2016 was a year of unprecedented upheaval, and many of us will be keen to see it go. But in spite of (or perhaps because of) all this, businesses are looking confident about their prospects in 2017. Whether it’s leaps in technology, nostalgia for old habits or just selling with a smile, these small business tech trends for 2017 should see your SME through a period of prosperity.
Overdue disruption in consumer technology market
Tech and software firms will have already planned three years down the line. But for the rest of us, it pays to be up on consumer technology trends. Most business is conducted online, and with office space for startups at a premium, many nascent businesses are taking to phones and laptops. Instead of rented office space, entrepreneurs are setting up camp in the nearest coffee shop.
It’s always hard to predict precise trends in this fast moving landscape. It’s probably enough though to state that there will be a major disruptive force next year. While minor shifts such as the falling popularity of tablets and resurgence of laptops have occurred, these only reflect usage habits, as people look to strike a balance between portability and operability. The phablet is arguably the last major change to the tech landscape. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because pretty much every phone is a phablet now. The term has almost passed out of parlance.
Various contenders have come and gone over the last decade without really landing. Remember netbooks, or Google Glass, or the more recent Apple Watch? With phones now so powerful they can run complex video games and software, something has to give.
For small businesses this is likely to mean changes to the means of delivery for all sorts of content. Statistics from May 2016 showed that a fifth of all mobile Google queries were conducted by voice search, and that number is likely to rise. Getting your app to launch through Google Now or Siri could be a huge selling point. And different sized screens and resolutions pushing 4K UHD may require new website assets to display properly.
Mobile shopping meanwhile is likely to become ever more competitive as trust grows in mobile security. This is not to mention products like Amazon’s Alexa, which can automatically order from its website. Whether it’s perfect voice control, augmented reality or seamless integration with our homes and workplaces, 2017 is the year to keep your finger on the pulse of home tech.
Virtual convergence and first steps in vCommerce
Speaking of far-flung technology, 2017 may finally be the year where the virtual becomes physical. Not literally; we’re not quite in Westworld yet. But the rise of virtual reality (VR) and other futuristic technology seems unstoppable. As major and minor players in the online space continue to compete for attention, this may be the toolset for online businesses to stand out from the crowd.
VR shopping environments may be the ultimate endgame, but convincing implementation and widespread uptake are still some time away. The cost of a headset and computer is still prohibitive for most people, and the hardware lacks a ‘killer app’. It will take a fall in prices and a purpose-built PC with its own software before VR hits the mainstream. They’re both being worked on, but they’re a big ask for one year.
More likely is that eCommerce platform providers will begin to integrate new feature sets. It probably doesn’t seem long since optimising online stores for mobile became a big deal. The next logical step is optimising for Samsung Gear or Oculus Rift in a way which fully utilises the hardware.
With Amazon already owning a video game development studio and a massive digital infrastructure, they may get there first. Basic efforts at fully virtual shops or ‘vCommerce’ have emerged elsewhere, and the shopping giant is well placed to continue them. But the efforts here could set the trend for every business over the coming years. Combining the convenience of online shopping with the ability to see the item and pick it up will revolutionise markets.
Cybersecurity will take centre stage
Another small business tech trend is hacking. It’s long been a latent threat, but 2016 was the year when businesses started to take notice. The DynDNS attack in late October signalled a shift in the power balance. Twitter, Paypal, Amazon and Netflix were all down for hours, with a massive loss in revenue.
The distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) wasn’t an instance of hacking; it’s just a way to overload a network with data. But it was carried out by an enormous array of ‘hijacked’ devices. This included many Internet of Things (IoT) nodes, realising long held fears around their vulnerability.
Small businesses should not think themselves exempt just because they are smaller targets. Indeed, the high tech security at many larger companies may make SMEs more compelling targets. 2017 will be the year when enterprise at every level stops to review its security strategy and takes more advice on its physical and network infrastructure, or risk paying a heavy price.
Given that a small online businesses could still hold sensitive data on thousands of customers, and be entirely reliant on online banking and payment portals, the need to assess security strategies is greater than ever. Simply put this means limiting points of access as much as possible, storing sensitive data on a non-networked computer, and using strong encryption and passwords.
More than anything, there is a legislative impetus to change this year. A new EU directive comes into play in 2018, forcing anyone who does business within the Union to comply. This ruling transfers more power to consumers to choose which data they want to be collected. Crucially it also requires data protection officers at many smaller businesses. Your outlay on IT services will seem small fry next to the percentage fines for data breaches and mismanagement.