May 25, 2017
Advice and insight from the frontlines of entrepreneurship.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Every business is transforming – at varying levels of intensity – into a technology-enabled business. Consequently, today’s entrepreneurs should look to technological developments underpinning global innovation for opportunities to improve their business operations. Specifically, I see six major global technology trends driving these SMBs toward adopting a fundamentally different approach to work in 2017 and beyond.
Trend #1: Chatbots and autonomous interfaces will become independent and learn
Autonomous interfaces such as chatbots or digital agents are becoming increasingly common on different devices and user interfaces which entrepreneurs use to manage and control their businesses. These interfaces will dramatically change the way that humans and computers work and interact with each other. While people commonly use a keyboard or mouse to interact with their PCs, they will increasingly start talking with their systems or using gesture control such as hand, head or eye gestures to conduct the same interactions. The user experience will not only become more convenient, but also more enjoyable. On the backend, these systems will work autonomously and come with ever-improving self-learning capabilities. Eventually, software will be able to act without user intervention – or even ask a certain question only once and use this information for every subsequent activity.
Trend #2: Artificial and collective intelligence will lead businesses to share data
Companies, even smaller ventures, need to find ways to extract knowledge from today’s wealth of Big Data. They should consider enlisting artificial and collective intelligence to handle mushrooming volumes of information being generated by all sorts of affordable and powerful sensors, devices and intelligent agents. One step further, SMBs should join forces and – while considering their corporate data protection policies and personal rights laws – share, for example, computer power and data with other companies in a structured and systematic manner. In doing so, they could profit from this collaboration by receiving a better and larger data pool and superior data intelligence. Similar to crowdsourcing mechanisms, an enriched data pool would enable companies to better understand how customers behave, what they need, what to offer them and which business functions to focus on for increased investment.
Trend #3: Blockchain will create trust in the digital age
Blockchain organizes transactions of digital assets between two parties in a radically new way. At its core, blockchain is a decentralized, distributed ledger – essentially an asset database shared across multiple geographies. All participants of a blockchain (so called nodes) have access to the distributed ledger, which contains an inventory of all the relevant digital assets. All parties within this network have their own identical copy of the ledger. Any changes to it are applied to every copy in a matter of minutes or even seconds. Thus, the system is incredibly transparent and creates trust among everyone involved.
Business builders should carefully analyze new blockchain technology that could impact their current business models. Particularly, those who work in industries that serve as intermediaries between two parties – such as lawyers, notaries, or real-estate or financial brokers. Bookkeepers and accountants might also be affected in the way they do business in the future. Once implemented, blockchain has the potential to eliminate a significant portion of the workload – such as checking and booking transactions, transferring money or paying invoices – handled by these professions today.
Trend #4: The movement of money will be revolutionized
The way people use money and transfer their payments from one account to another has already changed dramatically. On the front-end, in-app payment solutions, like Apple Pay and Square Cash, enable users to effortlessly make one-click payments and purchase goods using mobile devices or websites. This functionality is already available in many apps today. However, on the backend, complex transactions running through systems, such as accounting software, are less user-friendly and less integrated. For example, companies currently have almost no ability to make one-click invoice payments or easily manage their financial transactions between partners, suppliers and their bank with one touch of a screen or mouse.
Moving forward, an increasing number of new solutions will allow companies to establish an end-to-end payments value chain with their suppliers and customers. These new solutions enable ubiquitous anytime anywhere, immediate and omni-channel payments. They will be fully integrated into the financial accounting systems of tomorrow’s enterprises. All parties, such as ecommerce platforms, banks, fintech companies and their partners, will eventually profit from open API standards which will be used for creating new services and enable seamless, fully-automated processing of payments and financial transactions.
Trend #5: Platform-based infrastructure will be democratized
As the technology becomes more accessible and affordable, more SMBs will decide to replace their stand-alone, on-site software systems with integrated, cloud-based software solutions that operate on global cloud platforms. They will look to full-service cloud platforms such as Salesforce.com that offer access to a wealth of business apps and integrated services. Moreover, companies will also benefit from mobile app platforms such as the one operated by the Apple Mobility Partner Program.
The main benefit of these platforms is that they give even smaller companies access to innovative business software solutions and services which these companies would not have been able to afford five years ago. To some extent, these types of cloud platforms are democratizing the way in which companies gain access to state-of-the-art apps and smart, scalable technologies. They allow business builders to discover new ways of working and give them the infrastructure needed to receive every kind of data from partners or the Internet of Things, analyze it, and then personalize it to create something new and productive.
Trend #6: Internet of Things will create new services and job profiles
The Internet of Things presents new, untapped opportunities for SMBs to connect their businesses to the information flowing through an increasing number of smart things. Multiple data streams originating from sensors built into machines, cars, consumer goods, clothes or even human beings (for medical monitoring purposes, for example) will result in a treasure trove of data. Ultimately, IoT – in combination with AI-powered, intelligent backend systems – will lead to the creation of new, superior customer experiences. SMBs should think about how to use these data streams and services to grow their respective businesses.
The big picture
Every business needs to start thinking of itself as a technology business in 2017 (and beyond). SMBs will need to grasp the opportunities that this development brings with it and change almost every aspect of today’s more or less traditional ways of working to stay competitive. The good news is that this technology means that we believe that very soon, business admin could become completely invisible, as easy as messaging a friend, or even completely automated, as machines learn like humans. This will empower entrepreneurs to stay focused on building their businesses, driving growth in the economy and contributing to their communities – and leave basic administrative tasks to technology.
Klaus-Michael Vogelberg is the Chief Technology Officer of Sage Group, a leading global provider of integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems.