It can be difficult to keep up with all of the new and exciting business technology trends, but increasingly, tech that has seemed out of reach of SMEs in the past is coming to impact the way that they operate every day.
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The latest trends in technology can also be hard to grasp, and their immediate applications can sometimes be unclear. So here, we’ve compiled the top technology trends for 2017 that are going to change small businesses across the country.
Chatbots are set to have a major impact on the way in which businesses do their marketing. But what are they?
A chatbot is a text-based interface that uses rules or artificial intelligence (or a mixture of both) to deliver useful results. So what does that mean in practice? Well, imagine you run a business that sells t-shirts: plain ones, coloured ones, patterned ones, slim-fitting ones, and so on. As it currently stands, a consumer would probably head to your website and then browse around until they found what they were looking for. With a chatbot, you cut out that lengthy process. Instead, the consumer tells your bot what they want, and then the bot delivers the result.
The great thing about chatbots is that they can live in virtually any existing platform, like Facebook, Slack, or pretty much whatever else you use. So, by the end of the year, expect businesses of every size to be rolling out chatbots in which you could, for example, open a Facebook Messenger window and order a pizza just by typing.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is set to be one of the defining business technology trends of 2017, and they already have a head start.
Basically, the IoT is the idea that you could virtually connect any device to the internet, and, from that, to each other. You’ve probably already seen it: you might have a wi-fi enabled kettle, or a personal assistant in your car that tells you the best route to arrive for your meeting on time.
We’ll see IoT technology impact virtually every area of business in the coming years. Increasingly, it will be seen as a prerequisite for a product to be able to connect to the internet and either upload or receive information about itself. You’ve probably already got this in your pocket – your iPhone is constantly saving information to the cloud about the number of steps you’ve walked that day, for example.
Small businesses will need to think about how their offerings fit into this new technology, and the best ways in which they can leverage its potential.
Soon, the days of big offices in which all (or most) of a company’s staff are based will be a thing of the past. The internet has meant that geographical boundaries are less and less relevant, but up until now the actual technology used to deliver truly distributed workforces has been somewhat lacking.
That’s going to change this year. We’ve already seen the revolutionary potential of instant team messaging apps like Slack, but this is just the beginning. Soon, small businesses as well as their larger counterparts will be able to build workforces around the world, using a mixture of IM, video calling, and much more. The days of clunky VPNs are already behind us, but this year, expect to see a significant streamlining of the technologies we use to connect people across borders.
Machine learning is another one to watch for 2017. This term refers to a computer’s ability to perform tasks without being explicitly taught how to do so. You probably use services that use machine learning every day: these techniques help deliver your search engine results, display captions on online videos, help with voice recognition, and much more.
Machine learning has a range of applications for small businesses. For example, you’ll be able to buy off-the-shelf products that help your customers find products online more quickly, that streamline support processes, and, crucially, that help you understand your customers better. Businesses around the world are already using these techniques, but soon they will be within the reach of firms of every size.
At our recent Simply Business Hackathon, we took a look into IBM Watson’s machine learning capabilities. You can watch the video of our 2016 hackathon below.
Blockchain has been without a doubt the biggest technology trend (or buzzword, depending on your viewpoint) of 2016.
In essence, a blockchain is a distributed database. Rather than there being one central record of activity, for example of online transactions, there are instead an infinite number of identical databases, each stored on a participant’s own machine. This might sound dull, but the possibilities are potentially endless.
The most obvious use is for payments. The wild success of Bitcoin has already demonstrated the revolutionary potential of a distributed ledger for payments: it’s instant, the permutations of each transaction are virtually limitless, and, crucially, it is virtually unhackable.
But there’s more: already we’re seeing blockchains used to streamline logistics tracking, to manage supply chains, and even, in one case, to prove the provenance of fish, from fisherman to table. Keep an eye out for blockchain as one of the key technology trends of 2017.
AR and VR
Virtual and augmented reality are still in their infancy, but many people are hugely excited about them – and some extremely wealthy people are investing heavily.
AR and VR have some exciting applications for small businesses. For example, say you’re a letting agent. In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to offer potential tenants the opportunity to walk around a property not by physically viewing it, but by simply putting on a headset – or even, as is already possible, slotting their smartphone into a £5 cardboard case from Google. Or, think about the possibilities for advertising: soon, small businesses will be able to offer rich advertising experiences that can truly immerse a potential customer, and at a fraction of the cost of a TV or radio spot.
AR and VR might be young technologies, but they’re going to have huge impacts across the business world in the coming months and years.
Read more about virtual reality in business in our in-depth guide.
Did we miss any? Let us know your tech predictions in the comments section.