Smaller, faster, cheaper: 25 years of business technology

August 30, 2017

By Natalie B. Hoffmann, CPA.CITP HKP President

In the April 1994 edition of the Business Times I wrote, “The future of CD-ROM technology is exciting… CD-ROMs that hold full-length feature movies are already being test-marketed in California.” Later, in 2001, I stated that “Windows XP is the most significant operating system upgrade since Windows 95.”

A lot happened between 1994 and 2001, and even more has changed when it comes to technology and business. Today, technology is smaller, faster and cheaper than 25 years ago. If you think back to a day in the office in 1991, we were just getting the hang of PCs but were still mostly bound to our office and our desk. Laptops were just starting to get smaller and we were sharing information on paper or via floppy disks. Since then, however, a lot has changed, and technology has made doing business more mobile and more interconnected than we could have imagined when I wrote about CDs in 1994.

The first websites were launched and the first truly portable computer notebooks were purchased in 1991, kick-starting an unprecedented 25-year exponential growth. DOS applications were changing over to Windows around the same time the Microsoft Office Suite was introduced. Between Windows 95, Office Suite and Adobe, our workflow changed dramatically and made processing and sharing information easier and more efficient. The portability and affordability of smaller systems allowed more small and mid-sized businesses to enter the world of digitization and automation, which was previously only available to enterprise business. Likewise, accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software had to adapt to meet the needs of the small and mid-size business market. Applications like QuickBooks filled the void and allowed businesses to automate their accounting by taking all of their data from various disjointed sources and pulling it into one program.

As accounting was becoming more automated, hardware was becoming more mobile and internet was becoming more accessible. Fast-forward to today, and most businesses have smartphones and an internet connection. Today we are so interconnected that video conferencing and the cloud allow us to work from anywhere at any time with anyone worldwide. The cloud has taken automation and data sharing to the next level by allowing us to store big data remotely, but it differs from the past in that we can now share it in real time with our clients. The advancements of LCD screens and retina displays mean we can use more graphics to convey a message or share results, thus creating a stronger engagement with a client.

With automated processes and a web presence, a small business can look large and reach clients from nearly anywhere in the world. A small retailer in northeastern Iowa can hold inventory and sell their product to anyone via the web, an ability that was once only possible for large retailers. Payroll companies can serve clients from anywhere in the U.S. allowing them to expand their prospects and grow their businesses. Digital marketing including social media allows businesses of any size to conduct global and cost-effective marketing by meeting their targeted clients on their schedule.

With any change or advancement comes a set of issues, and the biggest issue facing business technology is security. This has resulted in companies investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in data security via an off-site provider or developing their own IT departments. As headlines have shown, no one is completely safe from the sophisticated hackers of today, and businesses are more aware than ever of the necessity for strong security systems.

Looking back, it all seems a bit overwhelming. However, the reality of today is that the cumulative advancements of the past 25 years are now happening in a shorter timeframe. Phones and computers are smaller but their processing capabilities are greater. Small businesses can make big names for themselves with websites, e-commerce and social networking. Workers can connect with a client in another time zone without ever leaving their homes. Mobility and interconnectivity have completely changed how we operate. Businesses do not necessarily need to be on the bleeding edge of technology, but it is important to understand the trends and embrace the possibilities. If the past 25 years have taught us anything, it’s that nothing will be the same in the next 25.

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This article was previously published in the Tri-State Business Times.

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