How Technology Will Boost SME Productivity In 2016

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Sage’s CTO, Klaus-Michael Vogelberg, examines the technology trends that will enable SMEs, the lifeblood of the global economy, to work smarter in 2016

It’s a world of new technology – think social, mobile, real-time analytics, cloud computing, big data, and of course the internet of things. All this matters to us. But we all too often forget one important factor – how is the tech actually helping us?

And that’s the bottom line, especially for small and medium businesses. They haven’t the funds or time to waste on things that don’t work for them. This is a problem when it comes to future-gazing prediction lists; they’re a little too far from reality at times, and they can be short on practical direction. With this in mind, I’m going to do things differently.

My predictions for the coming year factor in whether the technology is making things easier for people. Innovation needs to make things simpler for the small business, not more complicated! 2016 will be the year of ‘innovation through simplification’.

bank cardsThe Programmable Bank

Banks will adopt open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to create the ‘programmable bank’, and businesses do the same to create the ‘programmable enterprise’. This technology enables transactions to be carried out in real-time, while the creation of business mash-ups combined with mobile technology creates innovative business models.

APIs provide programmatic access to software applications, which make it possible for them to interact with each other within an organisation. For instance, this would allow an inventory management or sales order processing application to integrate with a finance system.

The cloud allows the same principles to be applied to entire organisations. A bank can expose API services that provide bank feeds and accept payments. These can be consumed by other businesses, creating the programmable bank! API technology already powers today’s mobile banking apps, and these will become open APIs to drive open innovation.

Beginning of the end of ERP

The ability to create business mash-ups and connect rather than replicate will also mean the end of unwieldy complex ERP systems.

ERP is an old way of attempting to model the complexity the enterprise needed to manage their resources. However, turning a complex business environment into a software system only created further complexity, and its inability to adapt to new business processes soon became a liability.

With APIs you can get systems that are able to connect – focusing on connectivity and micro-services rather than trying to replicate every possible aspect of a business and create monolithic software feature monsters.

And if the programmable enterprise allows connection across organisational boundaries, the needs of the system become very different.

That’s why we’re saying we don’t need these ERP monsters anymore. It’s an increasingly outdated model, and we’re now demanding simplification through innovation with our cloud business solutions.

Integration of business processes into social media

With the million and one things small business owners have to do, social media often comes down the list of priorities. But there are a number of interesting ways you can use social media in your own organisation.

For example, you could have a social network-style conversation about a problem such as an unpaid invoice, if it was connected to your accounting or business management system. Or you could allow different interactions and business processes to be performed by frontline users. For example, the filing and reconciliation of expenses wouldn’t be done by the account department, but actually by the person themselves, collaboratively.

Businesses can use social media as a way of managing and selling goods, which means the need for integration into their business processes. Why not send an invoice via Facebook? At a more basic level, small businesses can make things easier for themselves with software specially adapted to keep track and update conversation. It’s becoming more important – a stray Facebook or Twitter message can cause major damage in a social world.

wearable-techThe era of wearable computing

With the rise of devices like the Apple Watch, it looks like wearable computing will reinvent how we interact with technology. But how is this useful to your busy small business owner?

Wearable computing creates new ways of interacting with intelligent processes, For instance, you can get real-time feedback on business processes and get alerts. It can give you the ability to interact with intelligent business solutions – wearables could tell you when to pay attention to something rather than you having to chase the system, which is usually how things work

If you consider the widespread use of smartphones, this is a good measurement of how wearable technology could make an impact. With the right devices used in the right way, wearable devices will make us more efficient and productive, providing powerful new services and interactive patterns.

Small businesses more concerned with cybersecurity

It’s not just huge enterprises that are targets – any online business is a potential victim. But small businesses often lack the resources to defend themselves against attack. It could destroy their reputation and cripple them financially.

New security software for a small business needs to be simple and easy to use; even better if it can make use of crowdsourced analytics to spot suspicious patterns and outbreaks. Small business owners need to be educated in the best way to use existing technology to combat an ever-increasing threat.

My company Sage, as well as other reputable tech companies, are investing considerable effort and resources in creating a secure environment that protects the assets of customers. We’ve got a Secure by Design strategy where software is designed from the ground up to be as secure as possible, rather than just be protected at the operational level and network perimeter.

The Containerisation of Business Apps

There are core areas of information technology which could benefit from simplification. Virtualisation is one. It’s a great solution, but can be expensive, messy and complicated to get started. Software containers are an innovative alternative, which allows apps to be created in a self-contained virtual environment, and multiple apps run on the same server simultaneously. It’s revolutionising the industry through scalable application deployment.

Docker is one such technology. Since 2013, Docker has been taken up quickly in start-ups and small businesses. Originally Linux-based, it now has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac. It’s great for a technology-based start-up to begin creating new apps.

Innovation is only impactful if simple to use. It should lead to productivity improvements like less in-person meetings and working from home. It means running a business in new ways, benefiting leaders and employees financially and mentally. In 2016, we’ll see more of this. Can you predict what work will be like in five or ten years?

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