If you run a small business and you’d like a competitive advantage, noticing and staying ahead of technology trends can be one of the most important ways to gain an edge over your competition.
Consider that only 53% of small businesses have a website, and it’s easy to see that just a little tech-savvy-ness can go a long way when it comes to standing out in the small business world.
In fact, Fast Company reported that roughly only half of small businesses reported spending over $5,000 on IT in recent years; and another source states that only 38% of smaller businesses use or plan to use web-based or subscription-based software (which tends to be more efficient and saves money). Yet, only 30% of small business owners say that keeping up with advances in technology is a major issue.
With the ever-changing landscape of technology, Fast Company notes as part of its survey discussion, that if the problem continues to go unnoticed, they “expect technology to be an unexpected nightmare for some small businesses” in the near future.
In other words, small businesses who jump on technology trends early will be doing themselves a favor and giving themselves a nice advantage in the market.
So what can you, as a small business owner or employee, do to align with technology trends and future-proof your business?
Here are 4 tech trends that you need to know now (and can expect to see sticking around for a while).
More small businesses will move to the cloud
The “cloud” may be a buzzword you’ve heard thrown around quite a bit, but cloud-based applications and technologies are increasingly being integrated into businesses of all sizes.
According to Forbes, 78% of U.S. small businesses will have fully adopted cloud computing by 2020, more than doubling the current 37% as of today.
So just what is the cloud? To keep things simple, think of it as basically storing and accessing programs and information over the Internet instead of on your computer’s hard drive. Using the cloud for business tools and operations can save you money, make your team more mobile, enable instant collaboration, allow you to scale more easily, and it’s even more environmentally-friendly.
A few examples of things small businesses are moving to the cloud include:
Mobility will be a big deal
Smart Insights says that around 80% of Internet users now own a smartphone. Society is more connected and more mobile than ever, and businesses will need to follow suit if they hope to keep up with trends in 2017 and beyond.
According to Marketing Land, roughly 56 percent of consumer traffic to the leading US websites is from mobile devices. What’s really interesting is that Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a site they had trouble accessing via mobile and 40% will visit a competitor’s site instead.
The truth is, as customers get more mobile, small businesses must adapt and cater to their mobility by creating mobile-friendly experiences for prospects and customers to engage with. That might involve making websites more mobile-friendly, engaging more on primarily mobile platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, or even creating a branded app of their own.
Another interesting trend in customer mobility is in regards to mobile payments (or mobile wallet). Research firm Javelin Strategy states that, “Mobile proximity payment volume has tripled since 2013, reaching $10 billion in 2015, and is expected to surge to $92 billion by 2019.” That means installing devices that accept mobile payments might turn out to be a wise investment.
The bottom line is, if you want to future-proof your business, then you’ll want to optimize for the best possible mobile experience for your customers.
Customers aren’t the only ones interacting more on-the-go. Because technology has allowed more work to be done online, employees are progressively working outside the office. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported “the share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 … to 24 percent in 2015.”
After all, why be chained to a desk for 40 hours a week when you can do your work from anywhere? And as it turns out, working outside of a normal office setting more often leads to employees being more productive. According to Forbes, “Employee mobility leads to 30% better processes and 23% more productivity.”
One of the best ways to enable your small business employees to be more mobile is to implement a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone system. Utilizing advanced features, employees can make and receive phone calls from anywhere and it’s as if they’re sitting in their office.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make its way into small businesses
While artificial intelligence (AI) may seem like an idea reserved only for futuristic movies or really large enterprise companies, the technology exists today, and it’s much more accessible than you may realize.
Business Insider says, “Gartner projects that more than 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human by 2020.”
One definition of artificial intelligence is “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”
Based on that definition, you can probably think of at least a few things for which you’re already using AI. For example, if you have an Alexa by Amazon or if you use Google Assistant, then you’re already experiencing artificial intelligence.
But how will small businesses use AI now and in the not-so-distant future? Well, one of the most readily available uses for AI within small businesses is in the form of chat bots.
For example, you can build bots to chat with customers for you on Facebook messenger using a tool like Chatfuel. There are also chatbot integrations for Zendesk that allow you to automate customer service chat for faster responses and better immediate service.
You can also use tools like FlowXO to create chatbots to interact with customers via SMS or to automate responses for team members on Slack.
Other uses for AI within small businesses include virtual assistants to schedule meetings (Amy smart assistant), predictive industrial maintenance (DataRPM), and customer relationship management (SalesforceIQ CRM).
Collaboration and communication will be easier than ever before
One major advantage to cloud computing and Internet-based operations is the ability to access information, collaborate, and communicate in realtime from practically anywhere in the world.
For instance, VoIP phone systems often offer softphone apps that allow small business employees to be connected and accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection. This increased connectivity opens communication and changes the workplace like never before.
Other tools like Google Drive and Dropbox make file sharing and collaboration easy, so no matter where your team is located, each person can access and edit documents without the hassle or confusion.
There’s a range of tools available to small businesses that make it simple and affordable to implement these four technology trends. The important thing is to stay on top of the trends that can help your business remain competitive.
If you’d like to know more about how cloud phone systems work and which type of system might be best for your business, check out our free on-demand webinar “Demystifying Cloud Hype – Which UC Solution is right for your network?”