The digital era is well and truly upon us. But many small business owners are spending too much time worrying about keeping up, and not enough time embracing the opportunities in front of them, says Jim Vass.
Digital Disruption and the ever-increasing pace of technological change was mooted as the number one concern of small business owners in this year’s SmartCompany survey.
In amongst a myriad of issues, keeping up with cyber-security as well as the impact of artificial intelligence remain top of mind for small business owners, with many feeling like they’re getting ‘swept away by change.’
Having said that, 46 percent of respondents to the survey said they intend to invest in technology.
So, let’s talk turkey. Or in this case, technology.
“These are the times we live in, with change and advancement around every corner,” says Jim.
“And the real practical ability for technology, when it’s harnessed correctly, to drive efficiencies in business is incredible. This is so important for growth and remaining ahead of the competition,” he says.
And while Jim concedes that for many business owners it can certainly feel like technology is ‘the tail wagging the dog,’ he says if you’re considering investment in new systems and software, then you can find clarity if you keep everything as simple as possible. This comes down to two things:
“Firstly, do the research and know your options,” he says. “Secondly, make a business decision.
Don’t go chasing the ‘latest and greatest’, simply come back to basics – what do you need? What’s going to position you well for growth? What is going to make your customer experience better? If you can tick these three boxes, then it’s likely to be a good solution. Not all technology is. Don’t worry about the competition – worry about your business and your market.”
“Also seriously consider cloud technologies,” says Jim. “Cloud is a cheaper and quicker alternative to boost capacity or adopt new applications.”
About one in three Australian businesses currently use cloud technology, with good reason.
Cloud technologies offer agility. Many are scalable and flexible depending on your business needs. They are reliable and secure.
“There’s still a degree of caution around the cloud,” says Jim. “But the significant benefit is that you can avoid upfront investment in a space that is changing rapidly. The model is user-pays, so just be aware of building this cost into your overheads.”
“The future of AI isn’t coming, it’s already here,” says Jim Vass.
Artificial Intelligence has its roots in the 1950s, and basically, it is the term given to machines or computers which have been programmed to mimic ‘human intelligence.’ It’s also sometimes referred to as machine learning, deep learning, or cognitive computing.
“Many companies are having great success using technologies which incorporate AI in marketing and customer service, by using predictive modelling and chatbots,” he explains.
“But more than that – across other areas of the business these technologies can really deliver, too. For example, saving time on repetitive tasks, exploring data to unlock new opportunities. While some are still cost-prohibitive, this is changing, and for small business owners there really is a lot of potential in AI-based technologies.”
“Technology should be something that’s considered and documented in your strategic plan and then reviewed annually,” says Jim. “There will always be a degree of uncertainty, but what you’re trying to avoid is big surprises.
In my experience, costly mistakes are usually made when people rush. And typically, they’re rushing because they find themselves backed into a corner responding to a threat or opportunity they didn’t see coming. This is why planning is the key. Small businesses can’t afford massive write-offs and wasted time and effort. This is why pre-paving and preparing is so important; know what you need, before you leap.”