With a new year now upon us, it’s a good time to take a look at the technology likely to affect small businesses over the next 12 months. Here are the picks for 2017.
Tea, slippers, laptop – could your staff work from home?
Flexible working arrangements may now be a legal right, but they needn’t be a royal chore – they can be great for small businesses.
Remote working in particular has many advantages and it’s more popular than ever. According to Government figures, 1.5 million people worked from home regularly in 2015 – an increase of 19% over the last 10 years.
Productivity can be higher, unscheduled absences reduced and staff retention improved when employees don’t have to come into the office every day. All are critical for a small business, but success hinges on technology. Email and web access might be enough for some remote workers, but others may benefit from an inexpensive VPN to connect securely to networked office resources.
Small businesses might also need more internet bandwidth to help remote workers transfer large files and use video conferencing. There’s nothing worse than a slow connection when you’re trying to be productive, so invest in the right technology and your business can reap the rewards.
Mobile-friendly means Google-friendly
The web has been vital for small business marketing for many years, but with smartphones becoming the main access to the web it pays to think ‘mobile first’.
A well-designed mobile site is also a must-have – and not just because Google has been using mobile friendliness to determine which sites to prioritise in its search results since early 2015. Smartphones are now more popular than laptops in the UK for internet use, which means businesses have a vast new market to tap into.
A mobile site is good, but a mobile app is better. The optimised experience of a good mobile app can increase sales, deliver more personalised service and boost customer loyalty, which perhaps explains why nearly half of small businesses are forecast to have one by 2017.
Cost-benefit analysis is needed to make the best investment, however – as is careful planning. If better customer engagement is your goal in 2017, consider putting more resources into Facebook, Twitter and YouTube instead, and delay a mobile app until your social media presence is where you want it.
Strengthen your cyber security
Cybercrime is on the rise and small businesses are a particular target, so it’s important to understand the threat and take positive action to counter it.
Research from the Federation of Small Businesses found that small businesses now deal with seven million cybercrime cases each year, with costs totalling £5.26 billion. The average cost per business is around £3,000 – a significant chunk of turnover for many.
Cyber security is a complex area, but there are simple steps you can take to strengthen yours. Making sure your employees are familiar with the various types of attack is a great starting point – malicious software disguised in email is the most common, for example.
Checking your software is bang up-to-date will help, too, and that means everything from your web browser to word processor. And don’t overlook what may seem risk-free hardware. Anything with an internet connection can be used for an attack – file servers, network routers, and even smart gadgets like security cameras and Wi-Fi light bulbs.
Say hello to conversational interfaces
Artificial intelligence has been the next big thing for many years and while it may seem like science fiction, it’s been helping businesses for some time.
One application likely to gain popularity in 2017 is the conversational user interface – or chatbot, for short.
A chatbot is a way for organisations to interact with customers on the phone, online or within an app using intelligent software rather than a real person. Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft are already well-advanced with their takes on the technology, but businesses can benefit, too.
Read more technical detail about chatbots in Chatbots Magazine’s comprehensive guide and if you’re interested in using or developing your own, Gupshup is a great place to start.
Next steps for your small business tech
2017 promises plenty of technology opportunities for small businesses, but the key to making the most of new developments is focus.
Technology is in an exciting place right now and by sticking to the steps that that could help boost your bottom line you can make your year in tech a happy one.