It’s been quite the year for technology: wearable tech finally came of age, Amazon ramped up trials of drones for deliveries, and Google announced plans for its driverless cars. But whilst these gadgets and gizmos fill the column inches of our favourite magazines, they’re largely irrelevant to the majority of the nation’s small businesses. We have spoken to those in the know about the most important tech trends to affect the nation’s small and medium sized companies in 2015.
Many nifty tools have emerged to help us take care of bulging inboxes which means freeing you lot up to do the important things – like running your businesses. Elite Business former cover star Kathryn Parsons stopped using email altogether as an experiment in autumn last year. But for those not willing to kiss goodbye to Outlook or gmail forever, there are other solutions. “We love Fantoo, which aims to rescue people from cluttered inboxes,” says Luke Lang, co- founder of online crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.
“It’s an email management system that uses artificial intelligence to sort your messages – it ‘learns’ the way you like to work and organise your emails and automatically categorises them as they come in, displaying them as a tapestry of pictures. You can instantly see what’s most important, which saves time and brings a welcome element of control to today’s rampant inboxes.” Groovy.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘content is king’. Customers aren’t likely to respond to bullish sales techniques but may well be turned on by relevant, timely content. That might look like blogs, it might be picture slideshows and increasingly it’s video. “Though it’s a newer form of communication, video content is becoming one of the most engaging methods used by businesses,” says Lyndon Wood, founder of constructaquote.com. “Most businesses go wrong by using platforms that essentially direct visitors away from their site. This means that not only is the user experience suffering but it can also be of detriment to the site’s SEO standing.”
“Many platforms are designed for SEO purposes, such as Wistia, meaning that your visitors don’t have to leave your site to digest your visual content; you can imbed videos directly to your site. As a platform, Wistia also provides usable analytics that will show exactly when your visitors are tuning out and what parts of the video are the most engaging. This, therefore, helps business to repeat their winning strategies, whilst letting their less engaging ideas slide.”
Once the domain of only the biggest of companies, data analytics is increasingly becoming more relevant to an SME audience. This is partially down to the fact that it’s much simpler, says Darren Fell, MD and founder of Crunch Accounting. “Bitesize data analysis and consumption – especially for business intelligence services – seems to have become incredibly popular and increasingly useful in the last year. If 2014 was the year of Big Data, then 2015 will be the year of Useful Small Data, when we start to see people delivering on the promise of analysis of huge datasets accessible by all,” he explains.
“I’m particularly interested in data that can be understood and responded to by people who don’t have a PhD in statistical analysis. We run our business on data but huge pivot tables are rather clunky tools and we’re excited to see more user-friendly services coming to market. For example there is a great service called Brief Metrics, which bundles up all of your Google Analytics data into a single, easily digested email – this is just the tip of the iceberg for these kinds of services.”
Most of us use cloud technology without thinking about it too much. Shunning Microsoft Office for Google Drive is the first stop on the road to becoming a fully paid-up member of the cloud-enabled club.
“Cloud has been a buzzword over the last few years but any entrepreneur who runs their business on the go is heavily indebted to it,” explains Rich Preece, VP and UK country manager at Intuit. “We think it will continue to have a major impact as new applications and services are launched and as more start-ups take advantage of existing cloud technology.”
Start-ups are particularly enamoured with cloud- based financial management software, says Preece, with the International Data Association claiming 87 that 50% of SMEs will be using the cloud to do their accounts by 2016. Benefits include increased efficiency, high availability and reduced costs. What’s not to like?
This will be the year that people stop owning things, reckons Tien Tzuo, co-founder and CEO of Zuora, a cloud technology company. “In 2015, consumers will prefer access over ownership. They will demand the flexibility and personalisation that subscription services provide, as opposed to one-off purchases,” he explains.
There are a ton of case studies showing that this approach to business works. “Companies like Zipcar, Spotify and Netflix have realised this and offer customers a completely new experience of accessing the goods and services they want, when they want them, and wherever they are. These companies have built their business model around engaging in ongoing relationships that provide value to their consumers, instead of selling products to strangers in isolated transactions,” says Tzuo. And they are not alone. “Research by The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that 51% of organisations are integrating new delivery models such as subscriptions, sharing, and rental goods and services. Of those, 40% are implementing subscription services as part of their core business. It will not take long for the remaining 60% to sit up and take notice. Subscription business models will be impossible to ignore in 2015,” he claims.
And for After hours…
Lang has certainly bought into the subscription model – when it comes to beer, at least. “Another essential for any start-up, we think, is the DeskBeers website. You subscribe, and they deliver quality craft beers to your office. Every start-up needs a happy team and what better way to achieve that than to put a beer on everyone’s desk at the end of another busy week?”