Business Software Trends to Watch in 2021
The Future of Business Software Solutions
Usage of Cloud-Native Technologies
Standard litany of cloud advantages: Always the latest version of the application; no worries about server hardware, network availability or power outage; service when you need it; and allow your users to work from home or anywhere. Moving to the cloud accelerated in response to the pandemic and the trend is for the move to continue at a high rate in 2021.
Providers of multi-industry business software solutions and tools now offer them in native mode on their clouds. Microsoft invites companies of all sizes to embrace their Microsoft 365. Intuit’s focus is on its QuickBooks online accounting software. Adobe’s Acrobat is on the cloud. Salesforce has always been a cloud application. Industry-specific or profession-specific business software solution providers either have moved their product to the cloud or are working to do so.
In 1992 Microsoft brought very affordable relational databases to PCs with Microsoft Access. Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands of small businesses used it to build or contract for their own mission-critical custom business software solution. The trend to watch in 2021 is those businesses, upgrading the backend database to SQL Server to achieve connectivity with other applications and reengineering the front end as a web application to make “work from home” practical and take advantage of a myriad of cloud and other computing technologies now available.
Security to Protect a Remote Workforce
Risk of serious damage and loss due to security violations continues to grow so the trend for 2021 is to ramp up security measures at all points of entry into a business. Robust solutions can be built into cloud environments and on-premises networks to ensure that organizations are protected across all software applications, databases, and users.
Even small businesses that felt security was just a pain and irritation are now implementing strong passwords and requiring password reentry after some period of inactivity. It is urgent and prudent to use encryption to transmit information across the internet. And a third-party SSL certificate assures that the application is, indeed, the real one at its real location.
Usage of two other technologies, VPN and 2FA, increased significantly in 2020 and are trending for more widespread adoption in 2021.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPN is trending as the safer and more user-friendly way of connecting members of a remote workforce to their company network. The VPN is specifically designed to accomplish two goals. To be really private as information flows between the user’s device and the company’s network or cloud. To give the remote user and their computer exactly the same access, capabilities, and limitations as if the user had come into the office and connected the computer to the physical network.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
The user’s password is the first authentication factor. Much protection is achieved with long, unguessable passwords and user training. OTP and Captcha are two widespread second factors.
One-Time-Passcode (OTP) addresses the issue of Sam Scoundrel learning a username and password and trying to sign in with them. The OTP tool creates a unique onetime passcode and emails it to the legitimate user’s email address to be keyed in as the second factor. Sam doesn’t get the email so cannot get in.
Captcha addresses the issue of malware trying to get to a user’s account. There are variations but they come down to: Can the entity trying to sign in click the screen in the right place to check a checkbox and then can it correctly transcribe distorted text or identify objects in a set of poor-quality images.
New Artificial Intelligence (AI) developments are emerging in banking, insurance, retail, and telecommunications with companies implementing AI as part of their business software solutions. When the hospitality industry recovers from its pandemic-induced coma, it will benefit from similar AI developments. One subset of AI are tools that carry on a conversation with a human, usually in text, but sometimes orally. They are derived from the “Imitation game”, a test for machine intelligence defined by Alan Turing in 1950.
The trend in 2021 seems focused on applying the 80-20 rule to customer interactions. The premise is that 80% of customer inquiries can be handled and resolved with an AI conversation. Only 20% need to be handled by or elevated to an experienced employee. Watch for these AI’s being deployed in the following ways.
Chatbots: A chatbot is an AI that pops up on a website and offers to help the visitor meet their goal in visiting the site. The visitor responds to it to initiate a conversation or dismisses it. We are seeing the adoption of chatbots for sales and customer service across a wide array of industries from retail to SaaS and everything in between.
Customer relationship management (CRM): Many common customer service topics can be handled and completed successfully with an appropriately designed AI. As just one example, this author’s financial institution has the Visa Fraud Prevention Service. It watches all payment transactions hitting the account. Once in a while it will see one that does not fit a set of criteria. It makes a phone call to the account owner, verifies to whom it is talking, and describes the transaction in question. Two minutes to reach the conclusion that it’s OK and release the transaction for payment. Or that it is fraudulent, so the transaction is declined, the card invalidated, and a new one issued.
Software for Frictionless Sales
Watch for a 2021 trend to provide easier, smoother ways that consumers can progress from seeking what to buy to making the purchase. Hint: It’s all about the smartphone. The author signed up for an account on Shopee. It assigned the author’s mobile phone number as the username. One bump smoothed out.
Pay by Chat
A major website goal is for a visitor to arrive, seek and find useful information, and take actions that lead to a sale. Often that means getting answers to specific questions. Watch for a 2021 trend for sites to use a modified chatbot AI model to elicit the visitor’s questions and produce answers from a structured, searchable FAQ and product specification list. When the visitor is ready to buy, the frictionless sale will be to do it right there in the conversation. That conversation may best be carried out via WeChat or WhatsApp. To provide some context, there are 5,000 searches in the U.S. alone for “paying with wechat.”
Integrations with Third Party Payment Systems
PayPal and Venmo are third-party payment systems. Each offers a very easy way to pay with neither buyer nor seller needing to deal with the customer’s credit or debit card. In the first quarter of 2020, there were 325 million active PayPal accounts worldwide. Venmo had 52 million users in 2020.
Venmo’s genesis was making it easy to exchange money electronically with family, friends, or colleagues. Splitting a dinner check, for example.
Using the phone in your pocked to pay provides a touchless, contactless format for safely executing a payment at the drive through window at Starbucks or the checkout line at Whole Foods. Apple Pay and Google Pay are the two most popular.
This is a natural extension of e-Commerce .The smartphone user can visit a site, ask for what they want and place the order, all by voice. In this pandemic period, that could be a wonderful step forward for food delivery.
Wi-Fi 6 and 5G
Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are the latest generation of wireless and cellular technology, respectively. And 5G works differently than 4G.They are at least 10 times faster and support a 2021 trend for business users to become fully productive working from home. They also support a 2021 trend for vital innovations in many industries and professions.
With 2020 technology, routine work at home in email, Word, Excel, and business software has been tolerable, but often lags compared to being in the office. As Wi-Fi 6 and 5G become widely available in 2021 the trend will be for the lag to disappear. Moreover, transmission of large files, very long lists, and complex web pages has often been problematic. “Honey, you can’t watch that Disney movie until I finish what I am working on.” Such conflicts nearly always will be avoided with Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.
The Internet of Things (IoT) puts computing power and communication power into an immense number of things. Many for good, useful purposes, others not so much. Do I want my electric toothbrush to evaluate my brushing technique and report its finding to my dentist? Some statistics indicate there already are more smartphones in the world than people. Billions more devices equipped with IoT capability will be joining the crowd. Each of them will use some of the expanded internet data transmission capacity. Notice that 1,000,000 IoT toothbrushes each sending 100 bytes of data to dentists is the same as two IoT X-ray machines each sending 50,000,000 bytes of X-ray image to an expert radiologist for diagnosis.
The major operating systems, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS all support IoT. The trend in 2021 is for the cadre of IoT-savvy software engineers to continue to grow and for manufacturers to build IoT capability into their new-generation products.
Imagine a company that manufactures a set of products used to make electronic products. Their new generation uses Windows 10 embedded software to direct the machine to carry out its tasks. The machine operator sets it up for a specific job on a touch screen. He tells it to start the job and then his task is simply to make sure the flow of inputs and outputs proceeds uninterrupted. So why does it have a Wi-Fi connection? A server in the company’s IT department (or on a cloud) is receiving a continuous stream of data about the work being done and the performance of both machine and worker. If a malfunction occurs a text message or email goes automatically to a supervisor or, in some cases, a senior manager so they are immediately informed and can act if needed. And if the machine needs repair or a bug fixed, the data is already logged on the server for the field service rep.
Is Your Business Software Up to Speed?
As you move forward to recovery and (re)growth in 2021, you might consider whether your business software is fully up to speed and doing its part to make your business and your employees effective and efficient in achieving your goals. Are your people easily carrying out their assigned duties with the help of business software? Or have some of your real-life operations been built around the shortcomings? In fact, did your necessary 2020 business process and infrastructure changes make some business software shortcomings more obvious and painful?
At Ewarenow, we can work with you to help identify the shortcomings in your current business software and how to cost-effectively overcome them. Or we can work with you to identify and strategize your business software requirements based on your business goals and ideal business operations.
You are welcome to get in touch with Ewarenow to get an answer to a question or to initiate a no-obligation discussion with our CEO.