Being aware of new technology trends is just one-way businesses can stay ahead of the curve and their competition.
To decide what to adopt, versus getting distracted by the next shiny object, small business owners must have a better understanding of emerging technologies and the implications for their business.
So to get a sense of what we could expect for this years’ technology trends, we reviewed over two dozen articles and blogs on the technology that will shape small business in 2018. And while no one has a crystal ball into the exact future, we found that some patterns emerged.
Here are the most common technology trends being predicted to significantly impact small businesses over the next 11 months.
Cybersecurity was front and center in 2017. It will remain a hot topic for 2018.
It’s no secret that cybersecurity was one of the biggest tech issues of last year. The threats seemed to come at a rapid-fire pace and included global ransomware attacks impacting 150-plus countries (WannaCry and then NotPetya a month later) to sophisticated phishing campaigns. For Microsoft’s Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne, cybersecurity topped their Top 10 Tech Issues for 2018 along with AI coming in sixth. Unfortunately, one-size doesn’t fit all when it comes to security. SMB owners will need to assess their risks along with the solutions to implement the best plan to protect their business from being hacked and becoming a statistic.
As you read on, you’ll see how each of the next technology trends mentioned have a security element.
More security; SMB-friendly mobile device management (MDM) solutions
Business News Daily claims Mobile Device Management (MDM) “is poised to take the SMB world by storm in 2018.” This trend stands out because not one other article that we reviewed included MDM for small businesses.
With employees using their own devices as well as the increase in the remote workforce, bring your own device (BYOD) has become the norm for SMBs. However, this de facto policy comes with risk and security concerns. The good news; major tech players such as VMware (IT security giant), Dell and Microsoft have significantly decreased the cost for SMB-friendly MDM services making it easy and affordable for SMB owners to adopt and implement solutions.
Blockchain, Wireless Charging, 5G, and Voice were also on the Business News Daily’s list.
Growth of open banking and mobile payments
Although cash transactions are still the primary means of payment, digital transactions are growing and expected to hit 726 billion by 2020. So it’s no surprise that several 2018 tech trend lists’, such as those from Inside Small Business, the Huffington Post and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) pointed out the shift to open banking and mobile payments.
GoCardless’ Duncan Barrigan predicts that “open banking will usher in a new era for bank-to-bank payments.” This promises several benefits for small businesses such as helping them get paid faster, improving overall cashflow and less time chasing down payments. And it’s more secure.
As for mobile payments or social payments; as the number of consumers embracing the idea of using their mobile devices to pay for goods and services increases, small businesses will want to become early adopters of mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay. SMB owners should think about their checkout process and question if it is losing them customers. Other digital payment platforms to consider include in-app, in-browser or person-to-person (P2P) options.
Security ranks high on the list of obstacles for mobile payment adoption and use. Consumers are concerned with identity theft and loss of funds as well as having their data secured and protected with limited access.
Creating and managing an outsourced workforce
As technology becomes more accessible, SMBs will be able to adapt their business models and create both an outsourced and a remote workforce. Marketplace platforms such as UpWork and TechStak make it easier to access specialized talent and resources and have become the go-to for businesses across the globe. Businesses can easily find and hire contractors and freelancers that can fill gaps ranging from programmers to digital marketers to outsourced IT and security professionals.
Affordable, real-time collaboration solutions such as video, chatbots and messaging platforms will continue to make it easier for small businesses to connect and communicate with different types of workers as well as manage them. The result; SMBs can create small, nimble teams and get more done. Some say that “small business will surpass big corporations as the best places to work.”
Access of big data and harnessing centralized data
Big data becomes accessible for small businesses. Its more affordable, better quality, easier to consume and easier to use. Big data is the driving force behind machine learning. It can be used to improve every aspect of how a company operates from knowing your customers better, to creating better marketing campaigns, to making sense of social media.
Data becomes gold. There are so many sources of information for businesses to use. APIs allow businesses to connect and centralize data from a multitude of sources to be analyzed.
Salesforce released their Second Annual Small & Medium Business Trends Report that provides research insights from nearly 500 small business owners and leaders (companies with 2-199 employees). Their research shows that growing SMBs think it’s important to connect their business data and have it centralized in one place.
And they’re not the only one to include it on their list. Many other lists we reviewed suggested that SMB owners invest in data collection and integration to become more empowered and improve their business operations.
Blockchain for solving a variety of business challenges
While others say that blockchain won’t impact SMBs for a while, many listed it as a 2018 tech trend to watch. Both Due and Deloitte point out that blockchain has other innovative uses when it comes to solving business challenges. Why? Because blockchain provides increased security, transparency and accountability. And while we’re still learning when and where to use the technology, the application of blockchain is quickly spreading across a variety of industries. It is being used in logistics, to enforce smart contracting, manage billing, as well as for supply chain tracking. Other useful applications could include medical records, vehicle registration and insurance.
The rise of AI and automation
2018 will be the year for SMBs to invest in AI. Although not completely adopted and mainstream with SMBs, the NFIB (and many others) is predicting AI will take off in 2018. AI will be used to help improve business models and customer relationships. Benefits of AI include marketing automation and analytics, such as predictive sales forecasting, as well as human resource management and customer service. Small business owners should consider chatbots, app-smart assistants, and integrated back-end systems as part of their AI strategy.
Salesforce lists automation and AI as number three on their 2018 trends to follow. Automation is being used by businesses to perform complex, redundant, time-consuming tasks as well as process large amounts of data – especially for back office functions such as financial reporting, payroll and HR. The results; cost reduction, compliance, and streamlined work.
Summing it all up. What do small businesses need to pay attention to this year?
1. Security tops the list
2018 is sure to bring more hacking, more attacks, more theft. SMBs will need to effectively secure their information as data is the new currency. Small businesses will need to invest in monitoring, threat protection and response, data recovery and back up, and password protection and identity management. SMB owners will need to take a proactive approach to safeguard their data and their customer’s data. Technology has made these things more affordable and doable for small businesses. The motto here – secure your information in case of disaster.
2. AI is by far the strongest 1st place challenger
Some say it is the “trend that will trump them all.” Brian Burke from Gartner said, “you can think of AI like we thought of electricity 100 years ago.” It’s easier now for any size business to embed AI into their systems to enhance, not eliminate, human interaction. Small businesses need to get ready for using chatbots, digital agents and virtual assistants. They need to see AI (e.g. chatbots) as a way to further their marketing, lead generation and customer service strategies. AI will help SMB owners make their systems “smart”, automate processes, and gain valuable insights from a variety of data sources.
3. Payments go cashless
The United States ranks 5th as a cashless country - behind Canada, Sweden, the UK and France. U.S. SMB owners need to get ready for this growing trend. Going cashless has a positive impact on small businesses and will continue to transform how they operate. Going cashless means it will be easier for consumers to pay for goods and services. Not only that, what small business doesn’t want quicker payments? But going cashless could have its challenges – security plays a big factor.
4. Using data and big data to drive outcomes
Small businesses will need to embrace the future of big data as it will shape their respective industries. SMB owners need to look at ways to use data to drive growth and innovation - such as how they will connect with customers and drive sales while using big data to transform their operations to be more efficient and smarter.
5. It’s a different workforce
Technology has changed the make-up of our workforce. With access to a remote and outsourced workforce, SMBs can rethink their business model as well as how they build, connect and manage their teams.
6. Blockchain applications
Blockchain technology is advancing at a rapid pace and is already touching many industries beyond the banking industry. As the technology matures and consumer trust increases, the demand for blockchain-based services will continue to grow.
Small business owners should be thinking about how to apply blockchain technology to their business. Resources such as Investopedia and IBM’s Top Use Cases for Blockchain video provide excellent overviews and use case examples.
Finally, what does a small business do with all this information?
When asked what technology trend should small businesses watch for at the start of 2018, The Young Entrepreneur Councils Codie Sanchez said it best, “Winners [next year] will be those who run where the ball is about to be thrown.”
The key is knowing what’s right for your business and what’s not a shiny object. Additionally, it’s not enough to simply be aware of this years’ trends. SMB owners must be able to implement these technologies to be successful in taking advantage of them to stay ahead of their competition.
TechStak can help. We know it’s a challenge to sort through all the options and develop an action plan.
About the Author, Nicol Pasuit
As the CEO of TechStak, Nicol knows the significant challenges businesses face trying to leverage the right technologies. Nicol has 19 years’ experience building and scaling businesses across the country. She is an serial intrapreneur turned entreprenuer. She created TechStak to help bridge the gap between small businesses and tech providers - making it easier for them to do business. Nicol has a passion for problem solving as well as all things SaaS applications for small business. She is a speaker and a member of CompTia’s Advancing Women in Technology group.