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The applications, devices and services that have changed the way we do business often started as small-scale alternatives to the status quo. Now we can't survive without them.
Remember when you first saw the iPhone? Glimmering like a rare jewel at the Apple store, the debut model was originally dismissed as a bit player in the enterprise, especially compared to the (ahem) BlackBerry. Now, just about every high-ranking corporate official, not to mention pre-teen, has one in his or her pocket.
What other technology, gadgets and enterprise services have changed business in such a dramatic way? For most IT leaders, there's a good chance a CRM tool or even a seemingly minor Web technology such as OAuth made more waves over the long term. These innovations caused a sea change of their own. In fact, we're trying to figure out how anyone ran a company without them.
1. The LAMP Stack
Here's an innovation you won't hear about in an ad during the Summer Olympics. The LAMP Stack—Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP—is a bundle of free open source tools for Web development and deployment. Jordan Hudgens, a software engineer for MCW Services, says LAMP was groundbreaking because of its low deployment costs. That makes sense—before LAMP, companies would have to hire a disparate group of engineers, many of them using the .NET Framework, and license technology from Oracle and Microsoft.
Salesforce.com had some serious competition when it debuted in 1999—namely from existing CRM systems running in on-premises data centers. Times have changed. In Q4 of 2011 alone, the site processed 45 billion customer transactions. There are now 100,000 customers worldwide. What's the secret? One answer is offering a scalable product that provides such a global view into customer data. One recent example: NBC Universal uses the system to manage its custom marketing efforts.
3. Adobe PDF
We tend to take ground-breaking tech like Adobe PDF for granted. After all, the portable document formats are amazingly prevalent on the Web, and you can create files easily using tools such as CutePDF. There are now about 150 million PDF docs on the Web today, according to Adobe. They work on just about every computing platform and mobile device, and recent advances in e-signatures—namely, typing a password to protect documents—have made the standard viable in the banking and finance sectors.
The fact that you can connect your smartphone to your car radio is proof enough that Bluetooth has made a big impact across many industries and is still growing. Recent improvements, such as a low-power version that works with heart monitors and better audio quality in Bluetooth 4.0, mean this short-range wireless signal will be around for a while. And there's a new trend: Bluetooth might even move into the financial sector. Intuit, for example, now makes a credit card reader that connects to your smartphone over Bluetooth.
Wi-Fi is one of the most important enterprise innovations of the past 20 years. Mobile users can now work remotely from anywhere, use Internet telephones, tap into wireless printers and, thanks to the emerging 802.11ac standard, exchange files over a network at Gigabit speeds. John Riordan, CTO of OnSIP says Wi-Fi is largely a success because standards developed quickly, keeping pace with enterprise demands, and how the FCC opened the airwaves so high-speed communication could work.
You might not know this, but e-printing is finally hitting the mainstream. Corporate workers have known about enterprise-grade e-printing for some time. Now, desktop models such as the HP Officejet 6700 let you print by sending the jobs to an email address. Even Google is involved; users can send print jobs to the Google Cloud Print, where jobs are then transmitted to your printer. The main advantage is flexibility. You can print from home or from a mobile device and expect the copies to be ready and waiting when you get to the office—as long as someone remembered to load paper.
The virtual private network is now a fixture of every data center, but that was not always the case. In the early days of computing, enterprise workers would tap in using unsecure lines from home. Then the corporate world started using firewalls to protect against criminal hacking. Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says VPN connections have had a major impact on business—lower travel costs, more freedom to work at home, and even a way to have smaller corporate offices.
8. Multi-Core Processors
There was a time when the CPU in a server or desktop computer could only handle one computing chore at a time. Intel introduced multi-core processors to the masses. The impact goes well-beyond being able to run an HD video in the background while you check your e-mail. Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, says multi-core paved the way for legitimate multi-tasking. Important apps such as virus scanners suddenly became more viable, he says, because the processes did not inhibit the CPU.
9. Amazon Web Services
It might not seem obvious, but some of the most famous companies today rely on Amazon Web Services, a cloud platform for storage and data processing. For example, without AWS there would be no Dropbox. Analyst Rob Enderle says the major benefit is that even very small companies can sign up for these enterprise services and use high-end management features that allow them to scale as they grow.
10. Google Docs
Google is one of the most innovative companies of the last ten years, but one of its crowning achievements for business is not even related to search. Google Docs is now one of the best ways to collaborate, share documents with co-workers and store business information in the cloud. Analyst Rob Enderle says Google Docs helped usher in the age of remote computing, since users could easily post work online and head out for the day. The sea change, it should be pointed out, depended on another major innovation—mobile computing.