It is hard to overstate just how much technology has disrupted every aspect of our lives over the past few decades. A little more than a few years ago, the term “workplace technology” would have described a switchboard, a handful of desktop computers, electronic typewriters, and photocopiers.
Today, cloud-based technology houses companies’ entire servers, allowing employees to access information from anywhere and connect with colleagues in remote locations. Global players have by and large started to leverage emerging technologies. Small and medium businesses (SMBs) need to do the same to avoid being left behind.
The Role of SMBs in the U.S. Economy
Ask anyone which businesses they consider household names, and chances are that answers include car manufacturers like Chrysler, tech giants like Google and Amazon, or consumer brands like Coca-Cola. While those are undoubtedly household names, these businesses are not the foundation of the American economy.
Less well-known small and medium-sized businesses keep the American economy running. Statistics by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce show that 99.9% of all American businesses fall into the SMB category. That is equivalent to more than 33 million organizations. These businesses are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all jobs.
Most SMBs have embraced technology to some degree, by using social media marketing or making some of their operations accessible to remote-working employees. Still, SMBs are trailing their larger competitors when it comes to implementing emerging technologies.
How SMBs Benefit from Emerging Technologies
Embracing emerging technologies now is critical for the long-term success of small and medium-sized organizations. If there was any doubt about the benefits of using technology (as well as delivering outstanding service), the coronavirus pandemic removed those doubts.
Nearly nine out of ten American business owners said that technological solutions helped them survive during the pandemic. Aside from pure survival, technology powers growth. The Chamber of Commerce’s research shows that SMBs whose operations are at least in part based on technology platforms have a better chance of increased sales, profits, and a growing workforce.
Implementing technology allows smaller firms to increase productivity, initially without increasing their overhead costs. By automating repetitive tasks rather than forcing employees to spend their day completing these repetitive parts of their jobs, companies can free up those team members for more complex work.
Accounting and bookkeeping software is a great example of this. Software packages have taken much of the hands-on, time-consuming work out of the hands of finance departments. For a fraction of the cost of assistants, companies can stay on top of their finances by automating processes like sending estimates or registering incoming payments.
Common Challenges and Barriers
With so many clear benefits, why are businesses shying away from technology? Reasons may differ somewhat depending on the industry, but here are some of the most common ones:
- Cost of new technology: SMBs may have less access to capital for major investments in technology than their larger counterparts. This lack of finance makes it harder to commit to sizable upgrades in technology.
- Potential trouble integrating new platforms with legacy systems: By now, most companies rely on some form of technology, whether it be payment processing software for eCommerce businesses, social media scheduling tools for marketing teams, or accounting and bookkeeping tools. Every time, a new platform is added, it raises questions about the integration of existing systems.
- Lack of skill or familiarity within the team: Change can be daunting, and leaders of SMBs need to recognize whether fear of new technologies may be causing their teams to opt against these solutions. A perceived lack of skills and knowledge can be a barrier to embracing technologies, but avoiding them will create a bigger skills and knowledge gap in the long run.
- No time to research the most beneficial technologies: Depending on the size of individual small and medium-sized businesses, it may not always be easy to dedicate the time to researching and choosing the most suitable software packages for a company. It is not uncommon for employees in smaller companies to fulfill more than one role, leading to extremely busy days. As in the point made above, avoiding technology in the long term runs the risk of the company falling behind its competitors irretrievably.
Understanding which barriers apply to your business is the first step toward overcoming them.
Practical Strategies for SMBs Looking to Implement New Technologies
Like all other aspects of business, the implementation of new technologies is more likely to be successful if it is done strategically. In practice, that means analyzing where the business has weaknesses that could be eliminated with the help of technology.
Once weaknesses are clear, it becomes easier to identify potential barriers to the adoption of technology. If upfront investment is difficult, SMBs may be able to identify subscription-based options that can make technologies like AI more accessible.
If a company’s team has limited technology-related skills, it makes sense to choose a platform or a supplier with comprehensive training or customer service. Most technology platforms offer great levels of service with their higher-value subscription. Although that means spending a little more initially, this type of training and support can quickly and efficiently help plug skills gaps.
How to Measure Successful Implementation of Technology
Measuring the effectiveness of newly implemented technologies should be a non-negotiable part of any company’s strategic approach to technology. Even before the physical implementation starts, the company needs to define goals and objectives. Assuming a business opted for bookkeeping software for the first time, measuring success could include tracking the hours saved by the finance team.
The success of automated responses to sales inquiries could be measured by comparing conversion pre-automation and post-automation. A chatbot’s effectiveness could be shown by the decreasing number of inquiries passed to customer service agents.
Technological developments will continue to disrupt the way we live and work. To secure their future, SMBs across the U.S. need to start integrating and implementing emerging technologies now.