New technologies mean a new way of working. The implications are profound. Communicating and sharing ideas and expertise will become more important than ever.

Two predictions, which created waves in the business world some years ago, are today a reality thanks to the advancement and coming of technology - information technology.

The first was Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message"; and the second was that of Lord Lever Hume that " The world is a global village". Both are today true with the coming of information highways, Internet, and the digital and virtual media.

New technologies will mean new ways of communicating
In his book Unlimited Power, Anthony Robins (1998) says that in the olden days power was concentrated in the hands of the rich and the royalty, whom one dared not oppose. But in this age, power is enjoyed by people who have communication power -- who have the ability to communicate well with all sorts of people. There is a sea change taking place in our communication techniques and technology. First it was the telephone, then jet travel, telex and fax machines that forced major changes in business operations and communications. Now it is the World Wide Web (WWW) which is shaking up the business world and communications and in influencing how people buy, sell, market and work. This Web technology's value lies in its ability to bring people closer to each other and help them to keep up with industry developments and research new opportunities.

It may sound like from a science fiction, from now instead of thinking of an individual that does a specific job, we will be thinking in terms of a society of machines all interconnected and working together. It will no longer make sense to differentiate between computers, communication systems and devices such as televisions and even between industrial processes. Different technologies will interact so closely that they will be like one technology. The implications of this are profound. Communicating and sharing of ideas will become more important than ever before.

An e-revolution has set the ball rolling for chatting to shopping to banking to trading, and every product and service being available with a click of the mouse. The Web and Internet is transforming business and lives. E-commerce is no longer a luxury, but a reality staring us in the face. It is all about business transactions and communications executed electronically business to business, companies to consumers and employees, and consumers to consumers and to companies. Companies are wiring up with trade and transport so they can reach out to their consumers faster and better. It is said that, now, information is replacing inventory and intellectual assets are replacing physical assets. As a result of this digital and virtual technology attitudes, perceptions, mindset and behavior of people is changing and having an all round and unique impact within business.

Building the infrastructure needed for a new-century commerce is not an overnight task, but there is no better time to begin than now. The problems of infrastructure and wiring up of the nation are wide, but the challenges of this at the same time are tremendous and most vital today. The greatest virtue of all this technology is that it offers solutions to problems and challenges equally. The convergence of the computer, telephone and television through fiber optics and satellites is the first proof of this. And the future potential is immense.

Impact on Communications and PR
Technology is making its impact felt on the communications and public relations industry in three broad respects:

  1. In the speed of communications, resulting in faster decision making

  2. Scanning and analysis of large volume data

  3. Result orientation and accountability in communications

As a result of this one has to shed conventional approaches and mindset and adopt new and innovative approaches with the requisite technology, tools and techniques. To be effective we need to accept the challenges of today's technologies and be ready to adopt and adapt to them.

The merger between the computer, telecommunications and information has given birth to multimedia and interactive services and applications, which combine text, graphics, audio and animation features into communications -- business and even other non-business communications. The development of this technology and its usage offers users greater control over what they what they send out, what they receive and when, plus what they do with it. Since computers today allow two way interaction and television broadcasts with images with sound and movement, when they are combined we get the best of both worlds -- a two way interactivity and communication with text, graphics and sound. All this with easily available equipment and with "press-of-a-button " simplicity.

In view of this, today, there is a debate arising on whether the new multimedia will lead to the death of conventional media -- especially print media -- which so far have been and still are the main source of information, news, and even entertainment. However, the issues to be looked at before coming to any conclusion in this matter concern the role of media and what they have to offer users in respect of their needs, objectives, and situation. The increasingly competitive environment in communications media industry promises tremendous user benefits with multimedia though increased savings in time, greater choice and explosion of innovative services and products. Yet, the development of multimedia services will not replace the judgement value that is provided by the traditional media.

Multimedia has the potential to vastly increase the range of services, and offers users a larger choice of applications. But it is not just the technology by itself that will ensure success. It is the people (communicators) behind it that will decide its future and success. To be successful multimedia has to come to terms with the realities of the market, such as:

  1. Language and cultural differences, and it must cater to these differences.

  2. Provision of local news and use of local sources of information.

  3. Protection of consumers' rights, and adhering to regulations and law for the services such as cable, broadcasting, telephone, publishing, etc.

  4. Universal accessibility of the network (hardware and software).

A dream when work becomes play
With technology changing fast the fact that work becomes like a playground is coming true. The ordinary telephone is connected to computer networks, fax, e-mail and voice mail. And now the Internet. We are thick into the age of cyberspace and cyberdom. The prevalent mental block towards computers has broken down. There is full convergence in media and technology. And in communications we have shared computing, personal computing and networked computing, all enhancing productivity and creativity in business, news, entertainment and personal communications. Making it all extremely enjoyable and effective. At the speed of light and in perfect condition.

There is a communication revolution taking place, today. For instance,

  • An advertising executive can send a 3-D animated clip, complete with sound to his client within seconds and then await approval on it the same way with changes if any.

  • A private teleconference among several people with each person seeing the other/s on a TV monitor and talking to them as if they were also in the same room.

  • Booking of rooms in thousands of hotels, and seats on practically all airlines can be done while sitting at your desk and within minutes.

  • Investors and stockbrokers can watch prices of scrips and do business at stock exchanges all over the world sitting on a network.

  • A busy executive, in a car on his way to a dinner party can talk with international customers in their office on his cellular phone and take crucial decisions concerning his business.

The applications are endless and there is much excitement over the multimedia, on-line, interactive media. All this is possible through technology such as fiber optic cables, satellites and digitalization of computers and electronic equipment. And influencing business sectors like banking and finance, international trade, entertainment, healthcare among a host of others.

Internet - opening new horizons
The Internet has grown at a rate that has exceeded any prior communications technology, and has emerged as a fundamental information and communication medium. It has opened up new opportunities in business and offers tremendous benefits to those who are willing to take advantage of the medium.

The Internet, as is now commonly known, is not a single network. It is a network of networks. In fact, there are hundreds and thousands of networks connected around the world. And it works on the fact that all these computers and other equipment follow the same set of procedures, standards, formats and conventions for computer communications.

The Internet in itself is an old technology - close to 25 years from the time when it was first started in 1974. However, commercial Internet is new. The first time any commercial activity was allowed on the Internet was in 1989 when commercial e-mail was connected to it by the US government. However, most people did not know anything about it until 1994 when the World Wide Web was commercially released by the Netscape Communications in Switzerland. Hence it is only in the last few years we have the highly commercial and fully competitive activity in the present form of Internet. The business marrow's associated with it is new, and people are exploring different kinds of business marrow's to make it work. Internet service providers are exploring different ways of offering Internet service at a cost and making profit out of it. We are in the middle of what is being called an Internet Gold Rush. It is estimated about 300 million users on the Internet by the end of 2000. As many as 900 million devices will be on the net by 2006. The devices on the net will include desktop computers, laptops, servers, and a host of Internet enabled appliances.

The dot.com boom
Everyday, people ranging from senior professionals, businessmen, companies and even students are launching Internet startups. The rationale for this is low entry barriers, easy to access capital (through venture capitalists) and a short gestation period. To an observer it seems a simple way to earn money. But this is not so. The competition is severe and getting to be cut throat. The Web is the most efficient form of market economies. It allows for free competition and a continuous struggle amongst dot.coms to capture mind and market share. As in other industries there will be shake out. Only the stronger players will survive.

With several new sites being launched daily, identifying an unoccupied space is becoming increasingly difficult. Would be Net entrepreneurs need to be innovative and build in an edge in what they offer. Something which is difficult to replicate by others. Internet startups may be the right road to success, the obstacle is in the form of competition.

An e-consultant has looked at the Internet startup business in the form of an interesting framework, which he terms as The e-Positioning Framework. He divides the strategies available into four types:

  1. Me-too Strategy: Replication of an existing business model in the existing competitive marketplace. 95% of the new startups fall into this category.

  2. Proven Approach Strategy: Replication of an existing model in a virgin territory.

  3. Innovation Strategy : A unique business model in an existing competitive

  4. Un-chartered Territory Strategy: A new business model in a new market segment.

The key is to have a sustainable competitive advantage in whatever strategy you adopt and use. It is also worthwhile to take advantage of the Net to build relationships with customers which they could not do otherwise. Instead of just putting information on the net allow customers to communicate with you, and also among themselves - to talk about problems and helping each other in solving them.

Traditional sources adapt to suit online audiences
Getting news used to be through newspapers, radio, television and telephone. Today, however, choices of getting news through or on the Internet have become overwhelming. Thousands of web sites have joined in to relay latest news of a wide variety and kind. Thus the public now has another electronic option - information and news on demand.

Newspapers: Many newspapers are now available online too, giving readers a choice of news source and type of news they are looking for. Some of the larger papers also post breaking news written by staff reporters throughout the day. Others supplement their own stories with continuous feeds from international news services such as the Associated Press or Reuters. For larger features, online papers are able to go beyond the story and create a comprehensive news package.

Magazines: To keep up with the continuous publishing capability of the Web, magazines are refreshing their content with greater and greater frequency. Other magazines give Internet viewers a portion of their content and hope to entice them to buy the printed versions. Some of them use their own site as a source of subscription and advertising information.

Broadcast media: Because they could leverage existing resources, major broadcast networks like CNN, BBC and ESPN were among the first to produce continually updated international news Web sites. Many have followed suit, using the latest audio and visual technology to produce more than just text articles. Radio stations have also benefited from the latest multimedia options. And as the speed of the Internet services increase, audio and visual quality will improve to allow radio and television stations to run full broadcasts over the Web.

Online publications: Web only publications, called "e-zines" or "e-pubs" today have come to offer readers an alternative to mainstream media. Because publishing online is relatively cheaper, many of these "niche sites" are able to serve smaller, previously unattended audiences, capitalizing on the growth of e-commerce to offer a combination of news and related products online.

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the options, remember that this is not the first time technology has created a new medium. The 1900s saw the addition of both radio and television, and over time each developed content and delivery to suit its audiences. The same is likely to occur with the Internet. Options will expand, and your decision making, communications and connectivity will become simpler and better.