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Keeping your business running smoothly, costs in line, and making sure your team is happy and working at their best is critical for small businesses.

Thankfully, technology is on-hand to help small business owners meet these objectives, and 2020 is set to be a bumper year for small business technology.

AI and automation are starting to produce tangible solutions, and cloud technology becomes ever more accessible, and technology is even helping businesses drive sustainability.

There have never been more products on the market to help SMEs operate more effectively and efficiently, and keep on top of the pressures that being a smaller business brings.

With that in mind, here are some of the big trends to keep on eye on.

1. Boosting small business sustainability with technology

Edouard Nattée – CEO and Co-founder, Cleanfox:

“Businesses and people will be under intense scrutiny with sustainability practices, especially as Digital Pollution is the biggest unknown threat to our world’s climate change. ICT will account for 14% of the world’s energy consumption, and data centres will account for 45% of ICT’s carbon footprint, which is why we must tackle emails. 2020 will see a rise in businesses applying tech-for-good solutions to permanently erase emails/data to dramatically reduce carbon footprint, making them smarter, stronger and more efficient.”

2. AI, VR and AR continue to gain traction

Pete HanlonCTO, Moneypenny:

“While VR solutions like the Oculus Quest are still, for many, a novelty and AR solutions like Microsoft’s Hololense 2 haven’t made it to the consumer market, we will see increased adoption of these technologies in a business setting to train employees. VR is already being used to help people get over the fear of presenting in front of large crowds by allowing people to present to a virtual audience.

“AR is being used in medicine and high-end engineering to train employees how to perform complex tasks by walking people through complex procedures. This level of expert system and training is a sweet spot for VR and AR, hopefully this will improve the technologies further as they become more mainstream over the coming years.”

Rochelle Trup – co-founder, Arthur Online:

“Business trends are ever-changing, and as a business owner, one is always trying to keep their business at the forefront of innovation. As automation, artificial intelligence and digital marketing have become core aspects of tech; the need for them will continue to rise in 2020. This will ultimately allow smaller businesses to compete with larger companies and eventually, this growth of automation may create several business opportunities for entrepreneurs.” 

Dr Mark K. Smith – Founder and CEO, ContactEngine:

“XAI, the new buzzword for explainable artificial intelligence (AI), will become increasingly prevalent in the customer services industry in 2020.

“As consumers, we now demand organisations, particularly customer service departments, to hold our data securely and to not misuse it – i.e. share it without our permission. For customer service departments, this means training their AI algorithms to report back to employees on what it did and how it did it – that’s called XAI (the X being eXplainable).”

3. New ways to work become the norm

The team at Flexible office specialist Workthere:

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term widely used when looking at tech innovations, with everyday devices brought to life through technology; allowing people to experience more connected lives. This technology utilised within an office setting provides businesses with endless opportunities to integrate devices, modernise their ways of working and deliver a more seamless and efficient service to customers.

“Similarly, another hotly anticipated office tech trend for 2020 is the increase in voice activated tech devices, such as voice assistants, lighting, screens and security, especially as ‘Alexa’ and ‘Hey Google’ are becoming everyday phrases that can be heard in households (and offices) across the world.”

Peter Arvai – co-founder and CEO, Prezi:

“The modern workplace is no longer limited to the confines of a traditional office building. This of course has many benefits, but as work culture evolves to be more flexible and remote working becomes the norm for many, there is added pressure to ensure the right tools are in place to ensure effective communication is not sacrificed as a result.

“This is particularly important when we consider that over a third of UK workers still crave ‘human connection’ when working. As such, we expect a rise in adoption of video technology in the coming year in a greater effort to ensure seamless communication across the workforce. 

“The benefits of using video communications go beyond just improving communication, though: when coupled with graphics and text, they can also dramatically enhance engagement levels for business leaders presenting from afar, which is particularly important for those looking to scale up and expand globally in the next twelve months.” 

Mariah Tompkins – Director, WKM Accountancy Services:

“Cloud accounting software will be revolutionary for many businesses for keeping on top of their finances. Being able to view details of cash flow, payroll, invoicing, and handy reports all in one platform can transform the way companies work and make day-to-day tasks much more efficient. It is hugely beneficial in how much time it can save you, as well as meaning you can have access to your accounts via your mobile device, which makes it easier to keep on top of your finances whilst on the go.

“With the introduction of Making Tax Digital for all VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover above £85,000, it is now mandatory for many companies to submit their tax returns digitally. It’s expected that this will roll out to all VAT-registered businesses in as early as April 2020, so it’s important that business owners become familiar with cloud accounting software and are prepared for the changes when they are implemented. Most accounting software packages will offer a trial period to give you time to decide what system is most suitable for your business, but it can also be helpful to consult your accountant for some advice.”

4. Cybersecurity remains a top priority

Liv Rowley – Threat Intelligence Analyst, Blueliv:

“More generally, there is no doubt that we will continue to see mounting cyberattacks in 2020, be it the obvious evolution and adaptation of old threats, an increase of targeted attacks on big companies, or new attacks designed to catch us all off guard.

“Mobile targeting will increase, for everything ranging from phishing to malware, as the introduction of 5G brings new attack surfaces. We also expect to see targeted ransomware continuing to be a huge problem – no doubt in part fuelled by the fact that companies continue to pay the ransoms.”

Ben Davis – Insurance Lead of Emerging Technologies, Digital Risks

“2019 was a bad year for cybercrime. Security specialists Symantec revealed earlier in the year that over 4 billion records had been breached, with nearly 4,000 separate incidents announced. 2020 is expected to see a continuation, or even an increase in the level of attacks, with Cybercrime Magazine predicting that by 2021 attacks will cost $6 trillion annually.  

“One of the main issues is that as the fraudster/hacker gets smarter, there are simply not enough trained cyber security professionals to protect every business. In a world of open APIs and shareable data, this means that one weak link in the chain can bring down an entire host of businesses.”

5. New marketing trends

Sam Martin-Ross – MD, Digital Uncut:

“Google Ads will continue to force automation, whether rightly or wrongly for advertisers. The complexity of the platform has always been a hindrance in Google’s growth as it has put off smaller advertisers who do not understand it. Removing this complexity for automation makes it easier for these advertisers to spend money, even if the ads end up less effective than they could be. With both Facebook and Amazon continuing to grow in share of total digital ad spend Google has more competition now then ever and so will surely continue this drive.”

Lane Harbin – Director of Marketin, Campaign Monitor

“As Gen Z rises up the ranks in terms of their influence and buying power within the market, business leaders must be able to know and understand them if they’re able to effectively communicate. With groups continually evolving and maturing, it’s never been more important for SMEs to keep abreast of the ‘changing times’. 

“Gen Z is the youngest of the bunch (for now) and are typically most interested in brands that provide unique user experience and are socially driven. They tend to have a more varied and niche set of interests, and the brands they’re looking to hear from often reflects this.

“Further, this group possesses a highly sophisticated filter that helps to separate the content that matters to them from content that doesn’t. Being visual is also very important. Communications that include images produce 650% higher engagement than text-only posts.”