Small-business owners have had to keep up with a range of trends in technology throughout the past several years, and those who have successfully maintained a solid pace with relevant deployments have certainly excelled in their respective marketplaces. However, while it might seem like the world has to be approaching some sort of plateau with respect to the speed of innovation and new solutions entering into the equation, all signs point to continued evolution for years to come.
Last November, Computerworld published a report that called for small businesses to invest more in security, cloud computing, big data, app development and mobile in 2015, and the news provider was certainly correct in these assumptions. Entrepreneurs have been pouring money into their IT strategies of late and are increasingly focused on the digitization of core business processes and operational frameworks going into 2016.
International Data Corporation called for roughly $500 billion in global spending on technologies among small and medium-sized firms in 2015, as well as continued growth to approach $700 billion by 2019. A notable factor here is that many of the technologies that companies are investing in today are actually more affordable than their outdated predecessors, with the most obvious example being the differences in pricing models between cloud computing and legacy IT.
Simply put, the world is becoming more technology centric, and while the trends that Computerworld cited as being the most prominent in 2015 are sure to remain hot in the coming years, these are far from being the only ones that will impact the average marketplace. Entrepreneurs should recognize the fact that several of those, most important being big data and cloud computing, are ushering in a new era of innovation in which manufacturers and developers can more rapidly and affordably experiment and create novel solutions and technologies.
If you want a fun, quick illustration of how quickly technology has evolved of late, especially when compared to the time between the 1960s and 1990s, check out this two-minute video from Amit Ramesh:
Now, to get to the future. Again, virtually all of the technologies and trends that have surfaced in the past decade are going to continue impacting small businesses across industries, paving the way for even more advanced tools in the coming years. Entrepreneurs might not be able to adopt all of these gadgets and gizmos, nor will all of them be all that relevant to every company's needs and objectives, but being aware of the opportunities each holds is critical to remaining competitive.
What's to come?
Gartner recently released its list of 10 technologies that it believes will have major implications in 2016, gaining steam some time in the next 14 months or so in certain industries. Several are essentially the next step in some of the movements that have been around for a while now, including the futuristic products of machine learning and the Internet of Things.
"Gartner's top 10 strategic technology trends will shape digital business opportunities through 2020," Gartner Fellow David Cearley explained. "The first three trends address merging the physical and virtual worlds and the emergence of the digital mesh. While organizations focus on digital business today, algorithmic business is emerging. Algorithms - relationships and interconnections - define the future of business. In algorithmic business, much happens in the background in which people are not directly involved. This is enabled by smart machines, which our next three trends address. Our final four trends address the new IT reality, the new architecture and platform trends needed to support digital and algorithmic business."
The analysts pointed to certain trends that will have a major impact on entrepreneurs before long, such as something they call the "ambient user experience" that takes 24/7/365 accessibility and interactive platforms to the next level. Others will not likely have major implications for small businesses in the immediate future, including 3-D printing, though certain industries such as manufacturing will need to keep an eye on this one.
The IoT is likely the one that needs to be on every entrepreneur's radar, as it is already beginning to take hold of retail, manufacturing, health care, financial services and more. To ensure that the IoT is a driver of success rather than a disruptive force, organizations must begin to establish the backend systems and management frameworks necessary to properly handle a proverbial universe of new devices that come with significant functionality.
"Any enterprise embracing the IoT will need to develop an IoT platform strategy, but incomplete competing vendor approaches will make standardization difficult through 2018," Caerly added.
"Small businesses need to pick and choose their IT battles."
What are the entrepreneurial implications?
In short, small businesses need to pick and choose their battles when it comes to novel trends in IT, as trying to do too much and stretching technology workers too thin will almost certainly have a negative impact on operations. The best way to approach these matters is to first gain a strong understanding of what the needs in the business entail, which objectives are immediate or long-term, and how various movements in technology can be used to reach goals more quickly.
Another major takeaway to keep in mind here is that firms simply must modernize their infrastructure as soon as possible to have the agility and freedom necessary to embrace these trends. Should entrepreneurs continue to rely on outdated backend systems for years to come, they will rarely be able to adopt the IoT, mobility, big data and other current trends, not even to mention those listed above that are yet to really gain steam.
Additionally, small-business owners should remember that the economy is beginning to show greater signs of stability and growth, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities to boost revenues and profit margins so long as they are taking proactive and forward-thinking approaches to management. Getting the current needs reconciled, including those related to cloud computing and unified communications, will enhance the ability to move fluidly through the complex and ever-changing landscapes that lay ahead.