By Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Netcash, part of the Sage Group plc.
Connected Services is a buzzword in the industry at present, though many people are still grappling to understand just how important it will become. I strongly believe that any business or personal solution simply cannot afford to operate in isolation. In order for software, handheld devices and hardware to offer something of real value, they will have to be developed to interact with one another.
In the face of the information explosion that is changing the way that we communicate at core level, I feel it necessary to take a step back and investigate where it all started. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it was initially intended as a voice communication tool. The realisation that the telephone was able to transfer data set the wheel in motion for the evolution into the telex and faxing sphere. The connection of the humble telephone into cellular networks ultimately formed the foundation for the internet, which was the big game changer.
We now had the ability to transfer information and data across multiple platforms, which has had a tremendous influence on how we do business. An example is internet banking, which essentially allows two different banking systems to connect in order to perform a transaction. The user then receives a notification via SMS or e-mail, which brings two additional platforms into the equation, beautifully illustrating the concept of connected services.
The question however remains as to what further evolution may be on the cards for connected services and the ramifications it may have. There are currently two very different schools of thought in play. The advent of the cloud led to the creation of Software as a Service (SaaS), which essentially allows us to utilise software such as accounting and payroll solutions through the web on a pay per use basis. The traditional business model is however application based, where the software is downloaded onto a personal computer and utilised from your desktop or laptop.
I foresee these two schools of thought merging in the next five to ten years into hybrid solutions. In order to evolve into true connected services, both online and offline solutions will need to change its platforms to allow inter-changeable communication to take place.
The international business economy was non-existent 20 – 30 years ago. Countries were isolated and restricted to trade within its own borders. It has since developed into a global economy that is interlinked: Whatever happens somewhere in the world has a knock-on effect elsewhere. If you bring that same analogy back to connected services, then hardware, the internet and software has given rise to a global economy of technology. All the different vendors cannot operate in isolation and truly successful vendors and service providers will be the companies that get that right.
Inter-operability is already well on its way to becoming the next buzzword, paving the way for strategic alliances and agreements that will allow every application or software solution to be accessible from any device. Business Intelligence (BI) will become a key aspect in the process of collating all the available information in such a way that it will assist users to make intelligent decisions about their business. Imagine if you had your order system, warehouse, banking, accounting, distribution and every other aspect you can think of, connected with one click of a button? The vendors that can ultimately get all the links in the chain connected, will be king.
Connected Services allows for transactions to be owned by various vendors, whether it is a banking system, order system, e-mail or SMS. It is ultimately not about the number of systems to be linked in a supply chain, but how these systems interact to automate a total solution.