Exponential growth in innovation, development and implementation of business technology makes it more difficult than ever for businesses to keep up with tech trends and competitors.
Today’s business tools market is oversaturated with analogous software and services, which makes it a challenge to sift through every option and find the best solution for your business needs (all while staying within your price point). Which of these new tools are passing fads, and which will help you future-proof your business and ensure sustainable growth?
Even if you don’t decide to invest in emerging business tools for your organization, it’s essential for leaders to stay informed on new technology and its industry-specific implications as smarter tools become extensively widespread and a less expensive investment. Continue reading to learn how artificial intelligence, increased computational power, and other powerful technologies are shaping today’s business tools market.
Automation helps businesses work more effectively by harnessing artificial intelligence or machine learning to optimize their workflows. Defined as the “technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal human assistance,” automated processes help streamline your work by performing some or all of your tasks that previously would have required manual effort. For small and large businesses alike, automation seeks to alleviate employee workloads, opening up bandwidth for more time to focus on core business activities.
Unlike many other business tools, automation often increases productivity while simultaneously lowering overhead expenses. Regardless of your industry, position or current business practices, it’s likely that delivering your product or service requires iterative tasks on a regular basis. Using automation and artificial intelligence to effectively learn and replicate these repetitive tasks can generate a number of benefits, such as advancements in agile manufacturing, customer service, and employee engagement.
This category of automation, called Business Process Management, or BPM, allows users to create and edit their work processes, essentially “mapping” out the workflow for the automation software to understand. From there, your employees can rely on BPM software to perform repetitive or information-intensive tasks, which is particularly effective in departments that require heavy documentation and signature authorization.
Because BPM software digitizes business processes, organizations that utilize this piece of technology tend to enjoy a more cohesive work design and a unified front for communications. This is because digital platforms enable all team members to have access to the same workflows, which can be updated or edited in real-time for the entirety of your workforce.
Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS)
What do small businesses, operating with two to three full-time employees, and enterprise companies have in common? They both require effective internal and external communication in order to successfully operate. In a study focused on companies with at least 100,000 employees, business leaders reported an average loss of $62.4 million per company due to inadequate communication between employees. Take into consideration the amount of misdirection, confusion, and frustration that emails generate, and the total loss spikes significantly, costing even smaller businesses with at least 100 employees each over $400,000 annually.
Perhaps this is why so many businesses are willing to invest in new communication channels for streamlining communication and cutting out unwanted channel frequencies. Delivering its services through the internet, Communications Platform as a Service, usually shortened to CPaaS, is just one of the many cloud-powered acronyms that are currently dominating the tech commerce market.
CPaaS allows its users to integrate video, voice and SMS messaging in real-time to their internal and external contact strategies, so it’s a valuable asset for businesses looking to yoke their communications channels with their business-related applications. For example, marketing teams can use CPaaS to embed a chat service—rife with features like alerts, notifications and instant online calling—right into their CRM of choice. Today’s market offers plenty of CPaaS providers for businesses searching for new communications solutions, such as Twilio (which delivers enterprise solutions for marketing and customer service teams) and Bandwidth (which offers APIs for smarter dialogue with customers).
Is CPaaS the right choice for your business? If you find yourself constantly toggling between communication tools, juggling between chatting, calling and emailing the same customer for a single service ticket, Communications Platform as a Service could help you mitigate these pains while also enabling a more mobile, flexible and rapidly responding workforce. Many CPaaS vendors, as an added positive, install with a user-friendly dashboard, which houses analytics on consumer behavior and customer channel preference. These analytics tools also map out the customer journey for a robust understanding of each step that your shoppers took when deciding whether to buy your product or service.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
What is Voice over Internet Protocol? It’s a question that’s currently circulating many spheres of business as more organizations consider replacing their supplies with digital alternatives. Similar to Communications Platform as a Service, Voice over Internet Protocol, abbreviated to Voice over IP or VoIP, operates via the cloud to supersede the functions of the common office phone and fax machine to provide voice packets, documents and even SMS text messaging more effectively.
VoIP works by receiving voice communications, converting this information into digitized packets and transmitting it over a wireless internet connection. This means that you will no longer need landlines or the constant repair services they require to conduct business. Instead, you can make calls through one of three methods:
- Internet phones, which offer the look and feel of the traditional office phone set but are instead connected to an internet modem.
- Analog adapters, which translate analog phones into a VoIP telephony system.
- Computers, tablets or other smart devices, which are able to both send and receive calls after downloading an initial software. For this method of VoIP communication to work, both users must have an internet connection; however, when it is successfully executed, your call can go anywhere you go, unlike a wired phone set.
Marketwatch predicts that the market size of Voice over IP will grow to upwards of $55 billion by the end of 2025. Largely, this suggests the need for communication that offers a global reach is growing, as more and more businesses expand to overseas offices, hire remote team members and make calls with clients on the other side of the world. International calls, although offered by landline providers, are costly affairs that tend to supply low-quality voice delivery and a higher likelihood of cutting out.
Telephony that relies on the cloud, however, has little to no impact on the cost of delivering your message, regardless of its destination or yours. As businesses of all sizes shift their gaze to a global customer base and talent pool, they also need to ensure that the tools they use are operational wherever they extend their reach. Current options include offerings from Google Hangouts, Skype, 8×8 and more, and because their offerings may vary it’s important to do your research in advance to find the tool that works best for the demands of your company or industry.
Like many of the tools mentioned in this list, blockchain is often mentioned during discussions on how emerging technology could permanently alter the way business is conducted, yet few have a solid grasp of what it is, how it works and how exactly it will change business enterprise. Because of its nature as a digital ledger and record-keeping system, blockchain is particularly relevant in the finance and online currency spheres. The most digestible way to understand blockchain is to consider its linguistic units: block and chain. Digital information is stored in blocks and chained together in a database to document each step of the transaction process. Each chain uses a unique code to help you identify purchases that would otherwise be identical.
What makes blockchain so exciting to businesses? Unlike other forms of receiving and exchanging currency online, blockchain cannot be tampered with. Each new transaction is stored in its own block, which is then verified and reconfirmed as new blocks are added to the chain. Blockchain is widely distributed over the internet, which allows each member of a party to have the most updated version. With blockchain, contracts will no longer float in signature limbo, as each member of the party will have access to the most up-to-date version.
As a functional ledger, your business will also have access to the entire transaction journey. You likely know who your suppliers are for your assets, but do you know who supplies them? Blockchain allows you to trace an item all the way back to its very inception. Any attempts at fraud, theft or tampering are highly traceable to further secure your business and alert you of any disreputable business practices.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things, or IoT, takes connectivity—in both business and everyday life—to the next level. If a greater reliance on the internet has caused more devices and machines to offer internet connectivity, then IoT can be seen as a direct result of this change. Unlike many of the other pieces of technology listed, IoT is not one specific tool but rather a characteristic of a complex and rapidly growing network of devices. From alarm clocks to company monitors, any device that has a built-in IP address for connecting to the internet is a part of the Internet of Things. This allows every “thing” in the IoT nebula to communicate with one another.
As an example of how IoT will impact both your personal and work lives, consider your morning routine. Your alarm goes off, and as soon as you hit the snooze button, your shower turns on and begins heating your water. The bedroom lights slowly brighten to match the vibrancy of the outside world as your toaster begins to brown the bread you left there the previous night. Poor weather conditions delay your commute, so your car updates today’s calendar and notifies your coworkers who are also attending the early morning debriefing. You notice that the coffee machine at work is running low but aren’t worried—chances are, the machine has already detected its reduced supplies and has placed an order for a new bag of grounds to arrive within the week.
As the number of devices in the IoT increases, so does its potential use cases. Already, the number of devices connected to the Internet of Things has surpassed 10 billion, and researchers expect this number to increase to 25 billion devices by the year 2021. However, connectivity at such a scale brings with it a plethora of dilemmas, especially when it comes to security and privacy. If IoT devices all connect to the internet, then who has access to confidential information? Could an entire company’s cybersecurity become compromised by a faulty IoT blender in the communal kitchen? And how can businesses defend against cyberattacks if their information is stored through off-site cloud providers?
Fifth-Generation Wireless (5G)
For a long time, 4G or LTE was the best network that phone providers could offer, but 5G, the next iteration, is slowly starting to make its way onto the market. The fifth generation of wireless networks is still in its preliminary testing phases, but this piece of technology is already exhibiting signs of monumental improvements for businesses. 5G offers 3 major advancements on the previous generations of cellular wireless:
- First, greater speeds and therefore higher capacities to move data.
- Second, reductions in data processing delays, which will precipitate higher response rates.
- Third, the ability to simultaneously connect to a higher number of other devices.
5G has been in development for most of the past decade, but once it has been implemented worldwide, innovations like self-driving cars and widespread virtual reality—which once seemed only possible in imaginative science fiction worlds—could quickly make their way onto the mainstream market.
Certainly, it’s difficult to anticipate the impact of technology like 5G without witnessing its execution firsthand, but 5G developers are already reporting nearly unfathomable upgrades in wireless speeds. While 4G maxes out at roughly 100 megabits per second, 5G is 100 times faster at 10 gigabits per second. With these speeds, you could download a 2-hour feature-length film in just under 4 seconds, ranking 5G as a faster internet provider than most home cable networks and offering comparable rates to fiber cabling. Such speeds crash the doors wide open for even newer inventions and innovations that would not have been possible if designed with a 4G market in mind.
Digital Transformation (DX)
As opposed to each aforementioned tool, which provides a designated service or set of services, Digital Transformation should be seen as a strategy or a process for implementing said tools. Digital Transformation, or DX, is a trending business practice that is drawing the attention of SMB owners and enterprise magnates alike, though few actually know what DX really is and how it affects business.
At its simplest, Digital Transformation is the use of current digital technologies to strategically impact “organizational activities, processes, competencies, and models.” This has implications not only in businesses but for governments, the public sector, nonprofit organizations, and even day-to-day life. When was the last time you rented a physical movie or bought a CD? Most forms of media and the tools we use to view them, as just one case study of many, have already undergone a transformation to a digital-first preference.
Digital Transformation is an important concept for businesses to understand because it is more than simply applying new technology to your existing operation models. Where digitization is the process of acquiring these new tools, Digital Transformation ensures that they are moldable, adaptable and able to keep up with a rapidly evolving business landscape. This fundamentally alters the intrinsic intent of digitally transformed services, as technology up until this point has been relatively inflexible and resistant to change in its design (consider how many new versions of the same tech product you would have to purchase in the past, instead of just investing in a single purchase that could withstand the test of time).
By implementing DX in your organization, you’ll lower your annual expenses on new technology while also proofing your firm for the future and all the ways that emerging technology tools will change your industry.
If you are a business leader, what tools are you and your teams using to make doing business easier? What pieces of technology do you foresee changing the game in the upcoming years? Join the discussion by sharing some of your thoughts in the comments section below.