Savvy small and medium businesses have already adopted a host of technologies to improve operational efficiency, from mobility and cloud computing to social media marketing tools. But that’s only the beginning; to remain relevant, profitable and efficient, it is essential to continue moving forward. Here are some tech trends that will drive operational efficiency in your small business in 2018 and beyond:
1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: predict, optimise, automate
Both AI and machine learning enable computers to learn, predict patterns, and identify anomalies. While these technologies have been used by enterprises for some time to automate and optimise processes, save customers time and personalise the customer experience, they can be a newer concept for smaller businesses.
Yet, they are just as critical, because they can help achieve the same sort of results. By using these technologies to further automate and optimise processes, companies can make the most of each employee’s time. According to a survey from Endurance International Group, small businesses with access to an AI robot can delegate a host of tasks from management of social media accounts and updating their websites to handing marketing/advertising needs and screening calls and emails.
There are many ways that AI and machine learning can automate and optimise processes as well as personalise the customer experience. Chatbots, for example, can communicate with customers to get things done faster. AI and machine learning also can be used to gauge customer sentiment to improve the customer experience, and improve call routing and the agent experience in call centers.
In the near future, there will be many more possibilities, including using AI to enable robots to do some basic routine and time-consuming business tasks, such as barcode scanning or sending out invoices.
If you want to know more about AI, this beginner's guide from Vishal Maini at Google's DeepMind, is a great place to start.
2. The Internet of Things: smart-connect everything
IoT technology, a combination of internet-connected sensors and analytics, is revolutionising the business world. The data gathered from these devices can be mined and analysed for valuable business insights, resulting in increased efficiency, better customer and employee experiences, improved health and safety, and greater profits.
There are numerous ways that small businesses can leverage IoT, from monitoring IT infrastructure and tracking inventory and shipping to monitoring lighting, humidity, and energy usage. And the benefits are far-reaching. They include faster decision-making; reduced number of defects; easier and faster transmission of data; less equipment downtime; enhanced remote access; enhanced physical processes; improved services, operations and products; and more satisfied customers.
For example, one delivery service company installed IoT sensors in their delivery vehicles to monitor speed, how drivers were using their brakes and the relative health of tyres and other systems. With this information, they were able to determine the best speed for certain road services to maximise mileage per gallon, and bring vehicles in for a service before parts failed.
On the other side, the IoT is still evolving, but adversaries are already exploiting security weaknesses in IoT devices to gain access to systems—including industrial control systems that support critical infrastructure. Read more in the 2018 Annual Cybersecurity Report and become aware of the risks, also for small business.
3. Complete wireless access = more productive workforce
Customers and employees today expect reliable, fully available wireless access. But today, as more than half of small businesses use mobile devices for business purposes, mobility becomes more important. Small businesses must respond with full, reliable, always-available wireless access. It enables employees to stay productive even when they aren’t at their desks, and it improves customer service and goodwill.
The challenge is to find the right wireless networking solution for small business, to gain access to their network resources from any location. Including easy setup, robust security, convenience, cost savings, and no stress.
Providing ubiquitous wireless and secure access to employees and customers is not only good business, it’s smart business.
With a comprehensive wireless access strategy, businesses can restrict access to specific resources and users and better filter malicious hosts. This can help improve operational efficiency by allowing SMBs to focus on improving customer service and streamlining processes instead of spending time chasing down security glitches.
It's important to note that a wireless solution without the proper security isn't a solution. Only wireless with solid integrated security like Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) or Stealthwatch makes this possible.
4. With Data Analytics you can anticipate customer needs
By analyzing data, small businesses can identify customer trends and anticipate needs. Using this information, they can proactively respond to those needs and drive sales and increase customer satisfaction. And it works; a recent survey from Capital One found that 44% of small business owners who use data analytics tools report increased sales.
Analysing data also can help businesses mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse; improve personalisation and customer service; make better inventory and staffing decisions; fine-tune pricing; and monitor IT functions. For example, one small business analyzed how long it took from the time an order was placed to the time it was shipped, what products had the longest lead times, and what customer complaints correlated to long lead times of specific products.
With that information, this business was able to determine how to shorten lead times and reduce customer complaints related to delivery issues.
Digitising your business will give you access to this type of actionable data. Learn how this data enables SMBs to connect with customers and improve mobile workforce productivity.
5. Intelligent networks optimise traffic and improve security
While traditional networks work well enough to transfer typical data streams from one place to another, that is the extent of their capabilities.
Today, forward-thinking businesses are moving toward intent-based networks – networks that can identify, analyse and optimise application traffic and improve security. According to IDC, organisations that have implemented more advanced networks reduce their time to market for new services by 41% and reduce infrastructure costs by 43%. They also are able to reduce staff time costs associated with deploying, supporting and managing network systems by 30%.
For small businesses, doing what it takes to be as operationally efficient as possible is the best way to remain viable and achieve growth. Small businesses that adopt cutting-edge technologies like AI, IoT, wireless and intelligent networks, as well as data analytics will position themselves for success for 2018 and beyond. It’s time to transform future growth.