Archive for category Business Technology

Should we be ready to embrace Artificial Intelligence?

Historically SME’s tend to hold back in the face of new technology.  But with Artificial Intelligence the rules are different and holding back can be dangerous. ‘Think big, start small’.

What do we mean by Artificial Intelligence for small businesses, was the topic discussed by members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting.

The history of technology is; Mechanics, Electronics, Information Technology and now Artificial Intelligence.

With Artificial Intelligence we can

  • Evaluate customers and understand how much they are interested in buying from us before we talk to them.
  • Fix problems for customers before problems even become obvious.
  • Have the understanding to show customers more of what they want and be right about it more often.

However a member of the Group said ‘Artificial Intelligence is the next shiny thing, but until you can show me how it’s really going to work day to day in my business – I’m out’!

Artificial Intelligence has the potential for a low cost accessible way to get insights from data faster, enabling businesses to make better decisions.  It is there to support the workforce, not replace it.  Tasks that require information from multiple sources to make timely decisions are great candidates for experimenting with Artificial Intelligence.

But, how can Artificial Intelligence help your small business?

with Automation – it can prepare invoices / update customer records / send targeted promotions

with Customer Communications – chat bots, so that the frequently asked questions can be answered

with Staff Solutions – Artificial Intelligence personal assistants can arrange meetings / stay on top of deadlines / arrange business travel

with Email Efficiencies – Google smart reply scans the contents of your emails and suggests suitable replies

Many businesses have started using Chatbot, but many people still prefer to speak to a living customer service rep rather than a Chatbot.  But the advantage of a Chatbot is that you don’t have to hang on for ages waiting for a call to be taken.  Artificial Intelligence driven Chatbots are perfect for answering the most common questions that companies get asked time and time again leaving your staff to focus on the more pressing individual cases.

Artificial Intelligence gives you competitor advantage and it is more appropriate for back office functions.  60% of SME’s in the group felt that they were not yet ready to adopt Artificial Intelligence.  They felt it was too complicated for what was needed.  Yet for some small businesses, with limited time and resources, the ability to work smarter and automate basic tasks could be a life saver.  So, spending hours sorting through spreadsheets, hunting down leads or tweaking marketing campaigns manually could now be a thing of the past.

SME’s with up to 20 employees cite ‘gaining better insights from their data’ as a top technology challenge, yet only 30% use analytic solutions.  Business apps not only automate time consuming repeatable tasks, but also help detect problems and predict outcomes.  Many members of the Business Exposure Group are already using some of these apps.

  • Zero Accounting – Artificial Intelligence for accounting – Allows you to get insights into longer term decisions not just book keeping.
  • Quick Books – Which clients owe me money, it then tells the system to send reminders to clients to pay overdue invoices.
  • Translation – Microsoft have developed a real time translation system in Skype to help bridge the language barrier during web conferences.
  • Crayon – is a market intelligence platform that uses machine learning to scan millions of data sources, everything from web pages to customer reviews to tweets and it tells you everything it finds. did a competitor change how they are advertising a product / did they make an important change to their website.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning solutions offer small businesses the means to offload mundane tasks to machines so that people can focus on more creative, value added activities to help their companies grow.

What is clear is that Artificial Intelligence is the future and any contemporary business must start to embrace the opportunities created by this next level of technology, because very shortly our competitors will, and business will get even tougher.

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Is there relevance for having an E-Commerce website for businesses other than those in retail?

E-Commerce is the name for any kind of commercial transaction that takes place through the internet.  It gives customers the ability to buy from you without having any limitations imposed by time or distance. Its not restricted to a B2C business using a “shopping cart” and credit card.

The question is – are B2B customers ready for this?

This was the topic discussed by members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting and some interesting observations were put forward by members, many of whom had implemented E-Commerce functionality into their businesses.

B2B suppliers know far more about their customers than B2C, so there is no excuse not to deliver relevant experiences to your customer.- a website should no longer be general but nowadays it needs to be specific to the customer browsing your site.

41% of manufacturers are now selling directly to your business customers, so your business needs to be prepared to sell against the same companies you consider as valuable supply chain partners.

Entering into the world of E-Commerce is a major decision and setting up your website is challenging.  Consider the following points raised by our members during the meeting:

  1. Website needs to be user friendly with as few clicks as necessary to enable your customer to order as easily as possible. It should load within 5 seconds.
  2. Do you require multiple “shop fronts”, different languages, to only provide relevant products and services to the specific visitor?
  3. Does your website need a reminder email facility to remind your customer to re-order?
  4. Does your website need an email facility to notify your customer about new products or when products are back in stock?
  5. When logged into the website, does it recognise your customer and automatically bring up their previous order history? – It is important to segment customers and give them a different experience based on their industry requirements.
  6. If you have a complex catalogue, direct customers to the relevant products in as few clicks as possible?
  7. Should you put all your goods or services for sale on the website or leave the high end items for your sales team to sell?
  8. FAQ’s section is extremely important as it reduces the need to have an extensive customer relations team.
  9. With one click specific industry users can fill their ‘carts’ with everything they need for their particular requirements.
  10. It engenders customer loyalties. An order can be authenticated with a click of a button, instead of the process taking several days to be confirmed.
  11. It streamlines your ordering system. It reduces the bottle necks of tedious work.

Consider who is your real competition, your competitors or your customer expectations?

The buying experience is now more important than ever.

It was felt by the Group that B2B E-Commerce was certainly another route forward for most businesses and a great way to find a new customer base.

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Technology Challenges facing small businesses in 2016

New developments have made the creation of complex applications and online tools easy to purchase.  But what is included in the software?  Does it really work as advertised, will the provider still be around in 12 months and if not what happens to our data?

A worrying scenario for businesses.

There is a lot at stake when deciding whether or not to invest in the latest technology.  Research shows that a business should spend 6% of revenue on IT every year. So how do you decide?  A technology partner can make or break your business.  Does your company have a lack of IT skills, are you over dependent on outsourcing?

Choosing the right IT support company is vital.  Are they enthusiastic about what they can do/do they understand your problems and needs/how flexible is their support/what services will the support contract include/are they local?

Integrating applications is another challenge.  You may have all the features you like in one application, but how does it talk to another application?  There is a rapid rate of change, so how can you vet appropriate systems?  Has software and the Cloud made things more dangerous for small businesses?  Do your providers have a data-destruction policy?

At a recent meeting, members of The Business Exposure Group discussed some of the challenges they faced on a day-to-day basis and came up with the following points

  • Don’t scrimp on technology but shop around for the most appropriate system for your business
  • How much do you lose in downtime from your old system, make sure your IT support is available 24/7
  • Make sure your back up system saves all documents including drafts. How often do you test your back up to see what you retrieve?
  • Know what your website is for and make sure it engages your customers
  • Use analytics to harness on-line traffic
  • Make sure you are mobile, customers won’t wait until you are back in the office
  • Have a strong password policy to protect your system
  • Take advantage of teleconferencing
  • Choose a UK company for hosting, it will help with your SEO
  • Have reliable equipment to help stay ahead and innovative. 40% of PC’s in small businesses are more than 3 years old and operating on old windows systems with a whole host of problems
  • Accounting software – ask yourself, does it free up a lot of time?

Technology is constantly improving and it is vital that businesses keep up to date, to stay ahead of their competitors.

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What does the Internet of Things mean for Small Business?

Many of you will have started to hear of ‘The Internet of Things’.  But what does it mean for SME businesses?

20 years ago IT experts urged businesses to get on the World Wide Web or go out of business.  Now the call is to get ready for the ‘Internet of Things’.

So far, those of you who are wondering, The Internet of Things is a combination of sensors, networking and analytics that can be combined to create greater production efficiency, better quality of life, and a higher level of automation.

Wearable devices such as fit-bit wrist bands are the consumer face of the Internet of Things.  But the real opportunity is in the B2B world.  It’s already started at home, allowing your phone to switch on your heating or lights when you leave the office.

Big business is already embracing this – they are going to be a lot more responsive and many small businesses will struggle to compete.  For example, large companies can now remotely adjust equipment settings for better performance or send an engineer to replace a failing part before the operator even notices there is a problem.

Some of the members of the Business Exposure Group have some interesting examples of how they are now beginning to use the Internet of Things.  One member with a vending machine business has outsourced the development of certain printed electronics. So that each vending machine now informs the man with a van full of replacement supplies when stocks are running low, thus negating the need for an office base support team – How much does that save his business?

Another member sells, amongst other things, mouse traps.  He has applied a very basic sensor which tells if a mouse needs removing.  Instead of selling mousetraps to hotels and restaurants, he has changed his business model to a monthly subscription service.  It turns out that low monthly fees are better than fines and damaged reputations.  The value is not in the device that traps the mouse, but in the service of removing them once caught.

Some law firms are having tiny circuits placed in their document headers, allowing their authenticity to be checked using a smart phone.

High tech is becoming very affordable and lowering the barrier to entry for many SME businesses.  The reality for all of us is that by creating a connected product using the Internet of Things, technologies will create a locked in relationship between you, the company and your customer, making it less attractive to leave and go to the competition.

By 2020, 80 billion devices will be connected to the internet.  My challenge and question to you is:  Are you ready to take advantage of the ‘Internet of Things’ and its massive growth potential?

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SME’s are you adopting essential technologies into your business?

Upgrading computer software often entails considerable costs to small businesses which is why many owners put it off.

Although it can be tempting to kit out an office with the technology available in a large corporate office, business owners should be realistic in their requirements and base their decisions on priorities as well as the size of the business and its technological needs.

Traditionally, SMEs have been slow to adopt new technologies such as tablet and cloud computing because of a lack of funds and human resources. Legacy technologies still play an important role in information technology for SMEs. These are applications and databases that have been inherited from earlier  systems and serve critical business needs. Often the challenge is to keep the legacy system running while converting it to a newer and more efficient system.

Fax machines still perform a valuable function and are used daily in business – more so than smart phones at 38%.

Technological innovation is a key component to developing a successful and competitive business however many SMEs are still reluctant to embrace these changes, even if they help improve efficiency. Business use of the tablet currently stands at 1.4%, while laptop use is at 36% and smart phones at 16%.

Do you lose your competitive advantage with old technology?

Inadequate management of technology reduces business profitability. One in 10 businesses has been a victim of an IT incident in the past 12 months which resulted in business downtime.

Most businesses spend less than 10% of their IT budget on protecting their IT systems. Security should be a priority for all businesses looking to change or update their current IT systems. Software security should be bespoke and reflect your individual data risk.

British SMEs lag behind their European counterparts by showing a much weaker level of commitment to IT innovation.

Research shows 4% of UK businesses are using the cloud but do not understand what it is. SMEs often cannot afford large-scale expenditure on IT hardware which makes hosted solutions much more attractive as these can be paid for on the basis of use, and keep IT costs to a minimum.

Cloud computing – SaaS (software as a service) offers many benefits including:

–       Minimal risk (per month payment)

–       Opportunity to scale

–       Improved mobility

–       Enhance security

–       Constant updating

The average age of technological equipment in British SMEs is 2.2years. Businesses should look to technological partners who can supply them with the latest digital breakthroughs to stay innovative.

Technological innovation can help SMEs simplify key areas of their business – and greatly reduce cost. The advent of video conferencing and Skype has reduced the need to travel to meetings while Key Performance Indicators (KPI) software allows owners to identify and analyse business performance data.

Social media technology should also play a key role in today’s SMEs and be central to growth plans. Although the uptake of social media among SMEs has grown rapidly over the past decade, many businesses are still employing a chaotic and unmanaged approach to this medium.

Businesses need to have a social media strategy in place to utilise the benefits that sites such as Facebook and Twitter provide. This communication medium allows business to feed content free of charge into a highly-visible public arena and encourages readers to share it with their social network. A corporate message spreads from user to user and resonates because it appears to come from a trusted third party.

Technological advances are redefining the way we develop products and services and the way in which we market them and this has a direct impact on how SMEs generate income. Currently 9% of SMEs believe technology is helping them win business which means those who have yet to realise its significance are already losing out.

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