Eight tech developments that are good news for your business
There are more good things happening in tech right now than you might think
Follow the tech news? You'd be forgiven for thinking that we live in dark times. Data breaches. Windows XP bugs. NSA spying. Apple iOS7 phone-wipes.
But that's just one side of the story. In fact, there are more good things happening in tech right now than you might think – things that apply directly to Irish businesses trying to get on with everyday life.
So cheer up: here are eight tech-related developments that are promising great things for Irish small firms.
1 More airline routes, more tech on airlines
Not only are new direct routes from Dublin to San Francisco and Toronto starting soon, but this looks set to be the year when Aer Lingus and Ryanair relax outdated and ridiculous rules banning the use of electronics during takeoff and landing.
For business people, this is something to be celebrated: up to an hour per flight is currently lost as digital-based work activities are banned. US and British airlines have already changed their rules.
2 (Much) better broadband for Irish businesses
No matter how one feels about the pace of fibre rollout to rural Ireland, there is no question that 2014 builds again on the broadband gains of 2013.
While UPC isn't expanding any more, Eircom (with Vodafone and Sky piggybacking to create competition) most certainly is, with several hundred thousand extra businesses and homes to be connected to fibre-like broadband services this year. Throw in new 4G services from the mobile operators and a likely entry into the market by the ESB and you have a transformed telecoms market for businesses.
3 It’s now dead easy to sell things properly online
One of the biggest drawbacks for small Irish firms in an online age has been the supreme difficulty in accepting credit card payments online. This is because of banks' extreme caution and bureaucracy. But it's now much easier, thanks mainly to new services such as Stripe. Look past the fact that this service was developed by two Limerick brothers and is garnering global praise: it's actually a great, simple service that can be easily integrated into your website by your web designer. The cherry on top is that the government – through its current National Digital Strategy incentive scheme – will probably pay for it, via a €2,500 subsidy to small businesses showing an intention to trade online.
4 Useful online services that make business easier
Once upon a time, there was a service called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Every company was encouraged to develop one, usually with the help of additional (expensive) software. It allowed you to do things like see what another company PC was doing in 'real' (meaning 'live') time.
Today, there are online services (such as LogMeIn) that do many of the same things, either much cheaper or completely free. It's a similar story with storage. External hard drives are fine, but free services such as Dropbox and Google Drive or more developed (but still cheap) online business services such as Box.net make things much quicker and much easier. And there's collaboration (Basecamp or Google Hangouts). And file transfers (WeTransfer). And loads of other things that your business really should look at.
5 At last, better business phones from Apple
The biggest single problem with iPhones – which Irish business people have taken to as BlackBerry replacements – are their small screens. While they're fine for light web-browsing or short bursts of emails, they pale in comparison to 'phablets' such as Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 for business people who need greater visual access to documents and company communications.
That's probably about to change. According to usually reliable sources (including 'The Wall Street Journal'), Apple will up its screen sizes on the iPhone to at least five inches in size.
This is is a big deal to people who love Apple but are put off by the (relatively) tiny smartphone screens.
6 Postcodes will boost your business
Our lack of postcodes is regularly touted as a reason why irish businesses – and consumers – are at a disadvantage when it comes to buying (and delivering) things online. Amazon, for one, has cited it as such. But postcodes are firmly on the way, in the form of a seven-digit, alpha-numeric string. While these may not go live until Spring of 2015, businesses can start new online trading plans now.
7 The Bitcoin effect
Let's be honest: Irish SMEs aren't about to start trading in crypto-currencies. But anyone who thinks that Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other 'digital' currencies aren't having a ripple effect are dead wrong.
What it means for small businesses is that banks and online traders are more likely to innovate to match the growing efficiency and security of Bitcoin transactions. And for those hoping that Bitcoin will just wither away, you're dead wrong.
8 Bye bye Windows XP
One of the things that holds businesses back from getting decent new IT systems is their continued use of Windows XP. Now that we're all being forced to switch away from it (by April 8 or we'll start to see things crumble), we can finally move on to new software systems that aren't bogged down in 'legacy' issues.