From artificial intelligence to mobile, some technologies are reshaping business. This year will likely see the growth and increased adoption of a broad range of technologies. While how—and when—businesses leverage these trends may vary, they are real and will offer opportunities.
Small business owners should at least pay attention, even if they’re not ready to jump on board.
“Small business owners who ignore emerging digital technology do so at enormous risk to the survival of their companies,” says Stephen Andriole, professor of business technology at Villanova School of Business.
Here, then, are five technology trends small business owners should keep an eye on in 2019:
Artificial intelligence goes more mainstream.
AI and machine learning technologies have been in development for years, but few small businesses have so far tapped into these technologies directly. However, many business owners already use software and services such as Gmail or the virtual assistants Siri or Alexa that integrate AI—perhaps without even realizing they do. Small companies should follow the development of AI as many large companies are likely to roll out AI-driven capabilities in 2019 and beyond. It has the great potential to shake up industries and how business and work get done.
Wireless technology keeps getting faster.
While 5G wireless networks offering speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second probably won’t be widespread before 2020, it’s coming—and fast. A true “internet of Things,” in which all types of home and business devices will be connected to the internet, will be made even more possible thanks to much faster wireless speeds. Moreover, mobile communications and large data transfer (think high-definition video streaming) will be easier than ever. Every business relies on the internet differently, but 5G wireless is sure to transform the experience and provide opportunities. For example, businesses will be able to share large files and adopt communication tools such as video streaming by deploying 5G technologies.
Small businesses that don’t consider how faster internet will affect their industry could get left behind. “Assume advances in wireless mobile technologies like 5G will become ubiquitous within a few years and determine what business processes, products and services will be affected, improved or threatened by them,” Andriole says.
New, more severe cyberthreats emerge.
Ransomware (malware viruses used by cyber thieves to lock down a business’s computer network until a ransom is paid) is just one cyberthreat expected to grow in 2019. Cyber criminals have become more sophisticated and are rolling out many types of new attacks. While attacks against large companies make headlines, small businesses are often targets because they tend to have fewer cybersecurity protections and protocols in place. This year more than ever, business owners need to keep software patches up to date and train employees to resist social engineering hacks. “A major breach or digital collapse could kill a small business pretty quickly,” Andriole cautions.
Blockchain becomes widespread.
Blockchain is the technology underlying cryptocurrency. But its ability to create permanent, irrefutable records of the movement of products, funds and more is finding applications in supply, logistics, manufacturing, payment systems and many other areas. Small business owners may want to follow the development of blockchain applications, which have the potential to create a major shift in industries and change how financial and other transactions get handled, Andriole says.
The cloud gets more robust.
Capabilities of cloud-based data storage and cloud-hosted applications are growing by leaps and bounds, and that will only continue in 2019. More vendors will be offering cloud-based applications and services and small businesses will have more opportunities to move and store data to the cloud securely and affordably.
Even though new technologies are always emerging and becoming more mainstream, small business owners don’t necessarily have to jump on them, says Anthony Bradley, group vice president of research for Capterra, an online resource for business software buyers in Arlington, Virginia. That said, it’s important to follow their development and know when it makes sense to start using them.
Bradley suggests using a technology-trend evaluation process. First, he says, business owners should research the basics of the technology and how it is affecting their industry. Next, they should evaluate how it could benefit their own firm, as well as their competitors. Finally, they should analyze the likely return on an investment and compare it to alternative investments.
Businesses should resist hype and avoid spending money until they’ve carefully evaluated a trend, Bradley says. “Small business owners need to focus less on the particulars of the technology and more on the benefits it will provide to their businesses,” he adds.