The tech trends small businesses need in 2018

As we head toward the end of the year, take a look at this rundown of the latest tech trends – and why they’re important for small businesses.

Are you reading this on a mobile phone? Maybe you’re on a laptop, hot desking in your office. Perhaps you don’t have an office at all, and you’re free to do business from wherever you need on any particular day.

The point is, none of these scenarios would have been possible without the advancement of technology. Connected mobile devices have already transformed what we think of as possible and continues to make paradigm shifts on what feels like a monthly basis.

But given the transformation from being a small business owner now to thirty years ago, what is technology going to do next? How will the big ideas being developed in the tech centres of San Francisco, London and Tokyo filter down to transform small businesses in the near future?

In this article we’re going to explore the six technologies every entrepreneur and small business owner needs to be aware of.

The Internet of Things

We’ve barely touched the surface of what the Internet of Things (IoT) can do. It’s a service that’s designed to make many aspects of life easier by having machines talk to one another to do the heavy lifting. When you cut out extra processes that need to be handled manually, you’re able to move faster and be more agile, having the ability to adjust to anything that might arise.

Small businesses have a secret superpower in being naturally set up to benefit from the Internet of Things. Big businesses often have to navigate existing supply chains, legacy software and large fleets of disparate hardware.

There are a range of solutions to consider, such as technology monitoring systems that let you know when your laptop battery is about to fail or your RAM is dangerously close to melting and needs replacing. Or how about you shake up your supply chain with smart shelves that tell you when you’re running low on stock and enable instant restocking? Cutting back on manual maintenance and monitoring means you’ll experience less downtime and more free time to focus on more important things.

Providers like Vodafone are making it easier to get hold of IoT. This year, for example, they launched a service called V, which connects millions of home and leisure electronics to a dedicated global IoT network – the largest of its kind in the world.

Make robots part of your workforce

Robots aren’t just the shiny, humanoid helpers portrayed in movies. They come in all shapes and sizes. Using machines to automate repetitive, labour intensive tasks isn’t anything new, but it’s becoming cheaper and easier to apply to more businesses.

They’re capable of doing anything from building cars to cutting our grass and, for ambitious but cash poor small businesses, this versatility is essential.

Interestingly robotics is creating a whole new industry, with intelligent automation playing an increasingly important role everyday life.

Chatbots are here to stay

Every business can benefit from a chatbot. The purpose of these chatbots are best explained by Jon Card, writing in the Guardian:

“Bots are now undertaking much of the drudgery of business life – filling in forms, answering customer queries, compiling data and handling social media tasks. Proponents say this liberates staff to work on more creative and engaging work; bots are a new, cheap resource to be exploited.”

Check out our interview with innovative Chatbot start-up Spixii and go behind the scenes with Vodafone’s chatbot ToBi.

Reality is changing

Virtual and augmented reality have been making waves in the consumer entertainment market for a long time. Things are starting to get exciting in the world of business too. Mobile devices are getting more powerful, and there are increasingly sophisticated tools available to create original content.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have a lot of potential uses, such as giving your marketing materials a boost, bringing your products to life in a 3D experience or even becoming your actual product. We spoke to Snatch and Digital Bridge about being augmented reality start-ups.

Mobile payments

The way we pay changes frequently, but we quickly forget what it was like before. Convenience is something that customers remember and increasingly come to expect, so taking down any barriers to purchase will help you. Mobile payments are one of the big changes in payment that have already transformed many people’s attitude toward cash and shopping.

If you give your customers a range of payment options, they’ve got another reason to come back to shop with you again.

Check out our guide on how to choose the right mobile payment system for your business.

Blockchain

“A blockchain is a digitised, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically.”Investopedia.

In a world where data is worth more than gold and hackers becoming a bigger threat every year, the current systems we have in place need to change. Blockchain could be the solution. It’s a way of bringing trust and transparency to the way businesses operate online, while mitigating many of the weakest points in existing processes.

It also expands the realms of possibility for small businesses. Blockchain transactions happen in realtime and aren’t restricted by location – meaning it becomes easier to employ the right team anywhere in the world. Blockchain also offers the possibility of smarter data storage, with a cloud-based system that’s fully scalable and encrypted. Not only that, all data transferred and used through an application of blockchain is fully trackable – you’ll know exactly what was happening, where it happened and when, at any point in your process.

When small businesses are able to optimise and scale their offering, it puts them in a better position to keep up with larger businesses. Blockchain is here to even the playing field.

The future of technology is exciting

It’s undeniable that small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy. They’re prevalent, they’re innovative, and they’re able to respond quickly to the best new technology on the horizon. Any future-ready business needs to be agile enough to make the most of emerging technology trends. While all technology isn’t essential for every business, researching what could work for you can help improve existing processes and boost profits while amplifying risks.

Sometimes it’s not as easy as buying a product or solution off the shelf and hoping it just magically works in your business. There’s a delicate balance between buying the right technology for your needs and having the right skills in the business to utilise it. So it’s important to remember that upskilling your team and your business will help you select and utilise the best technology for your needs.

Read more articles about the latest tech trends and business tips here.