Today’s blistering pace of technological change provides small businesses with an unprecedented opportunity to drive efficiencies and reach their audiences in creative, compelling new ways.
From apps, to machine learning, blockchain and virtual reality, there are countless innovations promising to transform employee and customer experiences, and boost business performance. Dominic Allon tells more.
There is so much innovation going on, in fact, that it’s difficult to know quite where to start. Small businesses simply don’t have the same amount of cash as larger companies to invest in new technologies without guaranteed returns. This means careful decisions must be made around which technologies to pay attention to: what’s sure to drive revenues, and what’s a gamble that might not pay off?
Here’s my take on some of the technologies small businesses should adopt now and explore next – and what they should avoid doing at all costs.
There’s a reason why nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of UK small business owners rely on mobile or web-based applications to run their operations, eliminate administrative tasks and grow their firm. It’s because apps provide a simple and cost-effective solution for many of the challenges today’s SMEs face – from offering easy access to information to boosting productivity.
However, with so many apps out there, it’s important to find the right ones to meet a specific business need. There’s no point in using technology for technology’s sake. This can be more destructive than productive for a small business.
Two in five (40 per cent) UK small business owners using apps believe there are too many to choose from and are unsure of which are best suited to their business. The key to getting the balance right here is to start with the problem you are trying to solve, and then work backwards to identify which app will make your life easier.
EXPLORE: Machine learning
Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI). It focuses on the creation of computer programmes that can teach themselves to evolve and grow when exposed to new data. It might sound futuristic but many of the apps you already use will be backed by machine learning. For example, your accounting app should use data to forecast and help you streamline tasks such as expense management and invoicing.
Beyond this, machine learning could help to make your marketing more targeted, or power chatbots or messenger platforms. You wouldn’t be alone in wanting to explore this trend: Oracle recently reported that eighty percent of brands expect to serve customers through chatbots by 2020.
Machine learning could accelerate your business in a multitude of ways, however you must stay focused on the problem you are trying to solve. Access to useful and reliable data, and expertise to guide the application of machine learning, are required – so think carefully before you go all in.
AVOID: Jumping on fads
With technology continually changing the way we work and engage customers, doing things “the old way” just isn’t an option for SME owners determined to ensure they stay close to customers and grow their business in the face of increasingly stiff competition. However, it’s important not to get caught up with the latest fad and find yourself investing in new technologies for the sake of it.
Business owners must focus on technologies which simplify and streamline – this is key to making informed decisions which will create efficiencies, enhance productivity and improve business processes. As we’ll be discussing at QuickBooks Connect, an event which brings together hundreds of SMEs to discuss how technology can boost their business, crucially, it’s not about going all in and investing in emerging technologies now, but working out which might be able to improve your business and trialling the tech in small, easy to manage phases.
Dominic Allon is the Vice President and Managing Director, Intuit Europe