Technology makes the business world go round. It has enabled a new generation of entrepreneurs, using the latest digital technology, to disrupt old ways of doing business, while streamlining business operations and processes in more established enterprises.
It is has become such a fundamental part of modern business life it’s hard to believe that just 30 years ago, entrepreneurs were starting up in business without a computer, mobile phone or Internet connection in sight.
Before the dawn of the PC era, computing was expensive and restricted to mainframes that required a team of intermediaries; analysts, programmers and operators, to get stuff done, explains Ian Truscott, channel director at digital agency MRM Meteorite.
He says: "The PC, email and the mobile phone gave the entrepreneur an instant office. With word processing and self-publishing tools, a start-up could look like a billion dollar business with an accounting department that is simply a spread sheet application."
The start of the technology revolution that transformed business can be traced back to the early 1980s, when the mobile phone, MS–DOS and the Apple Macintosh made their debuts. And for Rob Hunter, founder and managing director of Hunterlodge Advertising it was that era of 80’s tech that changed everything.
He says: "I set up my company in 1987 from a portakabin and apart from having to build a dark room to help make printing plates, the only other thing I needed was a telephone. At that time BT quoted eight weeks to put a telephone line in, which was a start-up killing. The only way I could operate was by leasing something called a cell phone, aka a house brick, with the cost almost busting us immediately."
But, within the space of a year, Hunter was substituting his drawing boards for Apple classics and IICX4/80 CIs, and implementing the technology that had the biggest impact on his business operations, the graphical user interface (GUI).
He says: "Although this was innovated in the early 1970s, it wasn’t until the brilliant engineers at Apple, led by Steve Jobs, applied the technology to their computers in the 1980s and prompted the start of what was soon to become my ‘couldn’t live without’. I’m not sure I knew it directly at the time but, looking back, the GUI, and the technologies it spawned throughout the 1990s and onwards, enabled me to streamline all of my business processes, giving me more time to make my business successful."
Communication has always been a quintessential part of business operations, and the ability to connect effectively across long distances can be a catalyst for success, especially in today’s global marketplace. It explains why the telephone became such an important business tool, followed by the fax, then email in the early 1980s, and the current suite of messaging tools apps and systems that entrepreneurs have at their disposal today.
For Howard Williams, marketing director of Parker Software the advent of email was one of the most significant milestones in the evolution of business communications.
He says: "Email had a huge impact on the business landscape because it broke down the international barriers to communication and trade that had existed previously. There were no expensive phone bills to pay for communicating with a single person or, more importantly, several people simultaneously."
By the early 90s, the digital mobile phone and the digital answering machine – voicemail - had arrived, along with the Pentium processor, which transformed the personal computing space and the speed at which work could get done. By the middle of the decade, CD ROMs had become familiar, and a computer language known as Java was shaping the look of webpages in the exciting new world of the internet.
As a new century dawned, the next generation of hardware, software and social media platforms were also making an appearance. Facebook, Firefox, and YouTube, were launched, followed by Twitter, and in 2007, the iPhone. In recent years, businesses have embraced cloud technology, taking flexible working, collaboration and virtual meetings to a new level.
Dr Peter Chadha, CEO of business consultancy DrPete Technology Experts says: "Microsoft 365 or Google Apps for Work for document collaboration with video conferencing on Google Hangouts make remote working more productive and achievable. The Trello or Slack project management software, where a number of people can interact on the same thing at the same time without needing the constant to and fro of versioning, has also transformed the delivery of major projects by teams working remotely, often in different locations."
As for the technology that businesses will embrace in the next few years, all the buzz is around robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) that uses deep thinking algorithms to create robots that will free people up from the mundane elements of their work - and some of the not so mundane. In Japan, robots are already being deployed in hotels and shops to greet customers and perform routine tasks and services.
From bookkeeping to manufacturing, the rise of the robot could mean the days of employing people to complete the VAT returns or man a production line could become a thing of the past. In the not too distant future, says Chadha, robots could be taking notes in meetings, and ensuring that key points are followed up and recorded.
He says: "These same robots could also assess your physiological state, give you a back massage, encourage you to be more mobile, or send you to the doctors."
However, robots can only do what has been ‘explained’ to them, and while they seem increasingly adept at emulating human behaviours, technology still has some way to go before it can produce a robot that is truly creative and innovative, leaving entrepreneurs feeling relatively safe - for now.