Secrets to surviving four technology storms ahead

BY KIM NILSEN
May 17, 2012

George Colony sees a technology future in which the web fades in prominence to something akin to AM radio, society maxes out on social media, younger consumers’ habits radically depart from those of even the closest generation, and mobile engagement with customers could mean life or death for business models.

Colony, the founder and CEO of the global research and advisory firm Forrester Research, outlined those four technology threats today in a speech at the AICPA spring Council meeting in Washington. And he offered tips for surviving and even profiting from them.

His rallying cry: Disrupt or be disrupted.

“The death of the web is now coming,” Colony warned. Pushing the web to the side, he said, will be something Forrester calls the app internet—a “new computing model combining the power of local devices with the scale of the cloud,” the firm explains on its website. The app internet will leverage increases in processing, storage, and networking power, making devices like the iPad and smartphones even more significant.

“What will I hold in my hands in five years?” Colony asked, displaying an iPad. “It’s going to be extraordinarily powerful.”

In the app internet ecosystem, companies likely to dominate include Apple, Google, and Amazon with Microsoft and Facebook vying to join the lead pack, he said.

Companies also have to realize, Colony said, that in the U.S., Europe, and many urban cities in emerging markets, social media’s penetration, measured both in people and in hours spent with social media tools, is close to reaching a crescendo. “We’re about to … head to a post-social place,” he said, where successful companies will use app internet architecture to make interactions faster and easier.

And those customers are likely to be very different, judging from the habits of 18- to 27-year-olds in the U.S. Forrester sees far different preferences among that group from those of 28- to 41-year-olds. The differences include more time devoted to video games and less to newspapers and a feeling that the technology they have at home is better than what they have at work.

Colony said all-important mobile engagement hinges on convenience, content, and context – such as products that recall user preferences on the spot and allow them to make quick digital purchases.

The accounting profession will be in the center of the changes, charged with figuring out how to account for and finance new ways of doing business.

To thrive despite these technology shifts, Colony suggests businesses:

  1. Intimately understand the digital consumer.
  2. Generate more ideas with a lot more speed. He says research shows CEOs putting a greater emphasis on innovation. And he says it’s critical for accounting regulators to recognize the need for innovation and to move with it.
  3. Have high-energy workers. Colony recommends doing a gap analysis to make sure your company has the right skills.
  4. Put in place the policies to take advantage of disruptors. So, while social media use by employees can present security risks and waste time, bans on social media do more harm than good by making it hard for companies to attract the best young workers. “This is air they breathe and the water they swim in,” he said.

Kim Nilsen ( knilsen@aicpa.org ) is executive editor of the JofA.

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