Part 5 of the “2020 Strategies and Insights for Midsize Companies” series
The smartest business owners I know are always looking ahead. They’re making decisions now that they know will affect their companies five years from now.
They’re doing so because they have a responsibility to their customers, employees, and communities to keep their companies profitable, growing, and sustainable. These same owners are investing in certain technologies today that will help them meet these goals tomorrow.
Here are five technologies that will certainly blow up your small business within the next five years.
Artificial intelligence and bots
Have you ever gotten a text message from your pharmacy reminding you to renew a prescription and then asking you for permission if your doctor needs to be called? Or a reply from a software company that answers a question you emailed? Ever call an airline and request to change your flight before being connected to an agent? Or reply to a customer service request from your cable company?
You’re communicating with a bot—a software robot. Call it artificial intelligence, AI, bots, or whatever…big companies are already deploying this technology, and it’s becoming more mature every day. AI platforms are growing at an unprecedented 28 percent rate and it’s easy to understand why: By automating interactions with customers and prospects, more work can be done faster and more accurately by a computer, without human involvement.
That means by leveraging this technology, you can keep your overhead low and use your employees to do more profitable tasks that a computer can’t do. In the coming years, you’ll find lots of software companies incorporating AI and bots in their products and services. Don’t avoid it—embrace it.
Imagine helping your customers visualize how their remodeled kitchen will look just by sitting them down in your showroom. Or touring a prospective buyer sitting in her living room in Tulsa around a few available homes in Tampa, where she’s moving. Or visiting a job site in Denver to check out progress and pointing out issues, without leaving your desk in Boston.
Yeah, you’re doing this… and it’s real. These are a few ways that augmented reality is already impacting larger companies and examples of how it will affect your business in the next few years. Powered by headsets like Microsoft HoloLens, Google Glass, and a host of others, your customers and employees will be transported to different places and be virtually inserted into conferences, meetings, job sites, medical emergencies, and an unlimited number of other situations while at the same time looking at data, making suggestions, and implementing changes. The augmented reality market is expected to be worth more than $85 billion by 2025 and few small businesses will be untouched by its impact.
Optical character recognition
Remember when you would receive a scanned document like a PDF or image and all you could do was file it away electronically for safekeeping? Those days are history. Today, a variety of businesses are using optical character recognition (OCR) technology to change the way documents are processed, and it’s catching on. Some studies predict the market for OCR technologies will exceed $13 billion in just the next few years.
How does this technology work? Using OCR, applications can extract data from just about any scanned document or image and bring it into a format for online review and immediate processing into an accounting system. When AI workflow rules are applied, that same transaction can be automatically approved for posting and payment, or receipt, depending on the type of transaction.
The impact is huge. Transactions once done by humans are done by machines with greater accuracy and speed. That means a reduction in overhead and a better reallocation of resources. Look for OCR applications like the ones mentioned above to proliferate among small businesses in the years to come.
Want a robot for your company? It’s easier – and less expensive – than you might think.
For example, a robotic arm that costs about $7,500 can do things like machine tending, precision, and circuit board testing. More advanced robots that can handle more complicated tasks on the manufacturing floor, such as packaging, pick and place, soldering, screwing, painting, testing, and assembly, are available for less than $25,000 each. That’s a one-time charge, and a lot less than you’d pay a person, right?
This is reality. Most major manufacturers and distributors, from Amazon to BMW, use robots in their plant and warehouse floors. And today, this technology is finding its way into the middle market, and into smaller companies too. Global industrial robot sales have doubled over the past five years and are expected to grow even faster in the years to come.
Smart businesses and merchants big and small will be using robots to not only perform procedures on the manufacturing and warehouse floor but to also accomplish administrative tasks such as printing labels, moving supplies, monitoring safety, and even answering shoppers’ questions as they browse a store. Prices are coming down and the technology – like the others mentioned above – will go a long way towards reducing overhead and putting human resources to better use.
Hello Alexa! What’s up, Siri? Yo, Cortana. You – and many others – are going to become a big part of millions of businesses in the very near future.
That’s because, according to Juniper Research, a U.K. market analyst firm, the use of voice assistants like the ones from Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft is expected to triple over the next few years, with 8 billion digital voice assistants expected to be in use by 2023.
These companies and others are working on voice-enabled office applications. Amazon’s Alexa for Business is already making available apps to manage meetings, book conferences, order products, and control devices, all through voice commands. Microsoft is integrating Cortana into its business applications so that users can request data, initiate orders, approve payments, and answer customer questions without using a keyboard. Other companies that make business applications are rolling out voice enablement to ensure easier and more accessible access to their technologies. These same companies and their partners are also making available tools for third-party developers to create their own integrated voice applications.
Voice technology will be enormous over the next few years, increasing productivity, collaboration, and communication within our offices and with anyone connected to us. If you’d rather talk than type, you’re going to like what’s coming.
I’ve listed only five big technologies, but there are more. Regardless, the trend is clear: AI, augmented reality, OCR, robotics, and voice technologies are coming to your business, and soon. Certainly, there will be ethical and privacy issues to address around these technologies. But the smart business leaders I know will embrace and use them to drive their companies forward. Doing so is not just about doing what’s right for business—it’s what’s right for your employees, customers, and community.
See IDC’s list of top trends for small and midsize businesses in the 2020s. Download the IDC infographic, sponsored by SAP, “The Roaring 2020s – Six Trends Midsize Companies in the Next Decade.”
And we invite you to join our upcoming webinar for a deeper dive into each of these trends and what you can do now to take advantage of them. Register for Winning in the 2020s: Six Trends Every Midsize Company Needs to Know.