Remember when a cloud was just a puff of white or gray in the sky? A file was made of paper? Security required a locking cabinet and a key? It’s hard to overemphasize just how much modern workplaces have been transformed by technology over the past three decades. Today, clouds are a trendy online tool, security requires complex rules and the systems that companies use to generate new leads are undergoing a revolution.
The Vancouver Business Journal asked local high-tech experts to weigh in on the top trends tech that businesses should be aware of in 2015. Here’s what we learned about the latest in high-tech innovation in the workplace.
Staying secure on the cloud
No matter how you define it, however, CenturyLink Chief Innovation Officer Lucas Carlson says the cloud continues to become ever-more important.
“What we are going to continue to see, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, is a drive toward automation,” Carlson says. Early adopters are already using Dropbox, Evernote and other popular cloud-based tools, which can eliminate the need for paper files and make it easier to track and share documents both internally and with customers.
“Now even technology laggards, who may be scared of trying new things, are moving into more automated cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions,” Carlson says.
But, as hacking scandals at Sony and major retailers continue to win headlines, he warns business owners new to cloud-based services that security precautions are crucial.
“The number of small business owners who use the same password for everything – and probably an easy one to guess – is over 99 percent,” he says.
Carlson recommends that companies adopt password manager tools, which automatically generate hard-to-crack passwords, then remember the passwords for you. “These tools stop phishing attacks and stop password attacks,” he says.
New algorithms for marketing
The art of search-engine optimization continues to grow ever-more complex, says Kevin Getch, president of Vancouver-based digital marketing firm Webfor.
“It used to be that Google would look at all the keywords on the page,” Getch says. If someone was searching for a specific word and that word was present, the website would appear in the results. If the word was not present, the site would not appear.
All told, Google made more than 600 changes to its search-engine algorithm last year, however. The search-engine giant has improved its “natural language processing” abilities.
The result: “Google can process language and understand what you’re looking for. So if you do a search for the Statue of Liberty, and then the next search you do is, ‘How tall is it?’ Google knows you’re asking about the Statue of Liberty when you say ‘it,’” Getch says.
Google has also grown better at recognizing the quality of writing on a website, which means that cheaply-produced content does not rank as highly as well-thought out and helpful articles.
The changes at Google have created both challenges for marketers, and also new opportunities for targeted advertising.
“It’s widely understood that on Facebook, you can target people who are interested in your specific product and who live in your specific area,” Getch says. “But your average business owner doesn’t understand that you can do that on search engines.”
Using big data to generate targeted – and timely – leads
Lead generation has always been a challenge in the world of business-to-business sales. A decade ago, sales professionals had to rely on networking events and a well-developed Rolodex to identify who they should approach about their companies’ latest products.
But big data is revolutionizing how companies identify sales leads, says Henry Schuck, CEO of Vancouver-based DiscoverOrg, which recently introduced a service called Opportunity Alerts after a year of development work.
Schuck offers this hypothetical example: What if a business wants to sell its flash storage tools to Nike? In the past, a sales rep would cold call Nike and hope to reach the right person at the right time. Today, the business might instead develop a white paper that provides cutting-edge research into flash storage, and then wait.
Online tracking tools will create an alert when anyone within Nike access the white paper. Other tools identify the five or six employees most likely to be involved in buying flash storage, so sales reps can reach out to the right people just as they are preparing to make a decision, Schuck says.
“We’ve heard about big data for a long time,” Schuck says. “Now we can use it to get up-to-the-minute information on what companies are buying, and when.”
Tools to tie everything together
With more and more high-tech tools to juggle, Carlson at CenturyLink says that 2015 may be the year when businesses demand better integrated services.
“Technology provides some of the largest opportunities, and one of the biggest headaches,” he says. “It seems like there are 12 services for every one thing I want to do? How do I connect it all together?”
Among CenturyLink’s clients, the medium and large companies that run servers in a physical location, and that also pay for cloud-based servers, can expect to see a change.
“A lot of the time, those systems are separate, you have to talk to separate people, call different phone numbers, work with different vendors when something goes wrong,” Carlson says. “We now have networks that can tie together a number of software-as-solution services, infrastructure and security solutions, linking groups and technologies that have not been linked before.”
Though CenturyLink is largely focused on the hardware side of things, Carlson says software providers are also aware of the need to integrate and simplify. For example, point-of-sale systems used by sales reps are increasingly able to integrate with lead-generation tools.
“Companies that help you connect different services and pieces together are going to be a big trend in 2015,” he says.