Had time to check out the web deluge of tech pundits and reports on the top 2016 technology trends for small business? Here’s our take on it.
You may have heard about software solutions in the cloud, the virtual workforce, new ways for customers to pay, better mobile apps, drawing on big data and improving security. There’s plenty of mentions, too, about growth of the Internet of Things (connecting sensors/electronics in everyday objects such as your fridge so it can order supplies when it ‘senses’ it’s near empty).
But when it comes to adopting new technology, small business actually has an edge on larger corporations.
Deidre Wilmott, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia, says: “Small businesses are well-placed to respond to changing market conditions quickly and efficiently, with this agility creating opportunities in innovation overall, including in the tech space.”
She estimates small businesses make up about 97 per cent of Western Australia’s businesses overall making them the “powerhouse of WA’s economy”.
“In developing and embracing breakthrough ideas and practicable solutions, it is new and expanding small businesses that will drive future employment and investment opportunities.”
Businesses of the future will be technology enabled – the rest will fall by the wayside.
“Businesses of the future will be technology enabled – the rest will fall by the wayside,” says Sergeant.
He expects the latter half of 2016 to see small business harness more business and marketing automation products, software to manage social media and selected apps to boost management and marketing.
“There are only a few early adopters of harnessing analytics to improve business intelligence. The rest will take years before valuing 'big data' and utilising it properly,” Sergeant predicts.
He says small businesses are usually early adopters of technology, “but usually only for basic technology that’s cheap or free”.
“They need to look beyond their hip pocket nerve,” says Sergeant.
Basing your technology buying decisions on anecdotal information from your network may not make good business sense.
He talks about a constant flow of new technology options for small businesses who need to consider what they’re willing to pay up front then monthly to adopt a system. Importantly, do they have a clue how it works and whether it will work for them, Sergeant asks.
“Technology for small business is now very efficient, effective and affordable. However, those who venture into the technology world without good advisors will find it costing them a lot of time and money until they eventually figure it out,” says Sergeant.
“You have to do your research and find an expert. Automated marketing software, for example, can be a minefield for the uninitiated.”
“Small businesses need to become very familiar with the technology basics such as Gmail, accounting, CRM, backups, analysis, websites and social media, just for starters.
Cloud computing continues to dominate technology purchasing decisions – you can access these web-based applications from any device securely.
Sergeant says: “There’s still businesses stuck in the age of packaged software. Your software should be in the cloud so you don’t have to worry about upgrading or backups.”
But, with Australian small businesses an increasing target for cyberattacks – is the cloud secure?
Anyone sceptical of the cloud has really got very little experience.
Sergeant says: “I’m more confident about security on the net, such as with Dropbox, than any security I’ve used. They’re big operations and they have to have high levels of security and encryption well beyond what a small business could afford. You shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel.
“Anyone sceptical of the cloud has really got very little experience,” says Sergeant.
For accounting software that stores all financial data in the cloud, Xero continues to be a top choice for small businesses. It’s already five years since it was released for iOS and Android devices allowing invoices to be issued on-site with clients.
Sergeant says: “Xero is easy to get started with and has many features such as cash flow, debtors and inventory management to track your stock.”
Meanwhile, video conferencing software in the cloud such as Skype and Zoom are also popular. Zoom allows people using PC, Mac, iOS or Android devices to easily share content. For a monthly fee it offers high quality, easy to use, cyber meeting or zoom rooms, webinars, screen sharing on any iPhone/iPad app and recording.
Sophisticated online customer relationship management (CRM) systems are a “critical piece of technology” for most businesses, even with very small customer bases, Sergeant says. They’re ideal for savvy businesses to use public profiles to learn more about their customers. He recommends Insightly for a great customer relationship management software as well as for managing projects.
So, while the software programs cited here may not be the latest ‘trends’, the critical mass of businesses using them means they’re being well road tested on the way to becoming the norm. Where do you want your small business to be in that journey? A road tester or seeking the safety of the norm?
Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.