software

For people who like to work on the move or, through arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or other medical conditions find typing difficult, speech recognition technology is proving to be extremely useful. Undoubtedly, many people who used voice recognition applications in the past will remember that they weren’t particularly good, and had the annoying habit of turning your carefully crafted words into a language vaguely resembling English.

The current generation of programs is much improved, with a very low rate of error depending on the speaker’s voice and accent. Applications such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking and LumenVox are leading the way, with versions aimed at everyone from home users to medical professionals.

Voice recognition software isn’t quite accurate enough for creating finished, publishable documents, but it can easily handle a rough draft or a quick staff memo/email, where the odd typo isn’t going to make a real difference. Researchers are currently designing voice recognition applications that can detect human emotion, a very interesting concept.

Reversing the Flow: Changes in Advertising

Traditionally, advertising used to be the domain of high-powered consultants, using think tanks stuffed with creative types creating powerful advertising campaigns designed to increase brand awareness. Blue-sky thinking, paradigm changes, thinking outside the box, and a host of other 1980s management buzz phrases were the order of the day.

The influence of internet buying analytics and research into customer psychology is changing this top-down process. Instead of looking to cascade ideas downwards, advertisers are increasingly looking at what the customers are actually doing, using this as a basis for campaigns.

Online advertising, where every click a customer makes is recorded, have aided detailed analysis of buying habits, forcing advertising executives to adjust their role. They look at this information and use it to design customer-centered campaigns, strategies and tactics from the bottom up, incorporating feedback and detailed analytics.

Location and Geo-Targeting

The internet has already changed the way in which businesses operate, and many are still struggling to adapt to the online world. Just as they developed methods for engaging a global audience, the increase in mobile browsing is threatening to reverse this trend.

Search engines have already incorporated geo-targeting as they seek to match people with services in their local area, so online businesses and marketers cannot afford to ignore their local market. The global is becoming the local.

Some advertisers have already started to use GPS data to target certain locations, and this shift towards localized advertising provides opportunities for local businesses. For example, a restaurant can build their web advertising strategy around their local area, reaching out to people using their mobile phone to find a nearby place to eat.

Downsizing and Opportunity

Considering the current insanity pervading the world financial markets, the economy is going to have a huge effect on the way that businesses operate. Most businesses are having to cut costs, and many are trying to incorporate flexibility into their structure, allowing them to react to changing circumstances.

Finding full time jobs is becoming more difficult, because many organizations prefer to issue part-time contracts, giving them the opportunity to increase and decrease wage spend as demand fluctuates. Outsourcing to small businesses is growing, providing a more cost-effective way of getting certain tasks done than using full time departments.

Naturally, for small businesses and freelancers, this trend could be a positive, with a sharp increase in the amount of contracts available. By the end of 2011, WhichLance.com predicts that freelancers will account for at least $150 million of business spending, and this figure will grow.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
– Peter F. Drucker

Open Source – Are the Corporate Computing Dinosaurs Facing Extinction?

Every few years, Open Source Software and analytical tools have been touted as a threat to the old order, offering cost-effective alternatives to standard business software. Usually, the clamor dies down and Open Source once again fails to upset the old school. With a few honorable exceptions, such as Firefox, open source products always seemed to lack something and people would continue to fork out hundreds of dollars for an established brand.

Finally, the tide is turning, and open source is starting to make inroads into the computing market, matching the quality and practicality of commercial products. Huge organizations have used open applications such as Linux, MySQL, Apache, and Firefox for years, but this trend is trickling downwards to affect small and medium businesses.

Rather than spend a small fortune on licensing for anti-virus software, Avast and AVG are proving themselves to be just as robust as commercial offerings. OpenOffice is closing the gap on Microsoft Office for word-processing and spreadsheet applications, and GnuCash is developing free account/invoice software that is perfectly adequate for small businesses and the self-employed.

Most of us are going to encounter open source applications at home, at work, or on the move, and this is an area ripe with potential.

The New Decade Unfolds

These are just a few of the trends that we think will affect business in the coming years, although futurology has a habit of throwing up the unexpected. One thing is certain: Current practices will change, and the key is to see change as opportunity rather than a challenge.

If these trends come to pass, they will carry their own set of difficulties and a steep learning curve. However, they also give us new ways to succeed, innovative methods for working efficiently, and fresh markets to explore. The future isn’t as scary as it seems, despite what the media likes us to believe.

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”
– George Bernard Shaw

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