As the world becomes more and more digitized, everybody—from your average consumer to the world’s top executives—has been forced to deal with and adapt to change on a massive scale. Cybersecurity has proven a more widespread and challenging obstacle in the last couple of years than anybody would’ve predicted, while the rapid pace of technological implementation in all facets of society has drastically altered business infrastructure to its core.
It wasn’t always such tumultuous waters for entrepreneurs and leaders of small organizations. A couple of years ago, small businesses could get by for a while without adapting to change, carefully waiting to assess which new solutions would prove effective enough to stick around while the others fell by the wayside. Nowadays the adoption, implementation, integration, mastery, and even replacement of new business tech solutions seem to occur in the same amount of time. This sort of timeline means that even small businesses need to be watching for digital change on the horizon instead of simply reacting to said change once they notice its efficacy. To that end, here are five digital trends small businesses should be following in 2018 and beyond.
Internet of Things
The internet of things, aka the IoT, is a term that represents all devices (things) connected to the internet beyond just computers and phones. Smart televisions, smart refrigerators, wearables, personal virtual home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Siri, and even wireless pacemakers—all of these devices represent the future of connectivity.
One great example of how the IoT has changed—and is still changing—one particular industry can be found by looking to public roadways.
“Less than two years ago, Uber and Lyft dramatically changed the way people in large cities find transportation,” write the experts at Ohio University. “The services have already eroded the profits of cab companies and decreased DUI rates in many cities.”
While cab companies lament and Uber and Lyft drivers celebrate in the now, the latter may soon join the former in defeat; as artificial intelligence (AI) ramps up, the self-driving smart car may replace drivers altogether.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
The previously mentioned Alexa and Siri are prime examples of AI in its infancy. While traditional science fiction might have you believe that that these virtual assistants are one line of bad code away from turning on their human creators, the truth is much more milquetoast. AI’s potency is two-fold: first, the algorithms that AI runs on are able to pick out patterns from data sets that the human eye would never catch. Second, once the AI system picks out these patterns, it can use its newfound insights to independently act out the best course of action in an automated fashion.
The expert authors writing for the University of Alabama’s Collat School of Business sum it up by stating that, essentially, AI fills in the gaps between human ability and big data.
“For example, without AI, IT professionals may spend hours or days attempting to discover exactly what is crashing a company’s applications or systems,” they write. “With AI, professionals can know exactly what kind of error they are looking for, which makes filtering their data log infinitely easier. It could cut the workload down by half or more.”
Of course, you can’t do analysis if you don’t have any data to analyze—but considering that the IoT is perpetually producing new data sets bigger than human teams can effectively analyze anymore, “not having data” should never be an excuse.
The wealth of data that exists in our world is astounding. It’s everywhere, populating real time on servers around the world, to the point that there’s almost too much of it. Whether or not you’ll be able to find it isn’t the question—HOW you’ll find it, however, is a little bit trickier.
One place that every single business analytics practitioner should be pulling data from is Google Analytics.
“Google Analytics provides unparalleled insights into how a website or app is performing, and if they are meeting the objectives of the business,” reports Christopher Smith, president of AGI in Boston Massachusetts. “It can be used to determine how visitors locate a site, what actions are performed on a page, the effectiveness of specific pages, and whether visitors are completing desired tasks.”
One of the reasons that Google Analytics is such an attractive data source is that Google has access to all of this information already. Those who consider themselves bold might instead harvest their own data, perhaps through A/B testing, or potentially even through surveys and polls via email and social media.
Social media as a tech trend? Well, duh—seems pretty obvious right? Social media began taking over our collective lives back in the early 2000s with the advent of MySpace and later Facebook. However, by the time that marketers and business professionals learned how to harness the power of these platforms, users had already moved on Twitter. Now Instagram, Snapchat, and myriad other apps hold potential that too many small businesses just simply aren’t tapping into.
Just as important as which platforms your business maintains a presence on is exactly how you maintain that presence. 69 percent of PR professionals believe that social media is more about conversations and engagement rather than just getting information to an audience. Some even claim that social media has instigated a transcendent movement that extends beyond inbound or outbound marketing into what is called “conversational marketing.”
Conversational marketing embraces the fact that customers expect businesses to be reachable and responsive via multiple channels, and engages customers directly. Sometimes AI melds with these channels in the form of chatbots that can help users with simple queries. Regardless, customers are more likely to pay attention to and trust businesses that stay hip to current social trends, including relevant media presence.
Last, but absolutely not least on this list, is the growing trend of cybercrime. A recent report by data security firm Malwarebytes Labs shows that ransomware attacks in particular have risen 2000 percent between 2015 and 2017.
“With all these attacks in 2017 ransomware will most likely be a serious threat to both private individuals and companies like in 2018 again,” writes Kroll Ontrack data recovery expert Michael Nuncic. “Regardless if the attacker aims for getting money out of this ‘business’ or wants to destroy infrastructures or businesses, they will find gaps in your network, operating system or your data security processes.”
The most critical points that attackers are exploiting exist in business infrastructures that disregard software updates and skimp on employee cybersecurity training and education. Make sure that you’re keeping consistent backups, and take steps to shore up your prevention and recovery procedures.
All in all, small business leaders and entrepreneurs that keep their focus on the road ahead, stay agile, and inform themselves of upcoming trends are the ones that are going to be successful in a world as fraught with technological change as ours. It takes confidence to successfully stick and move in such a dynamic playing field, and that confidence stems from knowledge. Stay up on current events and industry knowledge, and you’ll see yourself leading your team to new heights. The alternative is a reactionary existence that always sees your organization one step behind the competition. Do your due diligence; don’t get left behind by tech.