Monday, December 15, 2008

The Changing Landscape of Business

I agree, ladies and gentlemen - it is lovely chart. Yet if you look at the fine print at the bottom of the graphic above, you'll notice that the numbers are fake. I wanted to point that out to you before we start so we collectively agree this is an overly optimistic chart. 

But what about the charts that we've been reading over the past three months? It probably looks something like this:

As usual, the truth exists somewhere in the middle. Let's begin...

Over the past two months, we have been inundated with every possible scenario involving the recent crash of the financial industry, and the subsequent ripple effects that have affected businesses worldwide as a result. Just last night I was speaking with a very wise gentleman - a retired attorney - who predicts that 2009 is going to be a very difficult year for most of us.

As we absorb more gloom and doom, as well as hope and optimism, we start to gather a clearer picture of what will really occur in the coming year, and how these occurrences will change the landscape of business. I think you would agree with me when I say that this knowledge will be vital in helping us to not only survive, but thrive in the economic downturn.

Below are five predictions that we have regarding the changing landscape of business, from the perspective of a bunch of web geeks. We hope that this will help you to set your sails properly during the coming storm (I would say the "perfect storm"; but if you recall, George Clooney didn't fare too well during that whole thing...and we'd like you to make it to the other side of the shore).

  1. The death of the corporate website - When I read this a few weeks ago, I started panicking and worrying that Rockland Web Design should start offering coffee and sandwiches as a side business. But the good news is that websites with social interactivity will thrive in the next 3 to 5 years. This means that you will hear less of "We pride ourselves in our outstanding customer service, and commitment to quality", and more objective reviews.
    - Reviews of products and services by consumers (Increasing customer service by company)
    - Testimonials from satisfied and unsatisfied clients (increasing company focus on quality)
    - Collaboration: clients will be encouraged to interact on websites, thereby making them more involved with the parent company and subtly encouraging their brand

    So I'm not worried anymore. 

  2. Networking: online and offline - At our last ProMetroNet event, we saw people networking that we hadn't seen in months, even years. The sudden seismic shift of the economic landscape has certainly lit a fire under the pants of business persons looking to find more business. Online, popular Social Networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook added new features that allow a more effective and efficient online experience. My new favorite is the PowerPoint tool, which allows your company to upload presentations to your LinkedIn profile using Google Documents (call me and I'll explain). My buddy Chris Keller from Liberty Tax was very jazzed when he saw this, and plans to upload a plethora of materials. So...are you doing any Social Networking these days? :-)

  3. The (further) rise of the mobile workforce - Having a cool laptop and an iPhone 3G is just the beginning. Imagine a world where your workforce is spread out over thousands of miles, and any one of your (trusted) employees can log into a central location and access data to get their work done, as well as use the programs that help them to work. Impossible? Not any more. Buzzwords such as web video conferencing, data centers, cloud computing and unified communications will translate into a new work experience like we have never experienced before. It will also change the landscape of offices and production facilities, as there will be less need for office workers to make the two-hour commute each day to New York City; rather, they can put little Johnny on the school bus, go for a jog, have breakfast and log into the company's intranet at 8:30 am. It also means that this new workforce will need to be more disciplined than ever to get their tasks done each day. This means NOT spending more than the necessary time allotted for Facebook and LinkedIN. 

  4. Security - For you IT people that are worried about where your company's data is going (did little Johnny accidentally bring the company financials to show and tell?), new security protocols will help to ensure sensitive information and programs are kept on lock down, unless properly "checked out" by an authorized user. This also means that the network will need to beef up external threat monitoring procedures - your Norton Antivirus program probably won't be cutting it anymore.

  5. Advertising changes - for the big one. We've been tracking the demise of the yellow pages for several years now. And while we won't see the print advertisement go away anytime soon, we will notice that companies such as ourselves to turn toward online advertising in droves. The reason can be summarized in two words: measurable results. Statistics software already allows company to track very detailed information such as user visits, most popular content on a website, keywords used to find a website, even the location of each visitor (not down to what part of the house they are checking you out from...that's too much - only narrowed down to city and state.

    In a nutshell, businesses will be able to track their more popular products and services, and refine their marketing strategy based on the wealth of data - all for significantly less than the cost of a full page spread in the local newspaper.
For those of you that are still focused on the gloom and doom of the coming year, remember two things: 

First, whether you love him or hate him, our incoming President is the first Commander in Chief to fully embrace the power of the web - considering it was a major factor in his election. And while you won't see Mr. Obama in a one-on-one online conference anytime soon, I imagine that this full embrace of the web will encourage businesses to adopt technologies that help them to stay competitive in the coming years. 

Secondly, at the beginning of the industrial revolution many critics complained that our society will not survive the advent of machinery replacing humans for repetitive labor. Now, over 100 years later, we are going through a similar period of cutbacks. While economical workforce and business adjustments are necessary from time to time - don't just yet buy into the idea that our economy is wrecked beyond reproach and cannot recover. For every setback that does not mesh with your business model, find a way to embrace the advancement that has emerged in its place. Nothing is set in stone right now, including our business plans. Stay fast and flexible, and your company will thrive.

I will get off my soapbox now.


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