What does 2017 in store for small and midsized businesses (SMBs)?
During a recent visit to New York City, Christoph Schell, the president of the Americas for HP Inc., sat down with Small Business Computing to discuss the direction of SMB technology in the New Year. Below are his predictions.
3D Printing Comes of Age
Unless they're inventors or they head up design or product development firms, entrepreneurs might find it tough to justify carving out some room in their workplaces and budgets for 3D printers. Schell is quick to acknowledge this, but that doesn't mean 3D printing won't have a profound impact on the small business landscape.
"We look at 3D printing as a business-to-business offering," he said. HP's aim is to "unsettle an injection molding industry, a manufacturing industry, that has been gated for years to produce in molds."
For product design firms, "all the constraints are gone" when they make the switch to 3D printing, he added. They are no longer forced to innovate at the pace in which molds used in plastic injection manufacturing can be produced. Additionally, the technology allows for designs that break free of the physical restrictions imposed by injection mold machinery, allowing for more efficient and daring designs.
Other businesses will benefit by 3D printing's ability to "bring manufacturing back to where the customers are, not where the lowest cost of manufacturing is," Schell said. In the coming years, small businesses will no longer to wait for a much-needed part to be shipped from overseas. Chances are that a nearby commercial 3D printing outfit can produce the part on-demand and deliver it in practically no time.
And further into the future, 3D printing may give rise to an Internet of Things with embedded intelligence.
"Imagine that you can print not only a part or an object, but you can also print a circuit into that object," bringing about the advent of "the Internet of All Things," Schell said. "The idea is that any part that you print could be made intelligent," he added.
Desirable Devices (and Services) When You Want Them
The so-called "consumerization of IT" trend has already had a big impact on how workforces interact with technology.
Just look at all the folks clutching Android smartphones and iPads to get their jobs done. Even business software is in on the action, boasting user interfaces that are practically indistinguishable from consumer apps. Essentially, users no longer need to switch to work mode when they use their devices and apps in the office.
In terms of devices, the laptop is still the business workhorse, even among mobile-obsessed millennials.
Holding his company's sleek HP Envy laptop in front of him, Schell revealed that businesses of all sizes are still flocking to systems that provide the manageability of the PC, but also have enough battery life (8 to 10 hours in case of an Envy) to keep employees productive during a transcontinental flight. It helps that many of today's business portables look just at home in a corporate board room as they do in a swank airport lounge.
As enticing as devices like the Envy may be, today's entrepreneurs may not want to purchase one. Call it the Uberization of IT.
"I'm selling more and more to millennials," Schell said. "They don't necessarily like to own stuff, they like to use stuff, and they like to use it when they need it but only want to pay for it as well when they use it, not when they don't."
Schell believes that in 2017, the IT purchasing behaviors of small businesses and startups will somewhat mirror their cloud consumption patterns. Vendors and customers will enter into IT sales engagements that are "not transactional, but contractual, subscription-based," Schell said.