Five small business technology trends for the year ahead

Red mouse with technology icons sticking out of it

Digital technology has already begun changing the way we do business, but what’s in store for 2012? Dr. Hugh Bradlow, Telstra’s chief technology officer, delivers his five predictions for the 2012 small business technology landscape.

No-one doubts that the explosion of digital technology has produced a fundamental shift in the global economy. What’s less visible is how Australian small to medium businesses (SMBs) have embraced this change and embedded it into their own practices.

Ninety-five percent of Australian SMBs are internet-connected and on average they do 34 percent of their procurement online, according to the latest Sensis e-Business Report. Other research for Telstra shows six-in-ten SMBs allow their staff to work from home and 34 percent have workers who spend more time away from the office than in it.

We live in a highly mobile world. Half of Australian SMBs use mobile broadband and 46 percent of all mobile phones are smartphones that can access e-mail and the mobile Internet.

So here are five predictions for information and communication technology for Australian small businesses in 2012:

1. Unified Communications

A good definition of Unified Communications is allowing all forms of digital communication – voice, video, documents, messages, whiteboards – between communicating parties whichever device they are using.

Today, Unified Communications is primarily achieved by the users combining their phone with their PC, but increasingly smartphones that bring e-mail, voice calls, SMS and the Internet together are a flexible way of doing Unified Communications.

In 2012 we’re going to see a dramatic rise in the use of Unified Communications in small businesses as it becomes simpler and affordable.

Telstra has already announced an out-of-the-box product called Digital Business, which combines high-speed fixed broadband and high-definition broadband telephony that works seamlessly with mobiles and cloud software.

It is designed for businesses with up to five employees and means a phone need never go unattended and an answering machine message should never be lost.

This product is smart enough to forward a call to a mobile, home phone or business handset, and archive voicemails on a PC. All of a business’s valuable data is stored on a remote server so it need never be lost.

2. Faster Networks

Of those Aussie small businesses already using mobile broadband, 88 percent say speed is “important” or “very important.” It’s no surprise, then, that almost nine-in-ten are interested in switching to the new ultra-fast broadband 4G LTE.

In late 2011, Telstra became the first telco in Australia to roll-out 4G LTE and that’s continuing apace into 2012.

Telstra USB 4G mobile broadband modem customers in 4G coverage areas can enjoy typical download speeds up to 2 times faster than earlier 3G devices. .

This is a game-changer that will drive SMBs to reassess how they use mobility in their working lives – especially as we will be releasing 4G-capable smartphones and tablets in the New Year.

Telstra 4G coverage is initially available in all capital city CBD’s (within 5km of the GPO), associated airports and selected regional locations (within 3km of the town centre) and automatically switches to our fastest 3G network speeds available in other coverage areas.

3. Videoconferencing

Faster broadband has made high-quality videoconferencing a reality but until recently, it was the preserve of big business because of its high cost.

Higher speeds and more powerful computers are allowing us to do much more and videoconferencing is becoming an important business tool that’s much more affordable for small business.

Some 45 percent of SMBs say they regularly have meetings with suppliers, clients and other key people and almost nine-in-ten would rather do this face-to-face than by landline or email.

Videoconferencing will become very attractive for those SMBs that want to be more productive – especially since the maxim of time being money is still true and the cost of travel is rising.

4. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been a buzz-word in business for a couple of years. It means using a secure server located and operated by someone else to use applications, store data or do computing work.

Cloud allows small businesses to enjoy the same advantages as big businesses, for a fraction of the cost and without large up-front licence-fees or hardware costs.

The shift of business to the cloud has been gathering momentum. Of the customers using Telstra’s own cloud software portal, T-Suite, a stunning 98 percent are SMBs. That customer base grew 110 per cent in less than nine months.

In the next year, cloud will make sense to even more SMBs and there will be a dramatic spike in its uptake.

5. Mobile Comparison Shopping

Smartphones are becoming a bargain shopper’s best friend in the USA, UK and Japan – and not just to call around.

Free applications like RedLaser make it easy to photograph a product’s barcode, have it automatically uploaded to a database and see a range of comparative prices from other outlets within seconds. RedLaser has next to no Australian product content right now but that will change.

We’ve already seen one major supermarket chain introduce its own barcode comparison app and more will follow.

In 2012, smartphone comparison shopping will throw down a challenge for SMBs to promote their own attributes online, using mobile-optimised web presences.

Many are already using the internet to increase productivity – our research shows greater than one-in-five has a website reaping an average of 41 percent of total turnover.