various smart devices and mesh network, internet of things

By Kenji Kuramoto

There are over 7.6 million small and medium-sized businesses in the United States, a sector that continues to grow at a rapid pace. As competition rises, businesses in 2017 are turning to new technologies to help them scale, cut through the noise, and get ahead of the competition.

According to SMB Group, ‘SMBs that view technology as critical to improving business outcomes are consistently outpacing their peers’. In fact, studies show that SMBs that adapt to new, more efficient technologies are 18% more likely to forecast revenue increases. Yet, with thousands of new business technologies hitting the market each year, small businesses owners are struggling with application overwhelm and tool fatigue.

How do you know which tools will help you stay competitive? The sheer number of choices is making it increasingly difficult to determine which technology products will truly help your bottom line and which will fizzle before ever making an impact. Cut through the noise with this list of the top technology trends poised to make a huge splash in 2017 and beyond:

AI Personal Assistants

We were first introduced to AI software via Siri, Alexa and others like them. Now, the bar has been raised and SMBs will reap the benefits in 2017. From Clara to Amy to Julie and others, the emerging age of AI will take over business scheduling in the New Year. (The fact all of these ‘assistants’ take on women’s names? Maybe a deeper conversation for a later time!)

These intelligent personal assistants not only have the ability to sort and maintain information, they can also independently take action to work on your behalf. The Consumer Technology Association estimates about 5 million voice-activated digital assistants have been sold to date, and that figure will double in 2017.

Internet of Things (IoT) 

Without doubt, the Internet of Things (what some are calling the next Industrial Revolution) is transforming the business landscape.  Today, there are over 6.4 billion connected devices in use daily and experts forecast that there will be 34 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020.

While the term ‘IoT’ still stirs up some general sense of mystery, 57% of small businesses believe that IoT will have a significant impact on their bottom line. While the majority of IoT utilization historically falls on larger corporations, forward-thinking SMBs will find creative ways to harness the technology’s power in 2017. IoT will help SMBs lower costs, improve efficiency, and make smarter business decisions in real time.

Data as a Service (DaaS)

If you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a data explosion and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Experts are predicting a 4,300% increase in annual data production by 2020 and SMBs are struggling to store and analyze all of the information. We believe that 2017 is shaping into the year of data ‘clarity’.

As cloud-based  technology continues to increase in complexity, SMBs are looking for data management solutions that cut costs while keeping critical information secure. Enter Data-as-a-Service (DaaS), the new way of accessing business-critical data via the cloud. These programs can harness Machine Learning and will ultimately help SMBs make sense of their data and how they can leverage it to scale faster.

Text as Business Chat

The idea of SMS for communications is far from revolutionary, but 2017 will bring more creative uses to the commonplace ‘text message’. Millennials’ preference for texting versus talking to businesses is leading the way in this breakthrough. With 95% of Americans now toting a cell phone in hand, this old school communication method is finding new life.

For example, Xero, an online bookkeeping and accounting software, recently enabled SMS chat features that allow users to interact with their accounting information via text. SMS may be old news, but businesses will discover new ways to leverage this powerful communication tool to connect with their customers in 2017.

Rise in ‘Smart’ Apps 

With the rapid rise of IoT and machine learning, 2017 will be the year for full entry into the era of smart apps, helping businesses save time and increase productivity. With the ability to learn, change and predict patterns when exposed to new data, these technologies will help SMBs in ways we never imagined possible.

For example, Kit CRM Inc, a smart digital marketing app recently acquired by e-commerce tycoon Shopify, helps business owners reach their goals and scale faster. Using machine learning, this smart app can analyze trends and anticipate marketing needs and automatically launch campaigns to drive sales.

Facing an ever-evolving technological ecosystem, 2017 is the year for small business owners to make an important decision: adapt to new tools or get left behind. As always, this is easier said than done. We hope this list inspires you to embrace these emerging trends to better meet your customers’ needs now and into the future.

Kenji Kuramoto is the founder of Acuity, a company that builds and maintains financial functions for entrepreneurs and startups.  Through Acuity, he’s provided over 1,000 companies with a full range of financial solutions from high-level strategic financial counsel through its fractional CFO practice all the way to virtualized bookkeeping solutions for early stage startups.  Kenji’s core business mission is to provide scalable financial solutions for entrepreneurs, so that their main focus can be on growing their company. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.