Can you believe that we’re already one month into 2017?
Most science fiction movies weren’t even set this far into the future. Thankfully for us, the future is a good place to be, thanks to the ever-growing number of technological solutions for many of our business problems. Small businesses can now access technology that was once only available to the big players in their industry, helping to even the playing field and make day-to-day activities easier.
Nearly half of Chicago small businesses said they wanted to be more tech savvy in 2016; if that sounds like you, we invite you to review the technology you can take advantage of to help your business this year.
Looking Back on 2016
Before we talk about the opportunities available in 2017, let’s take a quick look back on the small business tech trends that defined 2016.
If one business technology trend defined 2016, it was the cloud. No longer the mysterious entity of years past, small businesses finally took the time to understand the technology and put it to good use.
IDC’s 2016 “State of the SMB Cloud” report found that, over the last five years, SMB cloud adoption nationwide has gone from under 20% of firms to more than 70% for small companies (fewer than 100 employees) and more than 90% for midmarket firms (100-999 employees).
Why are all these businesses jumping on the cloud bandwagon?
The State of the SMB Cloud report suggests that a desire for cloud storage services, including cloud-based back-up and archiving; the continued presence of employee-owned mobile devices; and the adoption of mobile email and basic collaborative apps like Microsoft Office 365 all contributed to the rise in cloud acceptance. Biz Tech Magazine’s Phil Goldstein notes that small businesses are running an average of four cloud services or apps, indicating a higher level of comfort with hosted IT and a deeper need to use more advanced IT solutions.
The second biggest technology story of 2016 was security; unfortunately, this trend wasn’t a major tech story for good reasons. The past year saw the number of data breaches jump from millions to billions with a major security attack seemingly occurring every month.
Small businesses often assume that they won’t be a target of cybercrime, but 2016 proved that cybercriminals don’t go easy on SMBs. Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report highlighted a steady increase in SMB cyber-attacks over the past five years, with the number of targeted small businesses rising from 18% to 43%. On top of that, 1 in 40 SMBs are at risk of being a victim of cybercrime.
Moving Forward in 2017
Not only should SMBs take advantage of new technology – they should take the time to master it, by understanding and implementing the technologies that will make your daily activities easier and more secure.
Here are a few of the ways your small business can use technology to its advantage in 2017.
As 2016 proved, the cloud is an important tool for any growing SMB. The availability of cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 has made cloud adoption a big trend. Cloud-based solutions offer greater scalability, security, efficiency and flexibility than standard in-house hardware. Email hosting, online backup and recovery, web hosting and productivity solutions are expected to be the most popular cloud services in 2017, according to online IT community, Spiceworks.
Do you hate that your technology becomes outdated only a few years after it was bought? That is part of the beauty of the cloud. Hosting your data, programs and other digital assets in someone else’s data center reduces the need to constantly upgrade your technology. Reducing physical hardware purchases is an advantage for small businesses who want to grow without unnecessary IT headaches.
Still not convinced that the cloud is worth the trouble? Read our piece on why moving to the cloud is easier to do than you might think.
More proof that we’re currently living in the future: artificial intelligence is now handling our customer service.
While not AI in the true sense (chat bots don’t actually think for themselves), chat bot technology works by interacting with customers online or over text message. To put it simply, instead of real people responding to business inquiries via online chat, a robot will respond intelligently to customer questions.
For example, if a customer asks for an update on an order, a chat bot could pull up their order information for them – removing the need for an employee of the company to spend time assisting the customer.
Goldstein explained that technologies like Microsoft’s Bot Framework allow companies to build and connect bots to interact with users not only through Facebook Messenger, but through websites, SMS, Skype, Office 365 mail, and Teams, to name a few. The Bot Framework makes it easy for businesses with a knowledgeable IT staff to set up their own chat bot.
Taking Security Seriously
As cyber criminals use more advanced tactics, IT professionals are taking more advanced preventative measures.
According to Diana Kelley of Techtarget.com, it's important to create and maintain at least high-level written policy and procedure documents regarding company security practices. Keeping the process proactive, or "pre-attack," focused keeps a company ahead of cybercriminals. For SMBs, the best way to prevent security breaches is creating a security-minded culture that encourages following the security policies and procedures.
For years, companies have put off taking the time to creating a sound security process that employees actually follow. Security is more than just updating passwords (though those are important) and having a strong firewall; it’s also about the people using your network. Creating a simple, strong and repeatable security process that is easy for your employees to adopt is the key to avoid becoming one of the million data breaches that will inevitably take place throughout 2017.
Considering new technology implementation this year but not sure where to begin? Switchfast can help your small business determine what technology makes sense for you.
Click here to learn more!
Written by Tyler Smith