Have you wondered whether blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, edge computing, or any number of the other new technologies out there might be right for your small business? They all sound exciting, but which ones, if any, will enhance your operations? With the ever-increasing rate of innovation in IT, it can be tough to know which emerging trends to pay attention to let alone implement. Based on what we’ve heard from clients combined with industry trends, this is the list of technology trends we think small businesses need to consider in 2019.
Integrate Data Using the Cloud
Do you find that you are entering the same information into multiple different systems resulting in duplication of effort? Cloud solutions provide online options that address this problem. There are many great, online software subscriptions, also known as SaaS solutions, that enable transfer of information from one system to another, provide centralized repositories of data, and allow access to data from any location. Because there are now so many SaaS offerings available, a small business might use multiple systems to manage their data resulting in similar information being entered into more than one system.
As an example, think of a client’s email address which is entered into the customer relationship management (CRM) system, the email list manager, the marketing system, and possibly a shared address book. The same email address may also be entered separately into the billing or accounting systems. This is a simple example, but you can imagine a similar scenario for your business.
When the same data is entered into multiple systems, not only is it time consuming, but there is a heightened risk for human error. To prevent confusion, miscommunication, missed opportunities, and errors, take advantage of the connectors built into most SaaS packages that allow data to be shared across applications. This can streamline business operations, eliminate duplication of effort, and improve the integrity of your information.
Make Better Decisions Using Business Intelligence (BI) Tools
How can you make sense of the data you collect to make better business decisions? As we alluded to above, businesses collect a lot of data. Until recently, static reports that present a view of what happened in the past have been the norm. While understanding past performance provides valuable information, today’s more advanced business intelligence (BI) tools allow users to create interactive views of data from multiple sources and can sometimes be used to model what could happen in the future.
BI tools are easy-to-use and allow users to develop visualizations providing a glimpse into key metrics in real time. Use of interactive, BI tools will not replace all static reports, however, taking advantage of these capabilities can enable a small business to be more agile and responsive by providing key insights that weren’t possible before. These new capabilities may also represent the opportunity for a culture change from backward-looking to experimentation and forward-thinking.
Ensure a Stable Technology Environment with Outsourced IT
Do you have a consistent and reliable technology environment? Your organization requires IT for day-to-day operations, but you likely don’t have dedicated IT staff, and many staff probably wear multiple hats. Outsourcing all or part of your IT Support enables your team to focus on the business while your IT partner is responsible for keeping your technology in good working order. Although outsourcing is not a new concept, there’s never been a better time for small businesses to consider outsourcing even business-critical IT.
The use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) models can reduce IT overhead by eliminating the need to install software on every machine, maintain local servers, and other similar items. However, even with the power that SaaS solutions bring, you may need assistance with some installs and configurations, business-specific customization, system integration, and ongoing IT Support. With that in mind, many small businesses find that they get the most value out of their IT spend by outsourcing these tasks to a trusted third party.
Implement Systems and Policies to Reinforce IT Security
Are you confident that your IT security plan is solid? Without the proper protocols in place, small businesses can be vulnerable to a cyberattack due to virus intrusion, ransomware, phishing, or other threat. USA Today found that 61% of cyberattacks were aimed at small businesses in 2017, so it’s safe to say that cybercriminals may view small businesses as “easy marks” relative to larger organizations with teams dedicated to IT security. Fortunately, there are software security suites available which, in combination with employing best practices, can thwart potential cyberintruders.
Keep in mind that there are different protocols that relate to cybersecurity. Software is one piece, but physical security and the human side of cybersecurity are just as important. A thief walking off with a laptop containing sensitive information can be just as damaging as a virus intrusion. In addition to putting in place systems, policies, and safeguards, it’s also important to create an awareness of IT security throughout the organization. The Information Security Institute has created a helpful checklist that can be used as the foundation of an Information Security Program.
Enhance Virtual Teams with Collaboration Tools
Is your team located in one office or do you have a mobile or virtual workspace? While there has been much debate recently about the upside and downside of “telecommuting,” virtual teams are a staple for many businesses. They can save money and increase employee satisfaction without losing productivity. Entrepreneur Magazine even predicts that “remote work will be the new norm for 2019.”
With the introduction of super-fast broadband internet and 5g mobile networks it is easier than ever to stay connected with a team using tools for collaboration, file sharing, and videoconferencing. Videoconferencing provides remote teams with the ability to communicate “face to face” using desktop video. And, the cloud provides options for file sharing and storage which facilitate team collaboration.
The flexibility of remote work is a big attraction, and employers can make this happen effectively with the right combination of tools and policies. The growing number of co-working spaces provides an option for team members to work in an office-like environment but working from a home office continues to be a viable option as well.
Sell and Support Your Products with Social Media
As far as business is concerned, one of the intrinsic benefits of social media is that it allows easy, direct interaction and content sharing. Every business has a website, and a rapidly growing number have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram as well as other emerging social networks. While the utility of a website for marketing purposes has been clear for more than two decades, many businesses are still catching on to social media.
Social media platforms allow a direct connection between you and your customers, within your customer’s (and potential customer’s) community. This provides opportunities for you to answer pre- and post-sale questions quickly, and for customers to share their enthusiasm with their connections - increasing your reach exponentially! According to Inc. Magazine, Facebook has 1.3 billion monthly users. Of course, this also means that negative customer experiences can be shared just as quickly. But, even in these cases, issues can be addressed, and your brand managed in the open with a strong social media presence.
Another great way to leverage social media is “influencer marketing,” when social media personalities with very large followings promote your product or service. Business News Daily has produced a helpful Influencer Marketing 101 guide to help small businesses get started.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about. It may seem overwhelming, but to get started, consider where your business is now with respect to these trends. Then, envision where you want to see your business in the next several years. This will help to establish a plan and prioritize your next steps.
Ninestone consultants have experience working with small businesses to evaluate current state and determine which options will work best to move the organization forward based on your goals. We are prepared to assist with strategy, planning, and implementation and look forward to working with you.
The Ninestone Team