Over the last several decades, technology evolved in a mostly sequential fashion: One development would lead to another, and that would lead to another. For instance, the giant mainframe computers of the 1970s gave way to the PC revolution, which instigated an exploration of networks—which led to the Internet.
However, we now live in an era of unprecedented technology development that’s constantly yielding new technologies and applications—and it seems to be happening all at once. From blockchain to machine learning to autonomous vehicles, the tech isn’t evolving in a linear fashion, but instead simultaneously emerging and then converging.
For small-to medium-size businesses (SMBs), staying up with these changes can seem daunting. The good news is that you don’t have to become an expert in every new kind of technology to take advantage of it: Instead, you simply need to understand the opportunities that new tech offers your SMB, and then look for easy opportunities to access it.
The amount of technological change over even the past 15 years has been astounding. Consider the advent of the cloud, the Internet of Things, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning just to name a few. Not only have these erupted in the same time period, but they’re complementary to each other and they often work in conjunction.
The incredible infrastructure we have in the cloud has made it possible for many of these to exist. It’s allowed for unparalleled levels of collaboration and information exchange. As a result, companies can work more freely and help evolve new markets that much faster. This digital transformation has violently disrupted some industries and birthed entire new ones. Consider how e-commerce has upended traditional retail. On the other side, public cloud services didn’t exist 20 years ago, and now it’s a $247 billion market.
Still, economists believe we may have only experienced the tip of the iceberg in terms of economic growth related to technological progress. In Intelligent Finance: How CFOs Can Lead the Coming Productivity Boom, professor and author Dr. Michael Mandel notes tech advancement has primarily benefited digital industries. The next wave? An application of new technology to physical industries that could boost U.S. economic growth by 0.7% within the next 15 years. The percentage sounds small, but it’s impact would increase the country’s economic output by $2.7 trillion, raise wages by a cumulative $8.6 trillion and increase federal revenue by $3.9 trillion.
Fortunately, modern SMBs don’t need to be concerned with mastering blockchain development or developing their own AI-based software. Instead, here are a few tips for keeping pace with technology—so that your SMB can gain a competitive edge.
Though you don't need to become an engineer or understand the inner workings of edge computing, as an SMB leader you should devote some time to learning about how these technologies are being applied in your industry. You might be surprised at how ubiquitous some new tech already is and what early adopters are doing. For example, if your company has an e-commerce component, then investigating how AI is used to improve the customer experience would be helpful. Or understanding how AI is streamlining HR work could also lead to some ideas for your own business.
Fortunately, incorporating new technology into your SMB's operations doesn't involve choosing between technologies or betting on say blockchain over machine learning. The tech industry is adept at working new tech into its products, which provides easy access to business users. The advent of software as a service also means that your solutions are always being updated and new features--based on new tech--come online regularly. For example, machine learning technology may be a component of an ERP system, which identifies data previously entered and makes suggestions based on those earlier actions. Or AI built into your customer experience software may help your SMB automatically reply to certain online inquiries. In addition, reach out to new and current vendors to ask what technologies they're incorporating and how that tech may benefit you and your customers.
Approach this tech explosion with excitement—because it really is game-changing. Encourage your employees to work with technology, explore automation, and learn new aspects of the solutions they use on a daily basis. This open mindset will breed an innovation and spur your teams to look for new and better ways to put technology to use. You'll see the results in your productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.
None of this technology is going back into the box—it’s here to stay. The progress is quick and the entry point for companies is lower than ever before. Ignoring this technological explosion or thinking it doesn’t apply to your business is the mistake. Remember what happened with the digital camera revolution and Kodak? The once dominant film company didn’t keep up with innovations in their industry and ended up in bankruptcy.
That may seem dramatic, but the truth is this: If you stall, you’ll have missed out on crucial opportunities for efficiencies and growth by the time you’ve realized that you want in. Instead, stay updated on the tech developments and proactively look for ways you can use them to get ahead. Your SMB will benefit today, and perhaps more importantly, it will be set up for greater success tomorrow.