When any new technology is introduced into business circles, large firms — typically of the Fortune 500 level — are typically the first to adopt it. They have the adequate financial resources, and plenty of safety nets, to gamble on innovation that may or may succeed.
Small companies, on the other hand, have to be more cautious. A swing and a miss on a substantial technology investment could compromise the entire organization.
Nevertheless, the rapid speed of technological innovation and the scalability of new solutions often make it possible for small firms to join their bigger counterparts among the first adopters. This has clearly been the case in 2017.
Five Tech Trends Worth Monitoring
When the year started, a lot of speculation centered on which technologies would have the biggest impact on small businesses. Some have scored, while others have fizzled.
But now that we’re most of the way through 2017, it is a good time to analyze where things stand and highlight a few of the tech trends that have had the greatest and most positive impact on small businesses and their operations.
1. Predictive Everything
It’s impossible to study small business trends and not be aware of predictive analytics technology and the role it’s playing. In terms of sales strategy, predictive analytics platforms are giving small companies the ability to improve the way they price their products.
“Using a single price is economically inefficient because part of the demand curve that could be profitably served is priced out of the market. As a consequence, firms regularly offer targeted discounts, promotions, and segment-based pricing to target different consumers,” economist Jacob LaRiviere notes.
Predictive pricing is especially helpful for eCommerce businesses that have lots of data on customer browsing behavior and past purchase choices. But it can also be used by offline retailers that have ways to collect data on shoppers.
Predictive analytics is also reshaping the way businesses handle SEO. In a typical SEO scenario, businesses make changes, wait a couple months to let search engines crawl, total their scores, and update results; then they analyze what happens (before rinsing and repeating the process).
At best, this approach is inefficient. New predictive analytics platforms, such as Market Brew, make it possible to reduce the SEO test-and-update process to just a couple of hours. This saves huge amounts of time while leading to more positive results.
As small firms become more conversant with predictive analytics, we will see even more growth in this area. As IBM’s Watson computer system has shown, the potential for machine learning and predictive technology is virtually unlimited.
2. Tech-Fueled Co-Creation
One of the more interesting trends that has caught the eye of business owners over the past few years is co-creation. The term refers to a management initiative that focuses on bringing different groups together — inside and outside of the company — in order to produce end products in a joint effort.
“Technology now allows companies to delegate substantial control to outsiders — co-creation — in essence by outsourcing innovation to business partners that work together in networks,” James M. Manyika wrote in a quarterly report for McKinsey & Company all the way back in 2007.
“By distributing innovation through the value chain, companies may reduce their costs and usher new products to market faster by eliminating the bottlenecks that come with total control.”
Manyika highlighted the rise of co-creation a decade ago, but it’s taken until this year for the technology to catch up and enable small businesses to partake in this unique and flexible supply change/management strategy that large organizations have used for much longer.
Thanks to the rise of the freelance economy and remote working capabilities, small companies can easily partner with skilled entrepreneurs and innovators to co-create with optimal efficiency. Moving forward, this may become the norm for small firms that lack the time or in-house resources to create independently.
3. Increased Focus on Mobile Apps for Sales
By 2020, IDC forecasts there will be 105 million mobile workers in the U.S. A hefty percentage of these workers will be salespeople who offer exceptional value to employers when they’re actually able to get out of the office and interact with prospects.
Historically, though, there’s been some friction between external sales reps and the companies. In 2017, the growth of mobile apps and advanced communication solutions has smoothed over some of these issues.
Take Zoho CRM as an example. The platform actually gives sales reps real-time insights into sales trends, inventory, customer engagement, and collaboration — all from the mobile app. This empowers salespeople and enables them to maximize each interaction they have with prospects and clients.
Another good example is Intuit’s sales tool, which allows for mobile invoicing, maps and analytics, estimates, and even sales route information. Finally, mobile salespeople can actually be 100 percent mobile.
4. Cloud Translation Opens Borders
We all operate in a global marketplace today, where goods and services are frequently exchanged across borders, continents, and oceans. Large organizations don’t have much trouble with this, since they can afford to employ translators and salespeople who understand different cultures.
Unfortunately, small businesses have been left in the dark, so to speak. Most can’t afford to hire translators or experts in international economics, but the situations appear to be changing.
There’s evidently still a need for skilled translators in many arenas, but tools like Xerox Easy Translator are making it possible for small businesses to get office documents automatically translated into different languages. This removes some of the challenges associated with signing contracts and processing information across international borders. In essence, it’s tearing down obstacles of distance and language, and creating a more frictionless global marketplace.
5. BYOD Continues to Grow
The growth of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend has been staggering. What was all but impossible a decade ago is now accepted as mainstream.
There’s already been significant movement in this area this year, and experts in the industry suggest it’s only the tip of the iceberg. What can we expect over the final few months of 2017?
“BYOD and the Internet of Things (IoT) go hand-in-hand. Some employers will look to create internal company apps and project management systems, while others will mandate that certain security programs and external apps and management systems are installed on devices to maintain compliance,” Michael Lazar writes for Insight.
“In a likely scenario, devices would also be tethered to corporate cloud storage services (internal or external), alleviating any foreseeable storage issues while also helping to improve security at endpoints.”
Security is obviously the biggest concern. Businesses want their employees to be able to use their own devices, but can’t afford to put company data at risk. As the cloud grows and mobile device security improves, adoption should soar past current rates, at close to 100 percent.
Start Preparing for 2018
Before you know it, 2017 will be over. The fourth quarter is already upon us and it’s time to start thinking about next year.
As you prepare for 2018, keep the above tech trends in mind, and consider how you can align your business with innovation and push your company forward. Whether by predictive analytics, BYOD, or something else, the playing field between small and large businesses is becoming a little more level, and you want to be sure you’re putting your organization in a position to compete for the future.