Top Tech Trends for Small Business in 2018
Trying to predicate the future is a mugs game, but we’ve not let that put us off!
So, we’ve dusted off the crystal ball and here are the five technology trends that we believe will have the biggest impact on small businesses in the coming year.
Cloud services will continue to dominate
Cloud computing has proved to be the most dramatic technological innovation of recent years. It is one of those tech trends that is well and truly here, with browser-based applications now dominating the way we undertake work.
According to the Cloud Industry Forum 88% of small business in the UK use a cloud-based or hosted solution, an increase of 10% over 2014.
Despite this already being a very large percentage, we’d still expect it to increase in the coming year. US figures show 92% and we’d anticipate the UK will break the 90%-mark next year. We can also see existing businesses who have been using one or two cloud-based services to test the water moving more of their businesses on to cloud-based applications.
When you think of the plethora of cloud-based services out there it’s no surprise that the number is so high. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and others allow small businesses to keep records, spreadsheets, data analysis, documents, images, presentations, and other vital files together in one place.
Office 365 is becoming the standard business product from Microsoft whilst we continue to see more Software-as-a-Service type models including accountancy packages such as Xero, MYOB and Quickbooks etc.
Cloud technology allows small businesses to keep up to date with projects while away from the office, and minimises the need for physical file-storage.
The Workforce goes Remote
Complementary to the rise of cloud services technology has enabled employees to work from almost anywhere with an internet connection and the push for more flexible working conditions has forced small businesses to change their conditions of employment.
Studies show that this approach to working has had a positive impact on employee engagement, enabling greater productivity and saving costs for both businesses and their workforce and Remote working shows no signs of going anywhere.
We expect to see an increase in the number of remote productivity and collaboration tools available with mobile-friendly versions prominent.
There are distinct signs that employers are getting used to the idea of flexibility and allowing employees to work from different locations. The advantages of a more flexible workforce, including the use of contractors and freelancers, for small businesses is clear. Reducing overheads, including office space, and having the ability to scale up or down on a project by project basis helps the small business owner keep a close eye on costs, and inject expertise wherever it is needed in the business.
Collaborative tools also make it easier to work with a remote staff, making it feel more like it would if they were working in the office. This could help maintain motivation, achieve loyalty and increase productivity amongst both remote and in-office teams.
Consumers become more data-savvy
We all know that trusting random online businesses is a bad decision. Even so, we keep doing it. We tweet, post, and share without regard for who sees the final product. In 2018, that will start changing.
High profile data breaches have been big news in 2017. The NHS attacks introduced the world to WannaCry and they’ve been damaging news stories involving data loss and companies including Equifax, Uber, Debenhams, Three, Lloyds TSB, Tesco, Sports Direct and Yahoo, to name but a few.
Whilst those in IT consistently talk about the need for good cybersecurity for businesses there is an undeniable truth – companies will get hacked. The more that people accept this the more than are going to have to take personal responsibility for their data.
The new General Data Protection Regulations will force businesses into greater transparency when asking for consumer data and this will lead to people really thinking about the value of their personal information.
This isn’t all bad news for businesses. Your audience for email marketing will actually be far more engaged, they will know why they’ve signed up and will be expecting your content – make that content high quality and you’ll have an advocate for your brand.
This is content marketing coming of age.
Emerging Technologies Are Adopted Slowly
No doubt you’ve all heard of the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence and the adoption of these emerging technologies is expected to increase over the12 months.
Your house and car will get ‘smarter’ turning on your heating and lights from your smartphone is just the tip of the iceberg!
However, adoption in small and medium-sized businesses is slower, and that’s not going to change in the next 12 months.
The main spend from SME’s is still going to be on traditional IT infrastructure such as PC’s, printers, servers and networking equipment.
Whilst there is interest in IoT, VR, and AI from small businesses these will continue to be the ‘shiny things’ that we aspire to; with a notable exception that we discuss below, the every day will continue to command our attention and resources.
The majority of mainstream firms are still a few years away from knowing exactly what they want to get from these new technologies.
Chatbots are going mainstream
Call any large company’s customer service hotline and you’ll quickly realise that chatbots have become a key part of operations. They simply reduce costs and solve issues quickly and this is the area of AI that is likely to become the most important for small businesses. 80% of all businesses are hoping to use chatbots by 2020.
And there is so much more than simple customer problem solving that chatbots can do, even for smaller businesses.
They can engage in what is known as ‘conversational commerce’. For example, Chatfuel gives small businesses the ability to build a Facebook-ready chatbot in minutes. The bot engages with customers, sending them applicable information and asking questions about items. Businesses can add a payment method and allow customers to make purchases without contacting any human at all within the business.
Chatbots can also be used to gather data, giving companies unique insights into clients. Small business owners can use such information to customize products or services. This kind of personalisation can already be seen from bigger businesses; suggestions of music to listen to, books to read, or even clothes to buy based on your tastes and delivered straight to your inbox.
Small businesses will need to find the right chatbot provider, then budget for subscription costs and possible implementation fees. However, you’ll more than likely be able to justify the cost in comparison to the cost of hiring additional staff.