Great Expectations

Think your business technology is all that and a bag of microchips? Well, it's not. Chances are, you need an upgrade. Here's a preview of the technologies that will change the way your company works.

It's that time of year when we get the old crystal ball out of storage, polish it up, and try to divine where business technology is headed in 2005. We can definitely report that entrepreneurs won't be commuting with jet packs, and cleaning robots won't be standard in most offices. But technologies like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), tablet PCs, Ultrawideband (UWB), VoIP and Wi-Fi are poised to make news. More important, some of them will have an impact on your business.

Even a fine-toothed comb can't always help you separate hype from reality when it comes to emerging and growing technologies. With expert help, though, we'll try. Our star witness is Patrick Duparcq, professor at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana; director of the Center for e-Business Education and Research; and co-editor of the Krannert Technology Forecast, a yearly forecast of high technology trends. Now let's get started with VoIP.

VoIP

VoIP is one of those technologies that has been slowly creeping up on us for years. But now, with better voice quality, more widespread adoption of broadband, and a slew of service providers jumping on board, it's ready to charge out of the gate. Duparcq says that full-blown adoption of VoIP infrastructure in growing businesses will take a while, but partial solutions that integrate a business's current telephony hardware will be popular next year. "The bottom line is [that] the technology is approaching maturity," he says. "There are good standards now."

Entrepreneurs will do much more than save money on long-distance bills with VoIP. Extra features like find me/follow me, voice mails as e-mail attachments, and contact management software integration will improve productivity and streamline a lot of communications processes. Branch offices can be brought closer together, and it can all be done at a cost savings. It's also a fairly easy technology to scale up as your business grows.

Looks like 2005 will be the year VoIP starts to ramp up in businesses, and the following years will see greater adoption. Technology and market research firm ABI Research expects the market for hosted VoIP services to hit $36.5 billion by 2008. That's not far off. For more information, visit national service providers like Net2Phoneand Vonage, or check for a local or regional provider. If you're looking to upgrade or replace your existing phone system, now is a good time to look at VoIP.

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This article was originally published in the September 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Great Expectations.

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