You’re busy getting your start-up off the ground or running your small-to-midsized business, therefore you can’t always keep up with the latest tech trends.
And even when new technologies arise – be it emerging software, hardware, or services – it doesn’t always pay to invest in each and every new trend. Or in other cases, it’s best to wait until costs come down and/or bugs are ironed out.
If you’re curious to know a few of the buzzwords floating around these days – and more importantly, what they mean to you and your business -- the following are a few increasingly popular tech trends to look out for.
Along with other (and related) phrases and acronyms like “big data” and “M2M” (machine-to-machine), Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything (IoE) is something you’ll hear a lot more about going forward.
Quite simply, IoT refers to the fact that devices are beginning to talk to one another. Everything is connected, a near future full of sensors on virtually all items, and able to identify themselves to other devices.
Example: Your car rounds the corner to your home, which prompts your coffee maker to brew a fresh cup of Jo. When you pour the coffee into a “smart mug,” the ingredients and caloric information is registered, and sent to your smartphone app that tracks your fitness and dietary information. After you pour milk into your coffee and place the carton back into the fridge, the fact that it’s nearly empty prompts the fridge to add the item to your shopping list or even add the item to the online supermarket that will ship the milk, along with other items, every Friday morning.
While most “tech” items today involve a computer, phone or tablet, IoT tells of a world where just about everything is connected and in communication.
With all the targeted hacks and ensuing data breaches dominating the headlines these days – not to mention spam, phishing scams, and malicious software (“malware”) – security remains a top priority among businesses small and big alike.
In fact, 2017 was the “worst year ever in data breaches and cyber incidents around the world,” according to Jeff Wilbur, director of the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). Cyber incidents targeting businesses nearly doubled from 82,000 in 2016 to 159,700 in 2017, driven largely by ransomware (such as WannaCry) and other attack methods.
According to the OTA, 93 percent of all breaches in 2017 could have been avoided with better (yet simple) cyber hygiene practices, such as regularly updating software, creating better passwords or passphrases, blocking phony messages, and training employees to recognize and report phishing attacks.
Businesses began migrating to the cloud a while back – first, as a means to safely back up important corporate data and store it offsite, in order to protect local files from various threats – but increasingly, companies are ditching server rooms to completely run their operations in the cloud.
It boils down to dollars and cents (sense), along with risk avoidance, time-to-market agility, scale, and continuity, to name other benefits.
Businesses are leveraging cloud computing in one of three ways: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Customer relationship management (CRM) is a popular example of SaaS, where you may a little per month for access to always-updated software that can be accessed from anywhere. IaaS, on the other hand, may be more ideal for companies that run custom software (or have stringent security regulations), but can still benefit from a cloud provider hosting the infrastructure (including servers, storage and networking hardware). In a PaaS model, such as Microsoft’s Azure, developers are offered a complete stack to build online apps and services, which are all hosted in the cloud.
By upgrading systems and improving (or outsourcing) their capturing tools, businesses are collecting more and better customer data than ever before, which can then in turn be used to more succinctly understand your customers, and better market products or services to them. As long as the data is gathered professionally, transparently and securely, and interpreted correctly, “big data” insights are what’s powering smart business decisions.
Contrary to the old adage, ignorance isn’t bliss – data is.
Add in new data visualization options, where advanced software and analytics platforms can help you see your data in meaningful ways, and it should yield even more positive, actionable results.
A.I., Machine Learning
Usually comprised of multiple technologies like neural networks and natural-language processing (pardon the geek speak), artificial intelligence (A.I.) provide much more robust and automated systems that go above and beyond simple rule-based algorithms. Often helping to automate part of your business, these advanced and aptly-named “intelligent” platforms can capture, organize, predict, and adapt on the fly.
Between software (smart apps, cloud services, virtual assistants, speech-to-text/text-to-speech systems) and hardware (IoT devices, drones, robots, self-driving cars, smart home gadgets), these meshed networks of things and A.I. will help empower your small business.
On a related note, chatbots are beginning to appear on the instant messaging scene. Computer programs that simulate real human conversations, chatbots in a messaging app like Facebook Messenger may detect it’s your parent’s wedding anniversary – based on words you’ve typed – and you might see a chatbot ask if you’d like flowers delivered, what kind, what’s your budget, where and when should they be sent, and what you’d like written on the card.
This opt-in technology is a win-win for customers and your business: customers are satisfied at the convenience, speed and accuracy of the service, and the business not only made a sale but didn’t need a costly employee to assist them.
An overused yet often misunderstood term, blockchain is a type of “distributed ledger,” in which value exchange transactions – a la Bitcoin or other digital tokens -- are sequentially grouped into blocks; as the name suggests, each block is chained to the previous block, and distributed across a network, using a trusted cryptographic mechanism.
This disruptive technology may be hyped most by the financial services industry looking for a more efficient global digital economy, but promises to transform many other industries including commerce (from supply chain to transactions), digital entertainment distribution, communications, personal identity verification, and more.
The growing trend will continue: “omnichannel” retailing straddles the line between the physical and the virtual.
Retailers are realizing they must connect with customers seamlessly on and between multiple channels – even simultaneously. For example, stores need a strong mobile presence that lets you research and buy something for delivery, but also an option to pick it up at a store or even shop at retail but support an online purchase then and there.
There are considerations, too, such as rewarding customers for “checking in” on a mobile device (and other social media strategies), brand reinforcement on digital signage screens, clerks using tablets to process transactions, and other key touch points.
How we shop is changing and businesses must adapt to suit the customer’s preferences