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Technology trends for 2020: What could the future hold for small businesses?

Keeping track of all the latest technology trends can be quite a tall order, especially when you’re spending most of your waking hours running a small business. Every month there’s new tech being
launched that promises to revolutionize this, or transform that, making businesses faster, more efficient and futureproof. But when you’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm and not enough time in the day to do it all, how do you know what’s really worth paying attention to?

We’ve put together a short list of some of what we think are the most significant technology trends in 2020 and more importantly, why they’re likely to be important to small businesses.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence might still sound more like science fiction than cutting edge business technology, but in many industries, it’s becoming increasingly commonplace. However, before we all get carried away with visions of I, Robot and Bladerunner, what's often called AI is actually closer to machine learning. In essence, this means that computers have the potential to learn and improve from past experience, becoming more efficient in the process.

In industries like digital security, technology that can recognise past threats and automatically develop new security protocols to combat them is invaluable. As cyber attacks get more sophisticated, algorithms and security software that can learn to spot suspicious behaviour will be essential for keeping critical business data secure. This kind of machine learning is also being trialled in customer service and logistics industries, where delivering a smart, seamless solution to clients is often the key differentiating factor for success.

Takeaways for small businesses: Whilst machines sent back from the future to protect humanity might still be a distant dream, machine learning and AI is already a fast growing part of cyber security, with brands like Cisco and IBM offering enterprise level packages. It likely won’t be long until this begins to become standard practice for SMEs and small businesses too.

5G Networks

We’ve discussed 5G networks and the potential they hold for business before. Of all the technologies on this list, it’s likely to be the one that has the biggest transformative impact, as the smartphones and tablets used every day by small businesses will directly benefit from the increased speed and bandwidth of 5G. It’s also already available in many cities and urban centres around the UK, meaning that some small businesses might already be taking advantage of this cutting edge connectivity. 

However, 5G isn’t just about mobile networks. Access to a network as powerful as 5G could unlock the potential for smarter infrastructure in cities and enable far more complex tasks to be performed remotely. There have even been trials of remote surgery, made possible by the ultra low latency of a 5G network and specialised haptic feedback gloves . With the IoT (internet of things) expected to grow to over 22 billion devices by 2025 , 5G is being hailed as the technology capable of bringing it all together. 

Takeaways for small businesses: This technology is definitely one to watch. As coverage improves through the UK, 5G could prove invaluable to small businesses who rely on fast and resilient mobile networks for their connectivity.

Autonomous Machines

Autonomous machines is a broad term, but within the business sphere, this primarily refers to robots that can perform tasks without direct human operation. Most often, this technology is deployed in complex manufacturing environments, or in situations where having human workers would be simply too dangerous. The increased efficiency, productivity and safety of autonomous machines makes them an attractive prospect for many industries, particularly when combined with advancements in AI and robotics, enabling these machines to perform ever more complex tasks.

If this sounds way beyond the scope of small businesses, think again. Drone delivery is one of the best known examples of autonomous machine application, piloted by Amazon in 2016. Since then the cost of self flying drones has dropped significantly, to the point where they’re becoming a standard tool for photographers, surveyors and even farmers. Similarly, Tesla’s work with self driving cars has reached the point where the latest models now have a full autopilot as standard, including a feature which lets you summon the car when you’re in a car park!

Takeaways for small businesses: Directly or indirectly, small businesses are already benefiting from autonomous machines in a number of ways. Whether your suppliers are using machines to deliver goods faster and more efficiently to your door, or tools like drones have become a key asset in your day to day work, this kind of technology is only going to become more cost effective and more integrated into the way we do business.

VR and Augmented Reality

VR and augmented reality have gained much of their popularity through video games. With the latest consoles now offering VR technology and compatible games, plus the runaway success of augmented reality mobile games like Pokemon GO, VR and AR already have their feet firmly under the table in this industry. However, these technologies have applications in the wider business world that go far beyond gaming.

Most often, VR is used in the workplace for health and safety training or upskilling, helping employees to get to grips with dangerous tasks or expensive equipment in a safe and controllable environment. For workers in all manner of high risk professions, VR training can improve confidence and competency, not to mention increasing safety. What’s more, training protocols that have standardised elements can be shared across multiple companies and industries using a single VR software program. Whilst VR and augmented reality training is still mainly the preserve of large enterprises and corporations, we only need to look at the rapid evolution of VR in the video game industry to see the impact this technology could have on businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Takeaways for small businesses: The rapidly reducing overheads of VR and augmented reality technology, plus the fact that 3rd party licenses for training software are now available from multiple vendors, means that this could well be a viable option for small businesses in the not too distant future.

It can be difficult to predict what technology will become integral to the future of your business, especially when running the business itself is more than enough to keep you busy! However, even keeping half an eye on one or two tech trends that might have applications within your industry can really pay off in the long run, especially when that technology can give you the cutting edge you need to succeed.

Sources

  1. ‘Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020’, Gartner, https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/trends/2020-top-tech-trends-gb-pd
  2. How 5G mobile networks are opening the door to remote surgery’ Medical Device Network, 16.09.2019, https://www.medicaldevice-network.com/features/5g-remote-surgery/
  3. ‘State of the IoT 2018: Number of IoT devices now at 7B – Market accelerating’, 08.08.18 https://iot-analytics.com/state-of-the-iot-update-q1-q2-2018-number-of-iot-devices-now-7b/
 
 

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