According to a recent report published by Bank of America, small businesses are bullish on 2014 and expect to hire new employees to keep up with increases in projected sales growth. Coming in the face of uncertainty and challenges tied to the Affordable Care Act, this is great news for our economy and the nation as a whole.
In the more than 20 years that I have worked with small businesses, I have always felt that no matter what your trade, technology plays a pivotal role. In my role at Comcast Business, I speak with hundreds of small business customers every year, and these are the big trends that keep coming up that we need to watch in technology next year that will help small businesses grow:
In an October 2013 LinkedIn poll of 1,700 small businesses, 80 percent said they are using cloud-based applications, and 47 percent are using as many as they can. Cloud is now a given, but specific subsets of SaaS (software as a solution) applications will make significant strides next year. Cloud apps for Marketing, like Swiftpage, should see rapid adoption. They are inexpensive, easy-to-use on multiple devices from virtually anywhere, and they can help small businesses that aren’t necessarily tech savvy solve the social media conundrum. Social media can be a real driver of sales so its worth spending some time to participate in this rapidly growing community.
As consumers become more dependent on the Internet, wherever they go, WiFi becomes table stakes at your business. Last week, I worked from an auto dealership waiting room rather than bother with a loaner car because they had WiFi available. Providing patrons with this type of convenience not only makes good business sense, but as consumers try to reduce wireless data usage and get a faster connection, the benefits of WiFi compound. As a result, next year small business WiFi usage will go through the roof.
Too many small businesses roll the dice when it comes to their back up plan for their data. This can be catastrophic. Each year as more natural disasters and those "not-so-natural" disasters occur like computer theft and a double latte on the keyboard, businesses are paying more attention to their business contingency plans. And cloud computing has made this easier than ever. Businesses can move their back-up to the cloud which simplifies the process, makes it more cost-effective and provides them the security they need. Look for more and more businesses to move their back up to the cloud.
TV at Work
In today’s volatile world, people want to have access to a TV, even at work. When something ground-breaking is happening, there is nothing like TV coverage. In 2014 more employees and patrons will also be able to watch college bowl games, the Olympics, the NCAA tournament and the World Cup (hint – I like sports) in more lobbies and waiting rooms or on the go. IDC data shows a steady increase in TV services adoption rates within SMBs. Similar to what is going on with WiFi, business owners are beginning to understand that offering video at work keeps people informed, happy and coming back (good for patrons AND employees).
There are some interesting stats included in this HP infographic. They cite an IDC study indicating that 37 percent of the global workforce (1.7 billion people) will be using mobile technology by 2015. They also cite a Forrester survey that says nearly 1 billion tablets will be in use by workers around the world by 2017. Widespread table adoption in small businesses poses IT issues for the boss, who is faced with either managing employees’ bringing their own devices or having to supply tablets to employees. Smart business owners will look to compromise with their employees in 2014 and take advantage of the growing number of economical tablet options as well as enabling their IT teams to support the employees’ devices.
Bandwidth and Speed
Since there are more tablets, more people on WiFi, more cloud apps used, more video clips to watch, SMBs need to have enough capacity and speed to not only handle all of their traffic today, but also have enough capacity/speed to handle tomorrow’s demands. A timely example of this is the increased web traffic during the holidays for an SMB that does e-commerce. Companies will get smarter in 2014 by proactively adding extra bandwidth and speed to anticipate significant spikes in traffic.
If BoA’s predictions hold true and small businesses are poised for growth next year, the ripple effect we will see with regard to technology trends in small business is going to be equally compelling.