The 21st century business

While the 19th century had the factory, the 20th century became notorious for the office.

We take a look at how entrepreneurship is set to change as we advance deeper into the 21st century.

Touch technology
The vision of Tom Cruise in Minority Report weaving data between his fingertips is close at hand. Robert Epstein, head of small business sales and marketing at Microsoft, believes that very soon businesses will be experiencing a more intuitive interaction with technology. ‘In the future, I think we will see more and more natural user experiences. For example, Windows 7 already has touch built into it. It will all become much more seamless for users.’

On another planet
Step into a world where there is no recession. Second Life is a virtual landscape where you can invent your very own entrepreneur. It even has its own currency, the Linden dollar (the exchange rate being around L$250 to the US dollar). So if the everyday slog all gets too much, try the virtual equivalent.

Web 2.0 (or 3.0)
Hyped beyond belief they may be, but social networking sites are here to stay. For Wendy Shand, founder of child holiday accommodation advice site Tots to Travel, social networking provides a low-cost way to market her business. ‘Blogging, Twitter and Facebook are all very useful business tools, and a very immediate, vibrant way of marketing,’ she says. ‘They also allow us to easily keep up to date with what our competitors are doing.’

Intelligent software
‘In the past, all financial information tended to get locked away in a big database in the accounting department,’ says Microsoft’s Epstein. ‘So the person in sales wouldn’t have access to the analysis of his customers. Business intelligence software puts these tools into the hands of the people who can make the most use out of them. It connects the data together, and can easily be viewed through Excel, for example.’

We are the robots
Adam Collins at BT predicts that businesses will start taking advantage of developments happening in robotics: ‘It won’t be so much a case of the robot doing the photocopying, but of the robot being the photocopier and walking over to you.’ Peter Czapp, director of accountancy firm The Wow Company, agrees: ‘Further into the future, we’ll get a greater understanding of the way minds work. Emerging technology is already starting to take advantage of that. It’s quite possible we will be able to control robots through the power of our minds.’

Voice recognition
Software that can transcribe the spoken word into text is an area already being widely developed, says Rob Bamforth, analyst at technology consultancy Quocirca: ‘There is a whole spectrum of [voice recognition solutions], from fully manual to fully automated, and industry players are trying to move the bar closer towards automation.’ However, as the recent controversy around SpinVox suggests, there is some doubt as to whether people will ever be taken out of the equation entirely given the complexity of language and cognition. ‘You will always need some form of human oversight or quality control,’ says Bamforth.

Girl power
The future of entrepreneurship looks decidedly female, claims Shand: ‘We’re definitely going to see more women entrepreneurs with the rise in technology. It allows them to be successful and at the same time do the things that are important to them, like being free to pick up the children. It does empower women, and as a result we will see a greater gender balance of business owners.’

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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