Small business owners are in a bind. On one hand, you know you need to plan for the future and implement tech solutions to stay current and competitive. On the other hand, the speed at which innovation and technology is moving makes it difficult to keep pace. So where does that leave you?
Rest assured: You're not alone. Around half of small business owners find today's biggest tech trends – such as cloud computing, AI and data analytics – complicated. But there are actionable steps you can take to better understand your options and position your business to take on the changes on the horizon.
You can see a lot further from the clouds
One way to future-proof your business is to migrate your data to a public cloud. It makes information more accessible to users while freeing you from the burden of hosting all your data on premises. Centralized on-premises hosting presents a future hazard, as a system breakdown or security breach could cripple your company.
Still, some business owners put off cloud migration because they've spent lots of time and money customizing their own infrastructure and software, or they're wary of "pay what you use" cost models – and that's where a hybrid cloud comes in. You can move some of your data to the cloud while still making the most of your current system.
Complete dependence on public servers can be expensive, as can hardware and licensing costs. That's why hybrid clouds can be a cost-effective solution for small businesses at any stage of their evolution, even if they’re just starting out.
Hybrid clouds also provide flexibility and scalability. You can roll out and rollback services in order to meet the needs of your customers and your team, which reduces your overhead IT costs since you only pay for dedicated servers when the demand is there. You also have the data storage and capabilities to support the latest tech, giving you every opportunity to wow your customers and get the edge on competitors.
The new tech on the block
To stay future-proof, you have to be aware of emerging technologies and plan for their arrival even if adoption isn't in the cards for you quite yet. Don't dismiss a technology just because it's not in today's headlines. Once a new innovation proves useful, and achieves the affordability and scalability it needs, widespread adoption doesn't take long.
For example, keep an eye on blockchain; it's a new era of secure digital payments and transparent supply chains. The internet of things (IoT) also holds huge potential for small business, introducing smart supply chains and responsive building systems that allow you to collect real-time data across the product lifecycle. Brainstorm how these technologies might dovetail with the processes you already have in place, and include your tech-savvy team members in future-visioning.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are redefining customer engagement as well. It's not too early to consider how you could integrate them into your brand experience – whether by leveraging VR to train employees on complex tasks or freeing customers to visualize products in real-world environments via AR – so you're a step ahead when they become table stakes.
Tomorrow's technology is built on today's tech
AI and big data are already here. Businesses are drawing on a wealth of information to better understand customer behavior and automation is becoming increasingly affordable. An effective customer relationship management (CRM) system uses data analytics to track exactly when, where and how consumers are engaging with your brand; this can help inform your business decisions and enables you to provide services that cater to your customers’ individual habits and preferences.
Speaking of analyzing data and providing better service, mobile apps are the gifts that keep on giving for small business owners, and if you haven't invested in them, you're probably missing out. By 2025, the number of devices connected to the internet will have grown to 75 billion globally, and if you're not marketing to this diverse, distributed and digital consumer base, your business will suffer as a result. Consider establishing a mobile-based loyalty program or an augmented reality app that features your products for increased visibility.
Make what's already in the market work for you. Embrace e-commerce via intuitive platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, and invest time in establishing a vibrant and visible online presence that reflects your brand experience. Staying active on social channels can give you new opportunities to connect with your customers, and you'll spend less money on paid advertising if you and your team are proactive brand advocates.
Be prepared to play by the rules, whatever they are
With rapidly changing technology comes a rapidly changing rulebook. GDPR introduced strict laws around privacy protection and data governance that have global ramifications, and we're seeing the emergence of local and regional data regulations as jurisdictions explore, and grapple with, the concept of smart cities.
It's better to invest in robust cybersecurity now so that you're compliant when regulations shift. Secure access solutions can help your IT team secure logins on your sites, monitor traffic and can act as a starting security feature for companies without dedicated IT personnel. This ensures you have control over which services are accessed by team members, and streamlines the process of shutting down profiles when an employee leaves the company. Some secure access partners also provide API management tools so you can integrate third-party apps without compromising your security.
No matter what tomorrow brings, future-proofing your small business begins in the present. Begin by laying the technological foundations through cloud storage, mobile apps and an online sales platform. Then as new innovations and regulations disrupt the business landscape, you'll be ready to build.