As we move into the next century, experts agree that technology and small business will undoubtedly become synonymous. As more entrepreneurs harness technology's power to lower costs, increase productivity and level the playing field, there will be far fewer technology have-nots and far more tech-savvy entrepreneurs and employees. Consequently, the experts challenge entrepreneurs to embrace technology, if they haven't already, and to prepare for the future.
"Right now, there are 20th-century entrepreneurs and 21st-century entrepreneurs. It's a mind-set," says Daniel Burrus, a technology forecaster and author of Technotrends: How to Use Technology to Go Beyond Your Competition (HarperBusiness). "Those becoming 21st-century entrepreneurs are beginning to look at using technology to compete on a new plane and to use the tools to change the rules of the game."
What technologies will prevail in the next 20 years, and how will you be using them? Predicting what will be around is anyone's guess because, in technology years, 20 years is an eternity. However, industry experts offer these best guesses--and far-out predictions--for technologies small business will use in the year 2017.
Intelligent agents: These software programs can be set up to retrieve detailed information or perform specific tasks automatically. While you're tending to your business, intelligent agents will be behind the scenes booking your airplane flight, scanning articles for precise information or monitoring changes in world oil prices.
Virtual reality: This includes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional virtual reality experiences. A Web site could contain your 3-D virtual store, which customers with computers, virtual reality gloves and goggles could "enter." Specialized software would simulate experiences as if customers were walking around the store, picking up the merchandise and sampling it.
Supercomputers: Expect very powerful computers that handle virtual reality, text-to-speech capabilities (such as turning a faxed document into a speech message retrieved via telephone), and speech-to-text capabilities (such as dictating a letter over the phone). Computers already in development have rudimentary text-to-speech capabilities; in the near future, this technology will become far more advanced.
Sophisticated presentation tools: Thin, flat-panel displays similar to TV screens could be used to display advertisements; holographic images could be projected in midair to help an audience visualize your product.
Advanced expert systems: These software programs capture people's expertise, convert it into a set of rules, and apply those rules to problem solving. Industry experts could clone their knowledge and make it available to others to solve dilemmas or improve processes without an on-site consultant.
Of course, while these future technologies sound intriguing, what's truly exciting are the changes they'll likely bring to your business. Suffice it to say, technology companies, small businesses and industry experts alike are bubbling over with optimism about the benefits technology will bring down the road. Perhaps Straus puts it best: "I'm bullish on technology and all it will do for small business in the future."