Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: The Future Is Cheap

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: The Future Is Cheap

Article excerpt

Four trends are changing the business world forever by making start-ups inexpensive and easy.

In 1899, the commissioner of the US Patent Office is said to have opined: 'Everything that can be invented has been invented.' He resigned shortly after, presumably on the grounds that he didn't expect to be that busy in the future.

The authenticity of the quote has been thoroughly debunked, and it's now interesting as an example of how repeated citation can establish an idea as received wisdom. Like many of these bon mots, however, it reflects a tendency of humans to believe the future will be merely an extrapolation of the past; that it will be like today, only more so.

It's a mindset that is dangerous for business, because it lulls participants into complacency; they believe they can defend their territory and rely on barriers to entry. Dangerous, because we are at a point where four trends are converging; their confluence is changing everything for business by speeding up development and radically reducing costs.

Trend one The cloud. Now, email and document-sharing can be sourced from Google, without all the expense of installing Microsoft Outlook, and the server it's installed on. Files can be shared around the organisation and accessed from multiple devices using Dropbox, while video-conferencing can be delivered on Skype. Accounting and tax can come from Outright, CRM from; today's start-up company can launch with low-cost and scaleable access to business systems.

That's one barrier to entry that big companies no longer have. Worse, many are wedded to cumbersome old legacy systems that lack features that are sometimes free in the cloud.

Trend two Technology: The LAMP stack, Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP started us on a path toward cheaper development that's been accelerated by Flash, AJAX and XML. Now, HTML5, the latest version of the mark-up language that tells your computer how to lay out a webpage, is set to boost this.

HTML5 bakes in to the browser all the things that used to need a plug-in; video, audio and drag-and-drop, getting rid of the need for developers to pay companies such as Adobe for the kit that makes their plug-in work.

In 1995, according to David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners, it took about pounds 15m to develop and scale an ecommerce application; now, you need only about pounds 100,000. There goes another barrier to entry, as access to big piles of capital is no longer needed.

Trend three Everyone, everywhere. There are more than 2bn internet users worldwide. …

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