Cutting Edge Technology for Small Businesses in 2021: A Practical Guide

As a consultant who has spent over a decade empowering small business owners to succeed, I‘ve seen firsthand how implementing new technology can massively pay off through increased efficiency, cost savings, and the ability to stay nimble in a rapidly changing world. The latest wave of innovation in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), lightning-fast 5G connectivity, bots and automation presents an unmatched opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to profit and compete in 2021.

This practical guide will walk you through the top technologies making an impact right now, along with tangible advice for execution tailored to the needs of SMBs.

Cloud Computing Powers Collaboration and Growth

Transitioning business functions like data storage, backups, email, and document editing to the cloud unlocks flexibility for you and your team to work productively from anywhere. According to Forrester Research, the market for cloud platforms will top $411 billion by 2022.

Key Action Items:

  • Choose an established provider like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud to benefit from economies of scale
  • Calculate potential cost savings from ditching expensive on-site servers and hardware upkeep
  • Enable team members to securely access company data from home or on the road through cloud sharing

AI and Machine Learning Drive Insights and Efficiency

Today‘s AI software moves beyond basic automation to continually "learn" patterns in your company‘s operations and market – identifying unseen opportunities to better serve customers. The ability of AI to handle routine tasks allows human employees to focus their skills on more strategic initiatives. By 2025, PWC estimates AI could contribute over $15 trillion to the global economy.

Key Action Items:

  • Explore AI customer service chatbots to lower costs and boost engagement
  • Install machine learning algorithms to uncover insights from company data
  • Automate internal processes like billing, reporting, approvals to increase efficiency

5G and Edge Computing Unlock Innovation

As 5G networks continue rolling out in 2021, governments and companies will invest trillions of dollars in smarter infrastructure. For context, Brookings Institute estimates 5G could produce up to $12.3 trillion in global sales activity by 2035.

Businesses utilizing 5G can expect near real-time data processing coupled with vastly increased connectivity for company devices, wearables, smart sensors and more as network capabilities grow 10 to 100 times faster than 4G speeds. Together with advanced Edge computing that processes company data closer to the source, transformative technologies become truly practical across areas like:

  • Smart warehousing/inventory management
  • AI data processing
  • Autonomous transportation
  • Precision agriculture
  • Next-gen cybersecurity

The time is now for SMBs to evolve alongside this infrastructure revolution.

Key Action Items:

  • Evaluate 5G rollout in your area to leverage fast speeds
  • Explore Edge computing solutions to rapidly process data on-site rather than in far off servers

Prioritize Cybersecurity as a Cost of Doing Business

As technology underpins more key business functions, cyber threats pose severe risks ranging from data and financial theft to operational disruption. An IBM study found the average cost of a data breach now tops $4 million. Small companies with less than 500 employees suffered 60% higher costs per stolen record than their larger counterparts.

Neglecting robust cybersecurity measures in 2021 is no longer an option. Prioritizing funds tocontract outside vulnerability assessments, implement multi-factor employee authentication, encrypt sensitive data and back up systems can literally save your business.

Key Action Items:

  • Install security patches/updates across company networks without delay
  • Require employees use strong unique passwords and change them every ~90 days
  • Invest in employee cybersecurity training to recognize threats
  • Schedule penetration testing from an ethical hacker

Bot Developers Drive Workflow Automation

Advances in robotic process automation allow software "bots" and virtual assistants to handle high volume, repetitive tasks in everything from customer service to HR paperwork to marketing. This frees up human employees to apply their skills to more impactful initiatives.

By incorporating bots purpose-built for specific business functions, SMBs can drive major productivity gains without needing to develop expertise internally. Pricing is increasingly affordable, even for small staffs.

Key Action Items:

  • Document current workflows/processes to identify automation opportunities
  • Research pre-built automation bots for your industry/business type
  • Calculate potential time and money savings from implementing bots

The bottom line is that emerging technology – from AI insights to 5G speed to automation bots – grants innovative small businesses a distinct competitive edge both now and for years to come. I urge you to view modernization not as a cost, but as an investment in your company‘s future. The practical steps outlined above will help guide you. Please don‘t hesitate to reach out if you need any assistance getting started or want to discuss these technologies in more detail as they apply to your unique business environment and strategic goals. The time to take action is now.