Technology moves so fast it can be difficult to keep up, with things only seen in science fiction 20 years ago now becoming reality.
What’s more, these exciting developments in tech are becoming increasingly accessible to small businesses and the self-employed.
To help you get to grips with all the latest advances, we’ve put together a list of the top technology trends in business for the year ahead. We let you know how you can apply them to your business.
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You can be sure that if you aren’t aware of these business technology trends now, you’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months.
The top technological trends in business
Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – hundreds of millions of devices around the world now feature voice-activated digital assistants.
Small businesses can capitalise on voice recognition in two ways. First, you can think about how to make your business ‘voice search-ready.’ Think about how people are interacting with their digital assistants, and the types of questions they’re asking.
People might type ‘best restaurants near me’ into Google, but when asking their digital assistant a question, they might instead be more conversational – ’where shall I go for dinner tonight?’
You can build your web content around these questions. As voice search generally looks for local results, also make sure you’re listing your phone number and location (and that they’re up to date).
The other way you can use voice recognition is to make your life around the office easier. For instance, Alexa for Business can manage schedules, keep track of to-do lists and set reminders for you. If you struggle with organisation, a digital assistant could be a good bet.
AI (Artificial Intelligence)
We’ve previously said chatbots are one of the top technological trends in business. More broadly, AI will continue to have a lasting effect on small businesses and society at large throughout 2018.
Larger organisations are already capitalising on AI and machine learning to supercharge their operations. Machine learning refers to a computer’s ability to perform tasks without explicitly being told to do so.
While the technology is in its infancy, though, small businesses can make use of it by looking for ‘off-the-shelf’ AI products. Small businesses are unlikely to have dedicated staff responsible for data or AI, so using applications to enhance and automate business operations (like marketing and financial reporting) is a go-to way to jump on the technology.
Consider Mailchimp – many small businesses use it to send automated emails to customers. But the service also lets you do things like add AI-powered product recommendations to simple receipts.
And ramping up your digital marketing efforts using Facebook and Google means you’ll benefit from AI, because they use algorithms to target specific users.
Businesses being more responsible with data
It’s no secret that the largest organisations have collected a huge amount of data on a huge number of people over the years. It’s what makes the use of technology like AI possible.
But collecting this data comes with great responsibility. For instance, it seemed that nobody was safe from a data breach in 2017 – the NHS was hit by the WannaCry ransomware attack, and companies like Uber, Three and Tesco have suffered data leaks. Companies – including small businesses – need to face cybersecurity challenges head on in 2018.
For their part, consumers are growing more concerned about how brands use their personal information. And, as 2018 is the year of GDPR, companies will be forced into greater transparency around how they ask for personal data.
What does this mean for small businesses? Firstly, it means getting up to speed on GDPR – we have a complete guide you can check out. Secondly, it means that you’ll need to adapt your marketing to make customers want to engage with it.
Create high-quality content that offers value to your customers, which they’ll be happy to trade their personal information for.
Extending reality through VR and AR
We highlighted Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) as top technological trends in business in 2017. The technologies will continue to grow over the next year.
Using the technologies effectively might still be some way off for small businesses, but the possibilities they present are endless. AR is interesting, because rather than presenting us with new realities (as VR does), it shows us an extension or transformation of our own reality.
Customers could see how products will look in their home. If you sell furniture online, someone might flick through your catalogue on their smartphone and check out how different lamps will look on their bedside table.
Even tradespeople could make use of AR. If you’ve got a grand design in plan for a landscape gardening project, you could use the technology on your smartphone or tablet to walk round your client’s garden, showing them how it will soon be transformed.
The cloud continues to enhance productivity
The cloud refers to applications and software offered over the internet – think Google Drive and Dropbox. Accounting programs like Xero and Quickbooks also use the cloud.
And as cloud services continue to increase their storage capacity throughout 2018, this is a trend to watch.
Research from the Cloud Industry Forum suggests that the UK cloud adoption rate has hit 88 per cent. So if you aren’t using cloud-based services yet, is it time you looked at whether they could streamline your operations?
Just one benefit is that the responsibility for updating software doesn’t fall on you – you’ll always be using the most current version. Often, cloud software allows you to integrate disparate files into one place, from financial records to presentations and images. What’s more, you can access these files from anywhere.
Did we miss any of the top technological trends in business at the moment? Let us know your tech predictions in the comments section.