Which technology trends are most important for small business in 2017 and beyond?
With over 5.5 million small businesses in the UK, and over 28.8 million in the US and companies representing everything from micro-breweries to tool manufacturers, or coffee shops to computer service companies, the small business owners are a diversified bunch. Throwing ownership structure and business lifecycle into the mix, you are bound to find very different technology adaptations whether it is a serial entrepreneur’s fifth start-up or a sole proprietor moving to diversify her business. So, to try and suggest that there are any clear trends might be a little far-fetched, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. In this post I will outline the tech trends that are having the most impact on small businesses, and then over the coming weeks I want to drill down into each one and explore them in more detail.
Data in the clouds and feet on the ground
In a recent office cleaning I came across a floppy disk marked 2000-2002. It basically was the backup of all Office files I worked on during those years at my family business. That disk made me realize how long we stuck to optical drives for back-up, while many around us had already moved to a network attached storage. At the same time we were early to upload images to a remote server to share them with collaborative parties. The floppy disks and CD-ROMs where used because that was the technology already invested in, and it worked as long as the PC ran properly.
I find this typical to many small businesses – it is not a trend that you follow – it is your investment cycle that dictates the technology adoption. And some data, such as tax information, you would not even consider uploading to the cloud. Even though the level of reliability and security has increased in cloud services, there will be a continued need for different storage solutions. Small businesses are likely to continue storing their most critical documents locally or even as paper copies in a war room, but any larger data like image files, or basic documents that are collaborative pieces are moving to the cloud, as well as back-ups should you have that ominous computer crash at the office.
Services in the cloud
Cloud is not only data space, it opens up a magnitude of different services that make the busy life of business owners more efficient. E-mail service is one of the most well adopted cloud applications, followed by website services. More and more services are opening in cloud based applications such as payroll administration, CRM, invoicing and accounting. Common to these services are that as long as they are not the core of the business, they are likely to be used as a cloud service, thus minimizing the storage cost locally and creating efficiency in the daily business.
Your office is where your mobile is
It almost feels silly to put this one in the list, given how it seems impossible to get through one’s day without using a mobile device of one sort or another. But while we have completely embraced a mobile lifestyle, not all businesses have been quite so quick to get intimate. The sheer scale of mobile device use now makes it hard to avoid, though. Even if it’s simply ensuring that web-sites function properly on mobile screens, or enabling customers to make purchases via their phones – there is no way for small businesses to ignore this trend. It seems only natural that tools to manage small businesses take advantage of the ubiquity and utility of these devices. It is now possible to run an entire business, from inventory management, to sales, to marketing, to invoicing, to banking all from one’s phone. And for those businesses that care about physical security, even that can be managed from a mobile device – untethering small business owners from their desks, but still able to keep an eye on the shop.
Security in the cyberspace
Unfortunately, as is the case of humanity through the ages, whenever we develop new technologies to make the world a better place, there are those who wish to bend it to their own, more criminal ends. And just as the internet has been a force multiplier for many businesses, so it has been for cybercriminals, leading to an arms race between those wishing to steal, extort or sabotage and those who are tasked with stopping them. Before small businesses were operating online, they had little exposure to some of the inherent vulnerabilities of technology, and are now often having to learn the hard way.
The challenge is that small businesses often don’t have the dedicated resources or expertise to continually monitor their networks, and either rely on installers to set things up right in the first place, or for hardware and software to be secure out of the box. Unfortunately, some vendors take short-cuts when building security into their products, or they outsource development to component manufacturers, or simply rebadge other company’s products as their own, etc. So, it’s important to pick hardware and software from reputable vendors, who are invested in their customers’ security, are open when mistakes are made (since no-one is infallible), and go above and beyond to make it easy to stay secure online.
Internet of Things or Everything
This is possibly one of the biggest positive trends that we are seeing. While we may have been amused by the idea of internet-enabled fridges in our homes, smart devices are set to have a significant impact on businesses in the years to come. From simple (yet obvious) products such as internet-enabled credit card readers which are helping pop-up shops pop up all over the place, to intelligent lighting and heating systems that can reduce costs, to smart door locks and alarm systems that can be remotely managed and monitored – the array of ‘things’ is growing, moving from hype to utility. One area that we obviously have a lot of experience in is internet-enabled security systems, giving small businesses an array of tools to help manage and monitor their shops, offices and other sites. We are excited about the opportunities for integrating our cameras into new scenarios enabled by IoT – whether it be digital Point of Sales systems, smart inventory-management, or enhancing new workplace environments while keeping employees safe.
So, that’s my 2c worth. What do you think? Anything I’ve missed out? I’m going to be delving deeper into each of these topics in the coming weeks and months – so I’d love your feedback as we go along.