Beyond tomorrow 10 small and medium business technology trends

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As the new high speed nbn network continues to roll out across Australia, businesses are finding different ways to solve existing challenges and seize new opportunities. What are some of the trends happening right now and where will business technology take us next? The Smarter Business™ team identifies 10 trends made possible or amplified by the nbn network and explores the amazing possibilities that may be just over the horizon.

Delivery demands

Now: Delivery on-demand

Online retail continues to grow every year and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the nbn network may even speed things up with faster, reliable connectivity making shopping online even easier in Australia. Yet, it doesn’t matter how quickly you can order that book if slow delivery undermines all of that speed and convenience. On-demand delivery is the next competitive battleground for retailers as they use increasingly innovative methods to get parcels to your front door.

Sendle is just one service making delivery faster and easier by using the excess capacity of logistics providers – the spare space in delivery trucks – while Zoom2U uses the excess capacity in Greyhound Australia buses.

Meanwhile, Sherpa offers a two-hour delivery service within a 10km radius of major Australian CBDs. The business employs more than 2000 mums, uni students and retirees to use their own cars to deliver groceries, flowers, dry-cleaning and alcohol.

Next: Drone delivery

The drones are coming! US retailers Amazon and Walmart are already testing drones for parcel deliveries. Amazon predicts its Prime Air service will cut online order delivery time to less than 30 minutes for parcels under 2.3kg. Meanwhile Australia Post is conducting internal trials of drone drop-offs in outer metropolitan areas, with plans for consumer trials by the end of 2016.

Developed by Melbourne’s ARI Labs, the drones transmit encrypted data to a ground station so engineers can monitor flight activity in near real time. And all of that data transmission relies on a rock-solid network. No one wants a drone to drop out of the sky because the connection dropped out!

Drone delivery could be particularly valuable for rural customers whose homes are far from their mailboxes. Is that a UFO or my new Akubra about to land?


Contented customers

Now: Rapid response

Small businesses have long claimed an edge in providing customer service. However, new communication technologies have made customers expect even more. And if they don’t get the service they want, they’ll complain loudly to their social media followers (and your potential customers).

While email is still important, the rise of social media has provided businesses with a number of faster and potentially more effective channels to get your message across.

Eptica’s 2016 Multichannel Customer Experience Study shows Twitter achieved by far the fastest customer response time – averaging 4 hours and 14 minutes – with a 48 per cent success rate. Meanwhile, Facebook lagged behind with an 8 hour and 37 minute response time and a 44 per cent success rate.

Even the few seconds it takes to load a web page can be enough to impact sales as customers look for a faster experience elsewhere. If only there were an internet network capable of delivering those high speeds…

Next: Effortless Experience

In the future, customers will expect a frictionless, personalised and fast experience - from first click to final delivery - with virtually instant gratification. No one likes staring at a spinning icon or process bar while waiting for a webpage to load, document to download or transaction to process. And no one likes clicking through too many unnecessary steps to get where they want to go. Faster nbn connectivity could mean the page load ‘throbber’ becomes a rarely seen relic of a much slower time, while customer experiences will become far more streamlined and efficient.

The ability to add ‘Buy Now’ buttons within a Facebook page is just one way some brands are already reducing the time and effort necessary to make a purchase, without interrupting what you’re doing.

Meanwhile, the Internet of Things (IoT) will connect more of our devices and appliances to the nbn network enabling them to do more of our routine tasks for us without interrupting whatever we’re doing. It may not be long before your smart fridge will know when the milk has run out and use automatic purchasing tools to send an auto-refill order based on your previous purchasing patterns or pre-set rules.


Mobile matters

Now: Mobile-first

The number of mobile devices per household continues to rise, with the nbn network enabling more of these devices to be connected simultaneously without slowing to a crawl. This new multi-screen, multi-connected household has also powered a surge in mobile e-commerce, with more than half of the traffic to online retailers now coming from a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Yet many websites still offer an inferior shopping experience on a small-screen mobile device.

Google began applying the pressure in 2015 by prioritising mobile sites in its search results and it has been tightening its rules ever since. The latest trend is for pages to render faster on mobile devices with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) code.

Don’t be left behind. Mobile optimisation is crucial if you want to help customers to find your site by search. Just how mobile-friendly is your site? Test it here.

Next: Mobile interactive

The way people interact with their devices and navigate the internet is changing fast. Driving this is ‘the device mesh’: the growing set of endpoints people use to access applications and information or interact with each other.

The mesh brings together your various devices and wearables with the IoT - sensor - enabled devices in the home, car or wider environment communicating and sharing data with each other in near real time over the nbn network. This gives artificial intelligence and bots far greater scope to do more for us. Soon, virtual personal assistants (VPAs) - Siri, Google Now and Cortana among others – may be skimming the web to find and select options and automate many tasks for you.

According to Gartner, by 2020 almost half of all mobile interactions will be carried out by VPAs predicting your needs and acting autonomously on your behalf - powered by a network capable of carrying all of this increased activity.


Smarter data

Now: Predictive analytics

Ever received a promotional email or campaign that reveals how little the company knows or cares about you? Maybe you already bought the product or maybe it’s not relevant to you. Welcome to the age of big data, where businesses have no excuse for cluttering your inbox with irrelevant junk or targeting everyone with the same generic message. In 2010, then Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that we collectively create more information and data every two days than we did in the whole period of history from the dawn of civilisation to 2003! That’s a huge amount of data - over five exabytes! Six years on, the nbn network is finally providing a ‘pipe’ big enough to help carry the ever-increasing mountain of data.

Amazon set the benchmark for constantly crunching customer data, demonstrating that the more you know about your customers, the more you can refine your offers. A recent Forrester Consulting study showed users of predictive analytics exceeded revenue expectations and grew market share, including among small to medium enterprises. Australian greengrocer site Aussie Farmers Direct says analytics have increased the value of individual sales by 20 per cent.

You can start with free services such as Google Analytics to identify what people are looking for and how they interact with your website.

Next: Predictive analytics

If you really want to know what your customers want, then bots may give you the option to ask them directly. Early versions such as DisOrDatBot already prompt people to make choices.

Gartner predicts that virtual digital assistants will soon recognise individuals by face and voice and use the digital mesh of channels and partners to remember and predict likes and dislikes.

Bots will mimic human conversations, including a sense of history, context, timing and tone. They will also be capable of developing and continuing with a consistent thought or purpose, even when responding across multiple occasions and places.

Despite initial resistance, convenience will drive customers to adopt the required facial and voice technologies to help them sift through increasingly large amounts of information, choices and purchasing decisions - all made possible by the nbn network.


(A)Head in the cloud

Now: Cloud goes mainstream

The cloud is impacting how we work, providing access to integrated systems and allowing employees – from sales people to nurses – to work on the go.

Yet, small to medium enterprises (SMEs) have been slower to adopt cloud-hosted services than the wider population. According to an nbn report, SME cloud-based services: overseas successes & Australian opportunities, 44 per cent of SMEs used cloud-based services at May 2013.

Most SMEs have used the cloud only for entry level services – email, web hosting and storage – instead of embracing its wider potential for online marketing, collaboration, data security, accounting, payroll and job management. One of the reasons for this low adoption rate has been slow upload speeds, making it impractical or inconvenient to upload large files and larger archives of data into the cloud, with any interruptions in connection leading to corrupted or incomplete files.

The fast upload and download speeds and reliability provided by the nbn network will help make cloud computing far more practical and valuable for more businesses.

Next: Blue sky applications

As new speed tiers increase upload and download speeds even further, the cloud will become more powerful, delivering new business opportunities by helping to cut costs, boost mobility and offer much greater immediacy.

New live translation technologies may remove language barriers and allow people to chat or negotiate in near real time – a boon for anyone dealing with international customers or negotiating deals across borders.

Google’s Cloud Vision API has huge potential. It can analyse an image and sort its contents into thousands of categories, such as taking an image of a person and detecting race, gender, mood, even their whereabouts.

Cloud Vision API could also lead to earlier detection of life-threatening diseases, including cancer, by bringing together image metadata from X-rays and MRIs, to reveal intricate similarities and enable early diagnoses.

Meanwhile, automotive companies such as BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are using cloud apps to improve the driving experience and indicate a vehicle’s ongoing maintenance needs. If a car breaks down, its computer will analyse the problem and report it, or even trigger preventative action such as a service call.


The sharing economy

Now: The peer-to-peer marketplace

One side effect of the ubiquitous connectivity provided by the nbn network has been the rise of the sharing economy, tapping into the potential of larger and larger communities. This new consumer model has grown rapidly as people realise they don’t need to own everything; they can share it.

If you do own too much, where do you put it? Spacer is a peer-to-peer marketplace for storage space that is about to go global, partnering with Europe’s Costockage to take on Asia’s booming self-storage market.

Meanwhile, Australia’s only publicly listed collaborative consumption company, Collaborate, runs DriveMyCar and has just added caravans to the list of material possessions that can be shared.

Need help with something? Brisbane’s Help Me With It is a community-based charity program rolling out nationally in 2017, matching time-poor people and others with volunteer helpers willing to fix, clean, care, shop, garden, teach and more.

Next: Collaborative consumption

Insurance will be the next industry to be disrupted by the sharing economy, according to Jeremiah Owyang, analyst and founder of Silicon Valley business Crowd Companies - an association for large brands that want to form collaborative partnerships.

Collaborative insurance startups are sprouting across the world. Onsource provides express visual inspections by a group of crowdworkers, while Broodfonds allows freelancers to fund each other’s sick leave. Gather offers community-based small business insurance, while the UK’s Cycle Syndicate provides ‘social assurance’ via Facebook groups for members whose bikes are stolen.

Despite some of the regulatory issues surrounding sharing services such as Airbnb and Uber, Owyang sees collaborative consumption as an ongoing economic force. His survey of 90,000+ people found adoption of new forms of peer-to-peer sharing - such as custom products, loaner vehicles and crowdfunding - will double in the next year.


Data futures

Now: Ethics on high alert

The more connected we become as a result of the nbn network, the more careful we need to be. Security threats are growing, putting the onus on all businesses - even small ones - to protect customer information.

The high-profile hacks of Sony, Uber, Apple and, most recently, LinkedIn demonstrate how determined the cybercriminals are. Failure to secure personal data risks eroding brand value, betraying trust and breaking the law. Data security has become the ethical responsibility of everyone in a business, not just a single IT person or back-office team.

Weak passwords, or even complex ones used in multiple accounts, are increasingly blamed for data breaches, and is behind Apple’s launch of Touch ID using fingerprints.

Awareness is running high. The cyber-security business globally is expected to top a mind-boggling US$100 billion by 2019.

Next: Biometrics

Credit card company MasterCard is testing next-gen facial recognition software for securing mobile transactions. While a simple photo could fool previous facial recognition technology, MasterCard will require users to blink to show they’re human. Amazon has patented a method that requires users to wink.

In the UK, new mobile bank Atom requires customers to use a combination of facial recognition, passcode and voice recognition to access their account or make a transaction. Others use software analysis of users’ keystroke dynamics (your typing idiosyncrasies).

Meanwhile, Citibank is testing iris scanning, which has also been released by Samsung for use on the Galaxy Note 7. Ironically for a means of privacy protection, some consumers are complaining that iris scanning invades privacy.

These security measures are certainly far harder to crack, but also require a lot more encrypted data to move back and forth instantaneously. While a hyper-connected world may encourage more hackers to look for vulnerable connections, the nbn network can also help protect us by enabling us to get access to security technologies.


Wearable technology

Now: Workwear

Wearable devices were always going to find their way into the workplace: for example, monitoring employee health with Fitbits; or retail staff using smartwatches to access detailed product information at the flick of a wrist.

Wearables are tipped to be as disruptive a force in business as smartphones and the cloud - and small businesses are tipped to be early adopters. For example, in construction, manufacturing or field services, smart glasses could be used to capture HD video of complex problems while two-way communication allows a remote manager or technical specialist to guide or train the wearer from afar.

Of course, this means our internet infrastructure needs to be capable of supporting even more connected devices. The nbn network will help ensure your wearables will be more than just expensive fashion accessories.

Next: Everywhere

The next phase of wearables will be invisible, by embedding technology into our clothes – even our shoes.

European budget airline EasyJet has unveiled prototype vibrating sneakers, Sneakairs, which connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone app that tells your feet which way to go. The airline plans to sell these in-flight to help its passengers navigate unfamiliar cities.

UK men’s footwear brand Anatomic & Co has developed ‘sociable shoes’ to disconnect the wearer from smartphone notifications so that you can focus on the present, combining technology and mindfulness to allow people to live more balanced lives.

The race to develop smart contact lenses is also underway. Companies including Google are developing lenses that track a person’s blood sugar levels, while Samsung plans to help the wearer see in the dark.



Now: Seniorpreneurs

According to researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and QUT, ‘seniorpreneurs’ are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs, currently leading almost 35 per cent of all new businesses. The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts the number of people aged over 60 in Australia will double by 2040, so this trend will only increase.

The research also found that mature-age people bring double the industry experience and work five less hours a week when compared to younger entrepreneurs. They also invest on average A$1.2 million more in their businesses than their younger counterparts.

However, the primary reason for starting up later in life is a better work-life balance, so seniorpreneurs may keep their businesses small by design. This work-life balance also suggests a greater number of businesses operating from home - a trend that is made far more practical and realistic by the nbn network.

Next: Kid-preneurs

Move over grandpa, the kids are coming!

Moziah Bridges, 12, from Memphis, set up a bow-tie business after being taught to sew and has since turned over six figures. Author and TEDTalk presenter Gabrielle Jordan, 16, kicked off her jewellery business aged 9 and later set up the ExCEL Youth Mentoring Institute.

There are a growing number of courses and resources targeting kidpreneurs. The Venture Lab’s Girl Startup 101 covers brainstorming, prototyping and pitching, and the Club Kidpreneur program, founded by serial entrepreneur Creel Price, is now partnered with more than 500 schools in Australia and New Zealand.

Experts confirm entrepreneurship should start young. Children are born imaginative, energetic and willing to take risks but often lose that daring spirit over time.

This new generation have never known a time without the internet. They won’t be restricted by outdated notions or redundant business models. Instead, the nbn network will help empower them to create a very different business environment to our own.


New connections

Now: Fast connections

Underpinning all of the previously mentioned trends is the need for an infrastructure capable of supporting them. The average home or workplace will see a dramatic increase in the number of devices needing to access the internet. Also, the amount of data moving back and forth will increase exponentially. By 2017, more than half of Australian premises will be covered by the nbn network. The new infrastructure provides fast and reliable internet to small and remote businesses, and is capable of supporting many more concurrent connections without impacting performance.

The nbn network is transforming the way smaller businesses interact with customers and with suppliers via the cloud and e-commerce. Digital growth will allow Australian businesses to reach new markets, locally and globally.

A new research report by the University of Melbourne predicts that, once complete, nbn connected small businesses will contribute an additional A$4 billion to the Australian economy each year.

Next: Smart connections

The opportunities and capabilities made possible by the Internet of Things are highly reliant on always-on, high-speed internet.

For example, Samsung plans for all its devices to be connected to the internet by 2020: refrigerators that text you when a door is left open, washing machines that use spot energy prices to decide the best time to do the laundry, or robot vacuum cleaners controlled by a smartwatch or smartphone. Some may even automatically trigger a service-support call when something goes wrong.

The next wave of innovation will come from tech-enabled, platform-driven ecosystems, and disrupt business models across all industries. Those businesses that adopt a platform strategy earlier stand to gain the advantage over their competitors.