Fifty years ago the only forms of communication available to companies were the telephone, telegram, telex and the mail. Since then there has been a major revolution in the way companies and individuals communicate. It is hard to believe that anyone in business in the 1970s could have predicted precisely how much of an impact technology would have in such a short period of time. In terms of global communications, science fiction has rapidly become science fact.
A brief history of modern business communications
Incredibly, it is only 25 years (1989) since the Internet went public and it was several years later that it became widely used. Similarly, personal computers didn’t become available until the early 1980s. Prior to the 80s, larger companies were operating mainframe computer systems, but their cost put them well beyond the reach of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
Mainframes and individual desktop PCs could be linked remotely via modems and by the end of the 80s groups of desktop PCs could be linked via Ethernet cards and cables to form local area networks.
Martin Cooper, a senior engineer with Motorola, made the first mobile phone call on April 3, 1973; however, it was 1983 before the company released its first handset, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. These first phones were targeted almost exclusively at multi-national corporations, after all, they cost in the region of $4,000, a huge amount at the time. It was not until the 1990s that handheld phones became readily available, were less cumbersome and more affordable.
Until the mid-1980s, companies relied on bulky and expensive in-car phones to communicate with their salespeople, service engineers and senior management. This often meant that when they were away from their vehicles attending meetings or working at customer sites, for example, the only means of contacting them was to telephone the companies they were visiting. This frequently resulted in critical information not being available for hours or even days. It was the late 1990s before handheld devices finally passed in-car phones in terms of sales.
At around the same time mobile phones were becoming mainstream the Internet was also starting to make its mark and it from this time on that the global communications revolution really began to make an impact on the world of commerce.
Business communications today
Today, having an efficient communications system is essential to every company, no matter how small or large.
There are very few commercial enterprises that do not have an Internet presence of some description, whether it is a complex website or a single page on a social-networking site. Thanks to the World Wide Web even businesses employing only one or two people can easily afford to build and maintain a site and advertise their products and services to a global audience; however, in order to provide a service that will keep existing customers loyal and generate new sales they must have an efficient method of communicating with them. Email has long been the simplest form of staying in touch, though social networking sites are gaining in popularity. Live chat and helplines are two other forms of communication that any self-respecting website should feature. It is essential that consumers have a choice of options that are easy and convenient to use.
The single biggest development in communications over recent years has been the growth of smartphones and tablets, especially in terms of the impact these devices have had on businesses. There are very few places on Earth where it is impossible to access the Internet, which means a company’s employees can usually be contacted within a matter of minutes.
An associated piece of technology that has made a huge impact on how business calls are made is VOIP, which has cut costs to virtually zero, whilst also providing video features. Having video capability makes it possible for engineers to show colleagues back at base in the US precisely what fault they are attempting to resolve at a customer site in the UK, for example.
Companies that have installed enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) software systems have a distinct advantage over their competitors who have not invested in such technology. Staff all have varying degrees of access to real-time information relating to their employer’s key processes, including accounts, sales, purchasing, logistics and customer details. They are also able to upload new data via their smartphone or tablet, thus ensuring that those who need to know are instantly aware of the current position regarding every element of the business.
The direction communications technology will take over the long-term is difficult to predict, though cloud computing is developing rapidly and the full potential of Google Glass has yet to be realized. What is certain, however, is that no business owner can afford to sit back and become complacent, because there will always be a competitor who is at least one step ahead when it comes to implementing the latest innovative device or piece of software.