Tech trends: easier Web sites, more services

Technology for 2008: Web development to become more user-friendly


Ethan D’Onofrio, vice president of business development for Northwest Computer, predicts that managed services will become the new wave of tech solutions in 2008. The company already offers remote technical support for customers, and D’Onofrio said it could make up as much as 75 percent of their business by year’s end.


On Friday Jan. 18, more than 100 people crowded into the Squalicum Boathouse to have lunch and to see Mark Anderson. Usually such a Bellingham crowd only amasses for a controversial public meeting or a big name musical act. But Anderson doesn’t do music or local issues.

Rather, Anderson is a renowned futurist. He owns and operates Strategic News Service, a newsletter about technology and investing. His business is the business of tomorrow. And on that sunny day in Zuanich Point Park, he spoke about his predictions for 2008 as they pertain to technology.

The event marked Anderson’s fourth appearance in Bellingham as a guest speaker for the Technology Alliance Group, a local advocacy group that hosted the event. Though much of his presentation focused on the big picture — from climate crisis to the world economy — his predictions for this year touched on things that affect everyday life.

For example, he predicted that cell phones and the Internet will continue to merge into one device. The Web will become so commonplace that people will stop referring to it as the Web. Small personal computers, similar to the iPhone, will catch on. He also predicted that the United States will expand its Internet bandwidth, and streaming television will come with that expansion.

Inspired by Anderson’s predictions, the BBJ asked two local companies what predictions they have for the technology sector this year.


Web sites will be easier to build

Patrice Valentine, who owns Net Solutions North America, said she expects 2008 to be the year that businesses take Web development into their own hands.

“It’s becoming cheaper and cheaper,” she said. “It used to be that we didn’t do a Web site for less that $12,000. Now you need less than $1,000 and it can be done in a week or two.”

Not only is launching a Web site cheaper, but it is also easier to do nowadays. Rather than hiring out a Web developer to run a company Web site, many companies are already taking the initiative to run their Web site in-house, Valentine said.

“The biggest complaint I hear in this industry is that their Web developer disappeared and is holding their Web site hostage,” Valentine said. “The other complaint is that they don’t know how to use [the software].”

Designing a Web site doesn’t have to be scary, Valentine said. An increasing amount of Web development software is starting to mimic programs that users are already familiar with, such as Microsoft Office. In turn, people are less scared to learn the programs and venture out on their own.

“Anyone can call themselves a Web developer,” Valentine said. “Plus, I think consumers are getting a little smarter about Web design.”

Net Solutions, which is headquartered in Bellingham, offers several Web development products aimed at getting people familiar with the creation and upkeep of Web sites. The logic behind such products is that the more people within a business who know how to operate the program, the less likely the Web site is to suffer if the one person who runs the site is not there. Plus, the site will be a more organic product if more staff are involved in its creation and upkeep.

“We give people control of their Web site,” Valentine said, “which isn’t always good. Some people can make some really ugly Web sites.”

Aesthetics aside, Valentine said many businesses these days are looking beyond designing a pretty Web site and more toward entering the world of e-commerce. Purchasing goods and services off of the Internet is no longer a neat alternative to normal shopping; it’s becoming commonplace.

In an age where digital documents often outnumber physical documents in the workplace, incorporating e-commerce will also make work more efficient, Valentine said. For example, Net Solutions is currently working with a local candy distributor to add e-commerce to their Web site.

“Even though they do mostly wholesale, they’re trying to train their wholesale clients to go online and order,” she said. “It streamlines their orders.”

Though 2008 may be the year in which more people venture into the realm of Web design and e-commerce on their own, Valentine said there is still a market for custom Web developers.

“More and more people are looking for that one person or one company who can solve all of their problems,” she said.


Remote computer repair will catch on

Northwest Computer is one such company that is looking to solve all of your computer problems. And thanks to the spread of high-speed Internet and advances in networking software, company vice president Ethan D’Ononfrio said he predicts this year to be the year people change the way they think about the computer service industry.

But in order to know where the industry is going, it’s important to know where it’s been. D’Ononfrio calls the old model of computer support the “break-fix” model. It’s related to the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“It’s like not changing your oil [in your car],” he said. “After five years of not changing your oil, you’re going to really wish you had changed your oil.”

The new model D’Onofrio expects to catch on is called managed services and it operates much like preventative maintenance or the insurance industry. For a flat monthly rate, the staff at Northwest Computer will remotely monitor your computer to make sure that you have the most up-to-date security patches and will also be on hand to address any problems, if (and when) they occur.

This overrides the old model, where businesses often had to hire out for a technician once problems have already occurred. That technician would then have to drive to their office and spend several hours diagnosing and fixing the problem. All of that can now be done from within one location.

“We can even go so far as to put a little icon in where an end user can submit a trouble ticket,” D’Onofrio said. “They click the little icon saying ‘I can’t access my e-mail’ and it comes into our ticket counter. We basically become their IT staff. We’ve got a whole team of engineers waiting to solve these problems.”

For D’Onofrio, switching to a managed services model does more than speed up the process of tech support. It also saves the company gas money by keeping more staff in the office and off of the roads.

“I get to sign the reimbursement checks for people driving around the county all week,” he said. “It’s just not cost effective anymore.”

With fuel prices consistently rising and the retail market for technology changing due to Internet sales, D’Onofrio said the whole company is shifting toward the computer service industry.

“Two years ago it was maybe 10 percent of our business and a year from now I expect that it will be 75 percent of our business,” he said.

No matter what shifts occur in the technology sector this year — be it in Web development or repair services — you can almost be sure that the trends will shift again. Such is the manner of technology.

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