Technological advancements often come with potential business applications that could produce the next Facebook, Groupon or NetFlix for the savvy entrepreneur.
So what are the next big things for business in 2011? Brian Mennecke, an Iowa State University associate professor in management information systems who studies high-end business technology, made these predictions:
- Context-aware content and services.
"We already see numerous applications on mobile phones like this, but we will see a growing number of applications that use a person's spatial location to 'push' goods and services based on context," says Mennecke, who teaches e-commerce at Iowa State. "Context is key if vendors and service providers can learn your behavioral patterns and tie this to your context—i.e., where you are, what goes on there, what meaning is associated between that place, time, and other people who are present, etc. They can then be more targeted and, from the advertisers' perspective, more successful marketing promotions that can be customized to the individual."
While this context-specific target marketing will offer better services, Mennecke warns that it may also bring privacy and security risks.
"As people flutter about protesting naked scanner images and invasive body pat-downs by the TSA at airports, mobile service providers and vendors to whom they sell their data will be engaged in the virtual equivalent of a body scan on our daily habits and behaviors," he says.
- Contract-based adhocracies.
"The traditional role of the corporation as a place to work and build a career as a long-term 'tenured' employee will continue to fade away," Mennecke says.
Mennecke theorizes that most people engage in long-term employment with a firm because of the high transaction costs associated with operating as an independent contractor. He also says most organizations are satisfied with maintaining a pool of qualified, but often less than optimally productive, employees because of buyer-side transaction costs.
But he sees technology changing that by making labor easier to both sell and buy through "spot markets," and because physical proximity is less of a constraint.
"An organization can now go out and relatively easily find the best people in short order and contract their services regardless of their location," he says. "So if a firm in Iowa needs a contractor who is a world-class Python programmer, that firm can seek out the programmer quickly and integrate him or her into the organization as a virtual team member. While this trend has its limits, we are already seeing it manifest in IT, where many of our best student graduates take contract work because they can make more money doing so.
"In the end, many organizations will increasingly be able to operate like virtual adhocracies, where talent is brought to bear only when that talent is relevant and needed," he says.
- The 3-D web and virtual embodiment.
"This Christmas will demonstrate the power of 3-D as consumers rush out to replace their 2-year-old 60-Hz LCDs with new 120-Hz LEDs so they can watch the movie Avatar in 3-D," Mennecke says. "Why is 3-D so popular, and what will this trend portend for the future of the web? I have been studying 3-D spaces and virtual representations for several years and my conclusion is that the web will be the next frontier for 3-D."
Mennecke predicts that as 3-D capable technology proliferates, applications to take advantage of those capabilities will follow—not only in entertainment centers and gaming consoles, but also on desktop and notebook computers. And his Iowa State research team has been studying the reasons for such 3-D fascination.
"In a paper that will be published soon in the Decision Sciences journal, we explain that a 3-D virtual representation of a person in the form of an avatar helps users to engage in games and other 3-D simulations by, in a sense, fooling our perceptions into believing that the avatar is a real person," Mennecke says. "This happens because an avatar calls on real-world representations of bodily activities and thereby causes a user to engage with the other user's avatar in a manner similar to the way we are drawn into interactions with other 'real world' people with whom we do things together."
He says these virtual interactions will eventually become a regular part of business websites where firms will use these affinity-building processes to make customers feel more welcomed. So much like a store that has a salesperson who makes customers feel welcome and comfortable, Mennecke predicts online retailers could similarly take advantage of these processes to attract customers to return to their online stores by using welcoming avatars and 3-D spaces for interaction and enjoyment—possibly as early as 2011.