Tech Trends to Ignore
As I grow older, it seems like I get ignored more often. Much more.
My wife, who used to be so attentive to my needs, barely listens to half of what I say. My kids, now in middle school, stare at me blankly when I ask about their homework (but perk up entirely when they need pizza money). The guy at the Verizon Wireless store couldn't care less when I complain that not as many people can hear me now.
It's no different at work. Customers don't pay me when I ask. Vendors don't deliver until I yell. Employees don't listen to my instructions. I'm ignored a lot.
Small business owners like me are used to this. But that doesn't mean we can't fight back. So let's do some ignoring too. I know of a few ballyhooed technology trends that are worth ignoring, at least for this year. Yes, a few may be worthwhile down the road. But for now, stay focused on other stuff.
• Radio Frequency ID (RFID). Your spouse goes to the supermarket and stocks up on the usual: Mallomars, Doritos, frozen pizza, and of course Diet Pepsi. Then he or she walks the cart through a scanner, like at the airport. Because the products have these microscopic RFID chips on them, the scanner immediately calculates a total. As the shopper pays, the supermarket's inventory updates automatically. That's how it's supposed to work. I call it the Mallomar test, and when RFID can pass, the technology will matter to small businesses. Right now, big corporations like Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Target (TGT), and Pfizer (PFE) are trying to use RFID (BusinessWeek.com, 10/9/06). It hasn't been easy or cheap. Many smaller companies can ignore RFID until the technology matures and comes down in price.
• Virtualization. The American Heritage Dictionary defines virtual as "existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name." In other words, it doesn't exist. Bull's-eye! Software companies are all a-twitter because they can now create "virtual" systems (each running different applications) and then house all of those virtual systems on one computer. The technology is designed as a way to make more efficient use of computers. It's taking hold in corporate land, where server rooms with hundreds of computers are now being replaced by fewer supercomputers that can now run more applications in a "virtual" environment (BusinessWeek.com, 9/25/07). But we small businesses don't need to run Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook in a virtual world. We can barely get it to work right in the real world. This technology needs more time before it makes sense for small business.
• Software as a Service. Software as a Service (SaaS) often refers to software that's leased over the Web from and hosted by an outside vendor, such as Salesforce.com (CRM) and NetSuite (N). Software in this form makes sense for certain customers—among them, trusting souls comfortable letting other companies hold onto their data; honest, hard-working people who believe the Internet is completely reliable and that data will be secure and can be retrieved regardless of what happens to their provider; business owners who are O.K. paying a monthly amount per user that generally winds up being more expensive over time than purchasing a system outright. Then there are the rest of us—cynical, slothful, apathetic, and miserable. We don't trust anyone—especially with customer and financial data. For SaaS, the jury's still out. But keep an eye on it nonetheless.
• Apple. We all agree that Intuit (INTU), the maker of Quickbooks, has a lot of small business customers. So why doesn't Intuit sell a multi-user version of Quickbooks for the Mac? Simple. Most small businesses, other than printers or design firms, aren't using the Mac. There's more choice in Microsoft Windows business applications. And there are fewer IT firms providing Mac support. It takes too much effort to be a rebel. So we cave and use Microsoft. But watch out. Those Apple Store geniuses are going to have their day. Every high school and college kid I know has grown up on iPods, Macs, and other Apple (AAPL) products that are just plain better than products made by Microsoft. And when they run their own companies in just a few short years, what do you think they'll be asking for? You won't be ignoring Apple in the future.
• Anything Green. In the '70s we were running out of oil. In the '80s we had to save the whales. In the '90s our attention turned to the depleted rain forests. Now it's all about global warming. Is your business doing what it can for the environment? Do you demand that all of your employees drive hybrid vehicles? Have you installed solar panels to conserve energy? No? Then join the rest of us who want nothing more than to ruin the earth with our decadent and destructive business practices. Do we not care about the environment? Yes, but not enough to waste money on this year's fire drill. If you can find a technology that helps the environment and is good for your business then go for it. And please let me know too, as I'm still trying to find it.
• Facebook and MySpace (NWS). Take five minutes and check one of them out. Lots of people having fun, fun, fun! Big business is trying hard to figure out a way to make money from these sites. No one's really done it yet. Unless you're hawking Hannah Montana memorabilia, there's not going to be much of an audience for your product here. Small businesses should ignore these places for now. Want to join a great networking site with business benefits? Try Linkedin.com or Plaxo.com.
• Open-Source Software. Sure, open-source software may be "free," but the propeller-heads you need to actually get it working, customized, and supported aren't. Spending time customizing a software product, just because it's "open source," doesn't mean that time is well spent. Business owners should stick to the boring, off-the-shelf stuff for now.
• Windows XP. It's time to start ignoring Windows XP, too. Like it or not, the Microsoft operating system for businesses won't be sold after June 30. We are going to be forced to drink the Vista Kool-Aid. It still starts up slow. It still doesn't work with all devices. It will require a server with more memory than an elephant. But hey, now we get to see our invoices in 3D! And we'll all feel so much more secure, too, right? Whoever said that life gets more complex the older you get definitely works at Microsoft. Goodbye XP and Godspeed. We'll miss you.
• Microsoft and Yahoo. Frankly, we really don't care about Microsoft's attempt to buy Yahoo (YHOO) (BusinessWeek.com, 2/1/08). Let us know when it's all sorted out. Then we'll Google (GOOG) the story.
• Virtual Worlds. There's been a lot of hype around virtual societies like Second Life. Some big companies are taking this stupidity seriously and buying "real estate" to advertise products (BusinessWeek, 5/1/06). These are the same big companies that spend big money on overpriced consultants and gold-painted corporate jets. Small business owners should ignore these virtual worlds—until they find a way for a virtual guy named "Knuckles" to beat the stuffing out of a real-life delinquent customer.