Every new year comes with a host of IT-related challenges as well as opportunities for businesses. This is particularly true in recent years, which were full of disruption: Several new technologies and paradigm shifts enabled businesses to innovate with IT, to do more with less, and eventually to become more competitive and efficient. We predict that 2018 will be no exception to this rule. This year, many of the advanced IT technologies that have been presented in this blog will mature and enable original, disruptive and more automated business processes. Furthermore, these emerging technologies will be blended in new services, which will change the ways in which people, content and machines interact in order to solve problems and improve business results.
This plethora of IT technologies and prospects of innovation will be challenging for Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMBs), which have a hard time prioritizing and embracing the technologies that they must adopt and deploy to stay in the game. The main reason for this is that SMBs do not possess the knowledge needed to assess the potential benefits of these technologies, and at the same time they have constrained IT budgets and resources to implement a change. In this context, we endeavor to list out some of the technologies that SMBs would benefit from in 2018. Our list addresses a broad spectrum of SMBs with different activities in various business sectors.
Cyber-Security Made Simple
The rising technological complexity increases the potential vulnerabilities of IT infrastructures. We expect that the cybersecurity incidents will still be on a rise during 2018. As a result, SMBs need to look for cybersecurity solutions that are intelligent, cost-effective and easy to deploy, while covering latest IT advances in areas such as cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) security. SMBs are likely to benefit from managed security solutions, which will obviate the need for on premise installations of monitoring probes and security software. Such solutions can be user-friendly, since their configuration is performed based on web-based GUI (Graphical User Interface) tools. Note that cybersecurity is a cross-cutting concern, which affects millions of SMBs that operate IT infrastructures and tools.
AI for Increased Automation
In today’s competitive environment, SMBs should find ways for automating their business processes in order to increase their competitiveness and achieve economies of scale. This is the reason why SMBs should prioritize Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in their IT lists. AI systems will enable SMBs to improve their decision making, through the production and presentation of insights and knowledge that can be hardly extracted by humans. SMBs may opt to deploy AI systems for different business processes, spanning finance, accounting, production, sales, marketing, human resources and more. For all these processes, SMBs can seek ways for becoming more automated and more intelligent with AI.
Innovating with Blockchain Technology
The last couple of years have established Bitcoin as more than just an acceptable cryptocurrency in the investment and financial services communities. At the same time, they have revealed the potential applications of blockchain technology, which underpin the BitCoin infrastructure. This technology holds the promise to disrupt various industry sectors, beyond just financial services, such as energy, healthcare and supply chain management. 2018 will be a year of unprecedented innovation opportunities for SMBs (including high-tech startups) as they are now presented with the possibilities of creating and rolling out blockchain based products and services hence increasing the innovation capital of SMBs.
Putting Machines to work with Internet-of-Things
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is trending for more than five years now. However, applications were limited by the capabilities of passive sensors and devices, which were integrated in the cloud. In 2018 SMBs will be offered with opportunities of deploying (semi) autonomous smart objects that will significantly increase automation. Smart objects will enable SMBs to take advantage of smart machines in order to reduce or even eliminate laborious and error prone human-mediated processes. We will see such deployments in warehouses, industrial plants, retail stores and more. Furthermore, smart machines could boost SMBs in the service sector, by helping them improve the cost-effectiveness and speed of the services that they offer to their customers.
Harnessing the power of the Cloud
2018 will be the year where more SMBs will use cloud services. IT giants offer very robust and scalable cloud services (e.g., such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure), which eliminate the need for building and maintaining “digital plumbing”. SMBs will gradually decouple their operations from on premise IT infrastructures. 2018 will establish a milestone in this evolution, as in countries like USA and UK the majority of SMBs will use some sort of cloud services.
Most Internet users in the USA search and surf the Internet using their mobile device (e.g., smartphone) rather than their desktop computer. It’s now time SMBs prioritize mobility and develop their mobile-first strategy. This is also a cross-sector concern, especially for SMBs that offer consumer products and services. SMBs should take advantage of mobile technologies, in order to increase their digitization and boost their interactions with social networking platforms and their engagement with the end users.
New Opportunities with AR/VR
2018 will also be a year when the business potential of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will be unveiled. Workers will be able to get accurate and context aware guidance on how to complete their tasks. This can help SMBs reduce costs and increase productivity. At the same time, AR/VR will enable new business models in sectors like finance, retail and advertising, as new ways for delivering ads and content to the consumers will become available.
Social Media Marketing
We could also say social-first, much in the same way as we argued in favor of mobile-first strategies for SMBs. We think that SMBs should invest in social media marketing in 2018, as this can enable their global outreach initiatives at the least possible cost. While many SMBs have an established presence in social media, most of them have not fully embraced social networks in their marketing strategies. In 2018, they must prioritize social media in their digital marketing agendas. This means transmitting consistent, yet customized branding messages through the different social networking platforms, while tailoring them according to the targeted audience and the channel used (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat). It also means using social media platforms as a main channel for collecting feedback (e.g., through social media comments) and accordingly using it to drive improvements in their product and services.
The proposed priorities come as a natural evolution of SMB’s investments during the past 2-3 years and are chosen due to the various technological advancements made in the past couple of years. 2018 will be the year where several technologies, including some which aren’t listed here, will be deployed and used within the SMB community. It’s probably time for you to think and plan the IT priorities that deserve the lion’s share of your IT budget in 2018. We hope our suggestions help you in this endeavor. Here’s wishing you a successful and prosperous 2018!