Andrew Walmsley on Digital: The future is cheap

Four trends are changing the business world forever by making start-ups inexpensive and easy.

In 1899, the commissioner of the US Patent Office is said to have opined: 'Everything that can be invented has been invented.' He resigned shortly after, presumably on the grounds that he didn't expect to be that busy in the future.

The authenticity of the quote has been thoroughly debunked, and it's now interesting as an example of how repeated citation can establish an idea as received wisdom. Like many of these bon mots, however, it reflects a tendency of humans to believe the future will be merely an extrapolation of the past; that it will be like today, only more so.

It's a mindset that is dangerous for business, because it lulls participants into complacency; they believe they can defend their territory and rely on barriers to entry. Dangerous, because we are at a point where four trends are converging; their confluence is changing everything for business by speeding up development and radically reducing costs.

Trend one The cloud. Now, email and document-sharing can be sourced from Google, without all the expense of installing Microsoft Outlook, and the server it's installed on. Files can be shared around the organisation and accessed from multiple devices using Dropbox, while video-conferencing can be delivered on Skype. Accounting and tax can come from Outright, CRM from; today's start-up company can launch with low-cost and scaleable access to business systems.

That's one barrier to entry that big companies no longer have. Worse, many are wedded to cumbersome old legacy systems that lack features that are sometimes free in the cloud.

Trend two Technology: The LAMP stack, Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP started us on a path toward cheaper development that's been accelerated by Flash, AJAX and XML. Now, HTML5, the latest version of the mark-up language that tells your computer how to lay out a webpage, is set to boost this.

HTML5 bakes in to the browser all the things that used to need a plug-in; video, audio and drag-and-drop, getting rid of the need for developers to pay companies such as Adobe for the kit that makes their plug-in work.

In 1995, according to David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners, it took about £15m to develop and scale an ecommerce application; now, you need only about £100,000. There goes another barrier to entry, as access to big piles of capital is no longer needed.

Trend three Everyone, everywhere. There are more than 2bn internet users worldwide. In case you thought that growth was slowing, that is up 7% on the previous year. By the end of this year, half a billion people will be accessing the web from smartphones. New markets, new demand, more time spent online.

Trend four Connectivity. The history of ideas is a story of friction. Humans began to evolve more-complex social groups only by developing language. Printing brought about the renaissance, by allowing scholars to share their thoughts. Now the collaboration tools the web has enabled are hastening this further. Never in history has it been so easy for an idea to spread, from a misquotation to the Twitter campaign that fuelled the News of the World scandal.

If you're in a dominant business, think on this. Never has it been so cheap and so easy for so many people to plot your downfall. There are 100,000 people in backrooms right now trying to figure out how to eat your lunch, and now they've got the cutlery.

Andrew Walmsley is a digital pluralist


- Cloud computing basically means having access to all your data and applications from any network device. In the past, individuals and companies could not use, for example, a word-processing application without installing software on a computer.

- The advent of local area networks (LAN) and similar developments led to what's known as the client-server model of computing. Typically, this still required the installation of an application on the computers of individual users of the network.

- What differentiates cloud computing is that no installation of software is required. Users simply access such applications via their web browser.

- No definition can be quite that simple, though. Bear in mind that 'the cloud' is an umbrella term for various IT trends, but as a general rule, all these trends involve using the internet to simplify the way we use our computers.

- Google, Microsoft, Amazon and are among those offering cloud-computing platforms. These include services from spreadsheets to virtual servers running Linux or Windows.

- There are privacy concerns about cloud computing, and potential regulatory problems where personal data is stored internationally. A potentially disastrous situation for users is that of their provider going bust.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message